What is social stratification?

The social stratification Is a horizontal division of society into higher and lower social units, that is, it refers to the dispositions of any social group or society in a hierarchy of positions that are unequal in power, property, social evaluation and gratification Social.

Equally it is the division into permanent groups or categories linked to each other by the relation of superiority and subordination, which is manifested even in the most primitive societies, because it is believed that the real equality of the members is a myth never realized in the History of humanity.

What is social stratification?

Social stratification is a phenomenon present in all societies. Members classify themselves and others based on hierarchies that are given by various factors.

There are several systems of social stratification. In societies that have closed systems, inequalities are institutionalized, and are more marked and rigid; While in open stratification systems, social mobility is possible, although some members of the population do not have the opportunity to realize their full potential.

Most modern industrial societies have systems of open or class stratification.

The existence of this phenomenon has unleashed for centuries a problem of social inequality, since it is marked by differences evaluated as inferior and superior.

Principles of social stratification

According to Bernard Barber, social stratification in its most general sense is a sociological concept that refers to the fact that both individuals and groups of individuals are conceived as constitutive of a greater or lesser degree, differentiated into strata or classes in terms of some Specific or generalized characteristic or in a set of characteristics.

Its meaning is based on the division of society in relation to the different strata or layers. It is a hierarchy of social groups. Members of a particular layer have a common identity, have a similar lifestyle.

Social stratification is based on four fundamental principles:

  1. It is a feature of society, and not simply a reflection of individual differences.
  2. It persists for generations.
  3. It is universal (occurring everywhere) but variable (taking different forms in different societies).
  4. It implies not only believing in inequality, but also that it has its roots in the philosophy of a society.

Types of social stratification in history

  • Breed: Is a hereditary social group in which the rank of a person and their rights and the procedural obligations that accompany it, are attributed on the basis of their birth in a particular group.
  • Class: Is based on the ruling class of modern society, in this sense, the position of a person depends to a large extent on his achievements and his ability to advantageously use the innate characteristics and wealth he may possess.
  • Domain: Is the root system of Medieval Europe, as it provided another system of stratification that gave much emphasis to birth as well as to wealth and possessions.
  • Slavery: Had economic foundation and during that time each slave had a master to whom he was subjected. The power of the master over the slave was unlimited.
  • Status: Is based on the state policy, the amount of economic elements that it has in society, and based on that determines the amount of privileges or treatment to which it must be submitted.
  • Income: The distribution of income between individuals or families takes the form of a relatively small group at the top receiving large amounts and a small lower group receiving what is called negative income.
  • Race: In some places, race and ethnicity are taken into account.

Characteristics of social stratification

  • It is universal: The authors state that there is no society in this world that is free of stratification, whatever the type. It is suggested that societies in this sense are primitive. According to Sorokin"all permanently organized groups are stratified."
  • It is social: It is true that biological qualities do not determine one's own superiority and inferiority. Factors such as age, sex, intelligence, as well as resistance, often contribute as the basis on which different cultures are distinguished from others. But education, property, power, and experience are among the most important qualities.
  • It is old: The stratification system is very old, was present even in small areas of captivity. In almost all ancient civilizations, the differences between the rich and the poor, humble and powerful existed. Even during the period of Plato and Kautilya, emphasis was placed on political, social and economic inequalities.
  • It is in several forms: Are not uniform in all societies, in the modern world class, caste and roots are the general forms of stratification, all societies, past or present, large or small, are characterized by different forms of social stratification.
  • It is a lifestyle: A class system not only affects life chances but also lifestyle, although its members may have similar social possibilities, vary according to the hierarchy to which they belong, influencing survival, physical and mental health, education and justice. They include such issues as residential areas in all communities that have degrees of prestige, rank, mode of accommodation, recreation facilities, type of dress, books, television programs to which one is exposed and so on.

Dimensions of social stratification

  • Prestige: Refers to the honor that involves respectful behavior. Radcliffe Brown says that among societies there are three groups where special prestige is usually given: the elderly, people with supernatural powers, and those with special personal attributes such as hunting ability, sports skills, and so on.
  • Preferences: They encompass positions, that is, functions that are preferred by most people who are judged to be superior, for example, I would like to be a doctor, as this profession indicates some degree of hierarchy.
  • Popularity: Are the choices that are chosen by society because they are common, easy and fashionable. It is not based on tastes and preferences or prestige, but on what is considered more in vogue for the moment of choice.
  • Social Aspects of Stratification: The distribution of rewards is governed exclusively by social norms or conventions that may prevail in a society.

The term"social"implies the continuity of these norms mainly affected by socialization. The division of society into hierarchical groups of state is not simply a matter of a single generation; Continues from generation to generation.

Stratification is of a dynamic nature, due mainly to social forces, so it can be seen that socialization is not always perfect or uniform, and even more, from the values ​​defended by society, structure and nature do not remain the same with Time, due to the constant changes to which they are subjected.

Social stratification is closely related to other social institutions. It is affected, and at the same time has effects on issues such as marriage, religion, education, economic structure and the political system.

It has characteristics that are based on its antiquity. There has been no society in the past in which, in one way or another, social stratification was not found without excluding the small wandering bands that characterized society in the early days of man. In such primitive conditions, age and sex in combination with physical force must have been important stratification criteria.

Defenders of social stratification

Structural functionaries argue that social inequality plays a fundamental role in the emergence of cities and culture. Davis-Moore's thesis claims that social stratification has beneficial consequences for the functioning of society.

Therefore, they argue that the most difficult jobs in any society are the most necessary and require the highest rewards and compensation in order to motivate individuals to fill them.

Finally, they assert that any society can be the same, but only to the extent that people are willing to fulfill the jobs for which they are prepared, otherwise it would require that even those who do their work badly be rewarded equally , Which can lead to several criticisms.


Tumin, Walter Buckley, Michael Young point out that stratification can actually hinder the efficient functioning of a social system, as it can prevent those with superior skills from performing certain tasks that are preserved only for a privileged class.

Second, these authors believe that social stratification is deficient, since there is no agreement of a functionalist view that some tasks are more important for a society than others, which causes that the order is inefficient and that prevents the development Of an adequate form of a society.

On the other hand, Tumin questioned the view of the functions of social stratification to integrate a social system, arguing that differential rewards can foster hostility and mistrust among the various sectors of the same.

In addition, some sociologists question the implicit assumption that actual reward differences reflect differences in skills required for particular occupations.

Finally, they have rejected the view that the function of unequal rewards is to motivate talented people and assign them to more important positions, since they suggest that, on the contrary, it acts as a barrier to motivation and recruitment of these.


  1. Kerbo, H. R. (2009). Social stratification and inequality.
  2. American class structure (Gilbert, 2002)
  3. The American class structure in an age of growing inequality (6th ed.). Belmont.
  4. The social life of a modern community. Editorial New Haven.

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