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The Background Of The Social Stratification Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2396 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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All societies place their members according to superiority, inferiority and equality. The vertical scale of evaluation, this categorization of people in layers is called stratification. Social stratification is a natural and controlled division according to race, religion, social and economic status. In sociology, social stratification is the hierarchical arrangement of social classes, castes and strata within a society.

Anthony Giddens has defined social stratification as “the existence of structured inequalities between groups in society, in terms of their access to material or symbolic rewards”.

According to Peter Saunders, in modern Western societies, stratification depends on social and economic classes consisting of three main layers: Upper class, Middle class and Lower class. Every class is further divided into smaller classes according to occupation.


The notion of stratification came into existence in 1940’s. Social stratification is the basic cause of inequalities. The basis for social stratification are earnings, privileges, ethnicity, disability,   education, access to benefits, sex, caste, wealth, religion, power, age, gender, occupation, race, region, language, party and politics. Stratification is a trait of society and not just individual differences. Indeed it is the outcome of the social arrangement and it has a great impact on everyone. Stratification is universal, but tremendously changeable in form. Stratification persists over generations. It is still prevailing in our society. Four fundamental forms of stratification are class, caste, estate and slavery. Stratification is common in the animal kingdom on the basis of power and gender and some form of stratification has most likely always existed among humans. With the progress of food and other surpluses resulting from hi-tech advances in agriculture and manufacturing, some people began to mount up more wealth than others. There could be many other things influencing social stratification. For the larger part of history, the on hand stratification arrangement was regarded as an undeniable feature of society and the implicit purpose of commentators was to clarify or rationalize that arrangement in terms of religious doctrines.

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Social stratification is social, universal, diverse in structure, very old and consequential. It is a trait of society, not merely a reflection of individual differences. Those at the top of the ladder ‘the higher class’ has more advantages in life than those at the bottom of the ladder ‘the lower class’. The upper classes have more opportunities to thrive in life; chances include such things as conditions of work, healthiness and accommodation. People at the top of the ladder may choose the area that they live in which will tend to have less crime, better schools and better living than those in the lower class. Social stratification moves from generation to generation. Each human being born into the world is involuntarily allocated to social strata. Their place is usually their parent’s place at that time. We are born with nothing so consequently we ‘inherit’ what our parents have. Children are influenced by their family members. Every family within the social order and within each social stratum has different ambitions, determinations and goals to be successful in life. A child will gain knowledge of these through the accomplishments of his own parents.   Even though social stratification is universal, it is also variable which means that all different countries have different forms of stratification but its characteristics vary in every country. In the United Kingdom it is very much a class system, whereas in some Asian countries the stratification is on the basis of the religion. Social stratification involves inequality and beliefs. Everybody within society has to believe that stratification is fair otherwise there is going to be unrest in the society.

Social Stratification can be seen in all places around us from our schools to government agencies to even our homes. It is a definite part of our social system that represents the discrimination of opportunities that we experience and observe in our everyday lives. The idea of pecking order emerged in the 17th and 18th century by sociologist Hobbes and Locke and it was through these sociologists that people realized that inequality existed in the society.

On one hand, inequalities based on individual qualities (charisma, economic or social skills, etc.) do not add up to stratification, since they aren’t defined by membership in a particular category. So, if in a hunting band the best hunter or the spiritualist/sage is held in high regard and has privileged access to some resources, this isn’t social stratification.

Symbolic Interactionists reveal that symbols help to describe the meaning of all social actions, and a person’s self is developed socially through social interaction. Legitimating thoughts, expressed symbolically in the form of language give reasons for inequality, for strata, for the ways people are positioned in the strata and for changes in the stratification system. These sustaining ideas also strongly manipulate how people assess themselves within the system, influencing them to agree to their position in the structure as good and right.


Primal collectivism characterized by an elevated level of sharing and negligible social inequality, Slavery involving enormous social inequality and the ownership of some persons by others, Caste in which a person is permanently assigned to a status based on his or her parents’ status, Estate in which peasants are required by law to work on land owned by the noble class in exchange for food and protection from outside attacks.

There are different forms of social stratification that are present in our societies i.e. Class society: In this society person’s status is ascribed to them by the accomplishments they have achieved. In the United States, the social stratification that divides the most is the class system, whereas in areas of Africa not only are there class differences to divide people but women are in a class by themselves. The class system is defined by the possessions of wealth or material possessions (Henslin, 2010, p.189). Even though we like to think of ourselves as a very progressive nation, we still look down on people that are below us in class.  


Natural predictability suggests that discrimination exists because of natural differences in people’s abilities and is a just system. Structural -functionalists states that stratification is helpful to society because it enhances strength and induces members of the society to endeavor. Conflict suggests that stratification occurs through conflict amid different classes, with the upper classes using greater power to take a bigger share of the social resources. Evolutionary states that people will share sufficient resources to guarantee the survival of the group until an excess exists at which point power determines how the surplus is distributed. Symbolic Interactionists calls attention to the significance of symbolic displays of wealth and power that influence one’s definition of self and the importance of ideas in defining social situations.

Inequality may originate from natural differences in people’s abilities. Structural-functionalists believe that societies have a tendency to be stable and are held as one through agreement. Stratification provides an important function to society by aiding this process because it lessens conflict and provides structure. Conflict theorists believe that society tends towards conflict and change and that stratification system compel the lower classes to benefit the upper classes.


In early societies, people shared a common societal position. As societies evolved and became more intricate, they began to elevate some members. To understand stratification, we must first understand its origins.

Though there is a lot that we don’t know about origins of stratification, it is apparent that it is a fairly recent development, as exposed through study of grave goods, and historical record of state expansion and conquest of more democratic societies. Once they come up, stratified systems lean to expand at expense of egalitarian systems, but this cannot explain origins of first stratified systems i.e. cases of “pristine” state formation. It is not simply survival mode, since some foragers are less democratic than many agricultural and most pastoralist societies

Attempts to elucidate cultural advancement of social stratification in ecological terms by and large rely on one or another of two basic approaches:

1. Stratification = solution to an ecological problem

2. Stratification = system by which one class extracts resources from another

These two approaches often termed functional and conflict theories, respectively. Functional theories focus on benefits to all parties; in contrast, Conflict theories argue that elites benefit at expense of commoners.


The book by Macionis, J and Plummer, K., 2007, called ‘Sociology: A Global Introduction’ defines  “Social stratification as a system by which a society ranks categories of people in a hierarchy and that one group has access to a disproportionate amount of money, power and prestige and stratification can be used as a lens to focus on social inequality”.

The books by Haralmbos, M., Holborn, M. and Heald, R., 2008, called ‘Sociology themes and perspectives’ defines, “social stratification to the presence of distinct social groups which are ranked one above the other in terms of factors such as prestige and wealth.”

The five societal pyramids explain how societies work. 

This pyramid arrangement focused on how people were ranked by their financial positions, their power and their prestige. The way society effort with social division depends upon wealth and power, not on hereditary position. The open system based on personal accomplishment, where people have control over position between upper and lower class in society can lead to discrimination amongst each other. The stratification systems focused on other social divisions such as:

Gender stratification

Ethnic stratification

Age stratification

Health and disability

In the 19th and 20th century the structural functional paradigm argued that stratification systems are functional for society. The Davis-Moore Thesis argues that industrialized societies for the most part are prolific under a system of meritocracy. Under this kind of inequality, the stratification system rewards good performers with high salaries and punishes poor performers with fewer salaries. Davis-Moore argued that several jobs have to to pay more than others; they are important jobs, so their high salary will magnetize the most excellent performers. These top performers will be more inventive and this is functional for society. Functionalists also argue that stratification promotes in-group harmony.

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Marx and Weber, who were Conflict theorists, alleged that the finest way to study social stratification was by using Conflict theory. On the whole, the main aim was to scrutinize and elucidate social inequality in society. Marx thought that there were two classes in the social order, owners and the workers. He wanted the workforce to become aware of this theory to ultimately bring down the owners.

Weber, in contrast, considered more about Marx theory and thought that there must be another class involved which is the middle class. Middle class inhabitants are ones with skills required for jobs but do not have ownership; this set them at a distance from blue-collars, because they had skills for certain jobs which gave them a sense of power.

Mills and Domhoff thought that there are little structured groups of people who stay out of political affairs so they are not estranged. This gives them a key to power in society.   

Social Stratification allows people who have proficient varying competence and riches to function in ways that are appropriate for them.

This is a functionalist perspective supported by Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore. They started by pointing out that “no society is classless or unstratified.”


From the above mentioned things we can conclude that the basic factor that causes social stratification is poverty. Steps should be taken for its eradication which will bring change in the society.

 In order to eradicate social stratification, we should try to eradicate things that are causing it including unequal education, facilities, opportunities, wealth, poverty etc. if all the citizens of every country will get everything in equal quantity and quality, only then change will happen. This is the basic right of every citizen and it should be given to them. More fortunate people should help the less fortunate ones. They should try to be empathetic towards poor only then they can help them. They should be motivated and interested in keeping everybody equal and everyone should try, on individual level, to see the needy around them. Other than this the only best solution to solve this vicious circle is to apply a Sharia law on national scale, which stipulates that each person should set aside 2.5% of the income each person earns monthly to help eradicate poverty and the money gathered can be used to purchase things needed for those who are in need as capital, like sewing machines or seeds etc. 

There’s no way for the government to be able to reduce or let alone eradicate poverty as long as it tightly clings on to capitalism and those 99% Americans are the living proofs, who say capitalism can’t eradicate poverty.


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