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Social Stratification

Last updated date: 21st Feb 2024
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What is Social Stratification?

Social stratification is a concept used by social scientists to describe social standing. Social stratification in sociology describes how societies categorize people based on wealth, income, race, education, and power. As a rule, society's layers, made up of people, are unevenly distributed in terms of resources. In the social structure of stratification, society views the people with more resources as being at the top. Keep reading to learn about the detailed explanation of what is social stratification?

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Theories of Social Stratification

One of the social stratification examples can be found in the Indian Caste system. Societies divided according to social class are known as stratified societies. Today's stratification is fundamentally different from stratification in primitive societies. Two phenomena are involved in social stratification:

(i) Classification of individuals or groups based on shared characteristics, wherein some rank higher than others.

(ii) A ranking based on certain criteria.

In different societies, stratification is defined by different factors. In most societies, stratification is a system of economic inequality based on wealth, the net value of assets and income, the income earned from wages or investments. Social standing is frequently determined by how rich, or poor someone is, but there are other important factors to consider as well. A society's cultural beliefs often reinforce inequalities of stratification. Wisdom and charisma, for instance, are valued in some cultures, and those who possess them are revered more than those without these skills. The elderly are respected in some cultures yet disparaged or ignored in others.

Characteristics of Social Stratification

  • Social: Stratification represents social inequality. It is true that factors such as physique, intelligence, age, and sex often define status. Such differences, however, cannot account for why some statuses enjoy a greater degree of power, property and prestige.

  • Ancient: Stratification is an ancient system. It was present even when people wandered in small bands. There were main determinants of stratification based on age and gender. Nearly all ancient civilizations had differences between the rich and poor, the powerful and the humble, the free and the slave. Throughout history, social philosophers have been deeply concerned about economic, social, and political inequalities.

  • Universal: The concept of social stratification is universal. Everywhere there is a gap between the rich and the poor, the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. Stratification is rampant even in nonliterate societies. 

  • Consequential: There are consequences to the stratification system. Because of stratification in human life, the most desirable and rarest things are distributed unequally. Two kinds of consequences result from the system: 

(i) Life chances: Life chances include factors such as infant mortality, life expectancy, disease, separation, and divorce. 

(ii) Lifestyle: The term 'lifestyle' includes a variety of factors, such as housing, residential area, education, recreation, parent-child relations, modes of transport, etc.

Nature of Social Stratification

Inequality has been a problem for centuries due to stratification. As a result of closed stratification systems, these inequalities become institutionalized and rigid. People born into a certain economic and social caste or stratum stay in this caste until they die. Most industrialized nations have open class structures. Despite the possibility of social mobility in open stratification systems, many members of the population cannot realize their full potential. As a result of stratification, individuals and groups find themselves ranked more or less stable in the hierarchy of social status.


Elements of Social Stratification

There are some common elements in all stratification systems. These elements are differentiation, ranking, evaluation, and rewarding.

  • Status Differentiation: The process of status differentiation is how social positions are differentiated and defined by assigning them a distinct role.

  • Ranking: Society ranks people so that we can find the right person for the right job. Rankings are based on:

(i) Personal characteristics such as intelligence, aggressiveness, politeness, and accountability are thought to be essential for learning and performing the roles effectively.

(ii) The skills and abilities that are considered necessary for the role to be performed adequately, such as surgical, numerical, or linguistic abilities.

(iii) The general nature of the task, such as difficulty, cleanliness, danger, etc.

  • Evaluation: In addition to differentiating and ranking, the evaluation process reinforces it. In contrast to the ranking method, which revolves around more and less, the evaluation method centres around better and worse. Evaluation is a personal and societal attribute. Everyone assigns a relative worth, a preference, and a priority to everything in their lives. Evaluation is a learned skill, and a consensus tends to develop within a culture, with people sharing similar values. Understanding this societal dimension is key to the stratification of evaluation.

  • Rewarding: In terms of good things in life, differentiated, ranked and evaluated statuses are allocated differential rewards. Different rewards are given to socially differentiated units such as families, social classes, and occupations. The benefits of having a prestigious position include health care, education, and income.

Hopefully, this well-written article has comprehensively covered all about social stratification in sociology along with its characteristics and theories.  

FAQs on Social Stratification

Q1:What is social stratification in sociology?

Ans: In social stratification, people are ranked according to their social status within a society. Theories about social stratification aim to reveal and understand a system with predictable rules behind the ranking of individuals and groups. It is also implied that a system of social stratification legitimizes the ranking of people and the unequal distribution of goods, services, and prestige. If belief systems do not justify inequality and unequal ranking, stratification systems are unlikely to remain stable over time.

Q2:What are the different forms of stratification?

Ans: Social stratification in sociology has many different forms, explained below: 

  • Free and unfree: A society's population can be divided into freemen and slaves. Certain communities restrict the rights and privileges of slaves. 

  • Class: Social stratification primarily takes place based on class, especially in developed countries. 

  • Caste: 'Caste' refers to a system whereby one's birth determines one's standing and associated rights and responsibilities into a particular group.

  • Estate and Status: Nobles and important vassals enjoyed privileges, but the rest lived in poverty. Mobility did not pay taxes, neglected feudal duties but reaped all the benefits.  

  • Occupation and Income: In economic systems, occupations play a role in affecting the social class structure. Income inequality leads to unequal living conditions. 

  • Race and Ethnicity: Over time, and still today in some places, race and ethnicity have been regarded as the basis of inequality and stratification. In the Turko-Afghan world, Indian Mussalmans were regarded as inferior, and offices of responsibility and trust were not generally bestowed upon them. 

  • Ruling Class: The ruling class always holds itself up as superior to those it governs. Hence, one can understand the psychology behind a 'lord' and a 'servant' relationship. 

  • Administrative Position: Civil service members have higher status than those in provincial services. High-ranking service members are also respected more than lower-ranking ones.