Social Stratification | What Is Social Stratification
Social stratification is a kind of social differentiation whereby members of society are grouped into socioeconomic strata, based upon their occupation and income, wealth and social status, or derived power (social and political). As such, stratification is the relative social position of persons within a social group, category, geographic region, or social unit.
In modern Western societies, social stratification is typically defined in terms of three social classes: (i) the upper class, (ii) the middle class, and (iii) the lower class; in turn, each class can be subdivided into strata, e.g. the upper-stratum, the middle-stratum, and the lower stratum. Moreover, a social stratum can be formed upon the bases of kinship, clan, tribe or caste, or all four.
The categorization of people by social strata occurs in all societies, ranging from the complex, state-based or polycentric societies to tribal and feudal societies, which are based upon socio-economic relations among classes of nobility and classes of peasants. Historically, whether or not hunter-gatherer societies can be defined as socially stratified or if social stratification began with agriculture and common acts of social exchange, remains a debated matter in the social sciences. Determining the structures of social stratification arises from inequalities of status among persons, therefore, the degree of social inequality determines a person’s social stratum. Generally, the greater the social complexity of a society, the more social strata exist, by way of social differentiation.
The Functions of Social Stratification
Structural functionalists argue that social inequality plays a vital role in the smooth operation of a society. The Davis-Moore thesis states that social stratification has beneficial consequences for the operation of society. Davis and Moore argue that the most difficult jobs in any society are the most necessary and require the highest rewards and compensation to sufficiently motivate individuals to fill them. Certain jobs, like mowing grass or cleaning toilets, can be performed by almost anyone, while other jobs, such as performing brain surgery, are difficult and require the most talented people to perform them.
In order to lure the most talented people away from less important work, a society must offer those people rewards and incentives. Davis and Moore further claim that any society can be equal, but only to the extent that people are willing to let anyone perform any job. This would also require that even those who do their job poorly are rewarded equally. What would be the incentive for people to do their best if everyone was rewarded equally?
Systems of Stratification
Sociologists distinguish between two types of systems of stratification. Closed systems accommodate little change in social position. They do not allow people to shift levels and do not permit social relationships between levels. Open systems, which are based on achievement, allow movement and interaction between layers and classes. Different systems reflect, emphasize, and foster certain cultural values and shape individual beliefs. Stratification systems include class systems and caste systems, as well as meritocracy.
The Caste System
Caste systems are closed stratification systems in which people can do little or nothing to change their social standing. A caste system is one in which people are born into their social standing and will remain in it their whole lives. People are assigned occupations regardless of their talents, interests, or potential. There are virtually no opportunities to improve a person’s social position.
The Class System
A class system is based on both social factors and individual achievement. A class consists of a set of people who share similar status with regard to factors like wealth, income, education, and occupation. Unlike caste systems, class systems are open. People are free to gain a different level of education or employment than their parents. They can also socialize with and marry members of other classes, which allows people to move from one class to another.
Origin of Stratification
Regarding the origin of stratification many views have been given.
(i) According to Davis, social stratification has come into being due to the functional necessity of the social system.
(ii) Professor Sorokin attributed social stratification mainly to inherited difference in environmental conditions.
(iii) According to Karl Mrax, social factors are responsible for the emergence of different social strata, i.e. social stratification.
(iv) Gumplowioz and other contended that the origin of social stratification is to be found in the conquest of one group by another.
(v) According to Spengler, social stratification is founded upon scarcity which is created whenever society differentiates positive in terms of functions and powers.
(vi) Racial differences accompanied by dissimilarity also leads to stratification.
Types Of Social Stratification
Sociologists generally distinguish four main types of social stratification – slavery, estate, caste and social class and status. In industrial societies there are both status groups and social classes. Ogburn and Nimkoff define social stratification as the process by which individuals and groups are ranked in a more or less enduring hierarchy of status. Stratification divides a society into higher and lowers social units. Sorokin asserts that there can be no society without stratification. It is a kind of social differentiation. Social differences become social stratification when the concerned people are ranked hierarchically on the bias of the inequality like differences on some dimensions such as income, power, age, occupation and race etc. A stratified society is marked by inequality by differences among people that are evaluated by them as being higher or lower or equal. In every society some men are regarded as superior or inferior as for example patricians and plebians or aristocrats and commoners. Some are rich and power. In every society there are ruling class and ruled class or subjects.
These constitute the substance of social stratification. Stratification involves unequal distribution of rights and privileges among the members of a society. This is described by Gisbert as division of society into permanent groups on categories linked with each other by the relationship of superiority and subordination. Society attaches different rights and rewards to different positions. Some are rated higher than the others in terms of rights and privileges. According to Spengler stratification results from scarcity of privileges and powers that is created by differentiation of powers, rights and rewards. Kingsley Davis emphasizes the functional necessity of stratification. Differentiation of rewards produces social inequality. According to Davis social inequality ensures that the most important positions are filled by the best fitted persons. Hence social inequality is necessary in any society.
Social Stratification based on Economy
Economic strata have existed in almost every society .In his materialistic philosophy Karl Marx has given enormous importance in the economic analysis of strata but in the place of strata he refers the term class. These economic classes according to Marx are the actual representatives of social stratification. Emile Durkheim and Ferdinand Tonnies also discussed economic strata in their interpretation of Gesellschaft and organic solidarity. Class thus is one of the most important base for social stratification but according to Karl Mannheim stratification is not only based on economic condition but it is also related with non-economic factors.
Social Stratification based on Politics
There is also a political stratification propounded by Gumplowiez and Ratzenhofer who believe that stratification is derived from the conquests of divergent ethnic groups. On the other hand Mosca believes that stratification is simply a distinction between dominant political groups and the masses. Thus the ruling class determines the structure of society and the level of civilization. Plato also assumed that stratification is based on the structure and dynamics of ruling class.