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• Unit VI. Social Inequalities, I. Sociological Perspective

•  Simulation

• Coin Toss To Explore Social Inequality

• Themes: 4 Inequality, 1 Sociological Perspective

• Description
This classroom simulation uses rounds of flipping coins to explain how social structures can limit individual outcomes, yet produce unequal outcomes that students may attribute to individual effort.

• Learning Goals
1. To show that more than individual characteristics shape the distribution of societal rewards. 2. To see that underlying rules of social interactions can affect the outcomes. 3. To illustrate that the sociological imagination can enhance our understanding of the social world more than individual explanations can.

• Things Needed
Each student needs to bring 5 pennies to class the day of the simulation. The simulation and discussion takes an entire class. A 75-minute class works best, but it can be done in a 50-minute class. Instructions can be posted on a slide or in handout.

• Actions

To do this simulation, you each need 5 coins.

There are multiple rounds of coin tossing, with each round lasting about two minutes. In each two-minute round you will find a partner who has coins, one of you will call out a bet (of one to three coins) on the outcome (heads or tails) of each flip. The winner of each bet takes the specified number of coins from the loser. Once you have lost all your coins, you are out of the game. At that point, you should watch others play the game and note the “strategies” they use, so you can comment afterwards about how you played and what you observed. Winners should look for another person to play against for the rest of the round. After each two-minute round, we’ll tally the number of people with 0, 1-4, 5-9, 10-15, and 16+ coins. Whoever has coins left at the end of each round goes on to play the next round and should begin to play with a new partner.

But, before beginning, how do you think the distribution of coins will change during the course of the game. Who is so skilled at tossing a coin that you can guarantee that you will flip heads almost every time? This is not a skill-based activity. Do you think that the uniform distribution of coin-flipping talent will lead to a random reshuffling of the coins? Will it preserve the uniform distribution of coins among players (like now with everyone having 5 coins)? If no one is better at flipping than anyone else, then no one will get ahead? Is that your prediction? Let’s test your hypothesis by playing the game.

Post the results on the board or an overhead. Are you surprised at the results?