The Pursuit of Happiness is a film that shows social inequality and stratification. Chris and family belong to the lower classes, living in poverty due to the lack of money they have to pay for rent.

According to Conflict Theory a social stratification system benefits the powerful and wealthy at their expense, resulting in a system maintained by the elite. The bottom class people do not have an equal chance to compete. Chris, the main character, starts out at the bottom of the ladder as he’s a member of the lower-class, a struggling saleman, and a new father. When Chris begins his unpaid stock brokerage internship, his background puts him at an advantage against his peers. Chris hid the fact that he lived in a shelter and was struggling to survive because he had to compete with higher-class people for a role at Dean Witter Reynolds. This illustrates the power of upper-class over lower class.

According to the Functionalist Theory, stratification is a result of different aspects in society existing because they are needed. This means the best qualified people are in the top positions. In the film, all employees of the brokerage are at least post-secondary educated and have degrees. In the film, Jay Twizzle didn’t initially want to give Chris the chance to be an intern until he saw how impressed he was by the Rubix cube. Dean Witter Company’s interns also demonstrate the functionalist philosophy, learning a different trade with the hope that they will be offered a position at the conclusion of their internship. Brokers can gain highly-performing employees who are not paid. The brokers then get to select the individual who will be an asset to their company. Chris’s promotion to the top of the social ladder at the company was also a sign of the open class system, as he had started out selling bone densitometers. This system is both functional and beneficial.

The Symbolic Interactionionism Theory explains the stratification of social relationships and how appearance reflects social standing. In the movie, Chris arrives at his brokerage interview in paint-covered jeans and a tanktop from the previous day. This is a good example. Chris knew that he was going to stand out and be perceived differently from other people because of the outfit he wore. The interviewer knew that he looked less than his best but still came because he had a desire to better his family’s life. Chris pretends he can pay the taxi bill to represent the image of the successful businessman. Chris agreed to pay for a taxi to show that he is a businessman who can make money, even though the money was not there. If Chris had told the truth that he couldn’t afford the taxi fee, it could have made him look like a lower-class person, which would have hurt his chances to win the job.

The film was full of moments where the class differences were evident. The film begins with clips of people in the street doing work for money or homeless. A clear class contrast was also shown in the film when a group teenagers laughed in their convertible, driving by the line to the shelter. The mood in that area was sombre. The film also showed Chris’s and sons’ bus route which goes through an area of niceness before reaching their poorer neighborhood.

Chris manages to achieve his goal of a secure and happy life with his son, despite his many struggles. The Pursuit of Happyness shows how Chris’s quest to improve his family’s life is affected by social stratification.


  • arthurmacdonald

    Arthur Macdonald is a 39-year-old educational blogger and school teacher. He has been a teaching assistant for 10 years, and has taught middle and high school students in the Atlanta area for the past 5 years.