In Sociology and Anthropology, social stratification is the hierarchical arrangement of individuals into social classes, castes and divisions within a society. These hierarchies, which may be overtly or covertly preset, or not present at all in some societies, are quite common in state-level societies. In our society we rank people according to the scarce resources they control.
Money and property are scarce resources in our society and those who own a great deal of money and property, wealthy people, can use this resource to gain power. It has been said that very respected people also control another scarce resource – public respect and that they can use this resource to gain power. Political leaders are likewise powerful because they are in a position to control the members of a political party. This ranking of people according to their wealth, prestige or party position is known as Social Stratification. Stratification separates the rich from the poor, the powerful from the powerless. Those who possess scarce resources have a high rank and those who do not possess them have a low rank. Our place in the stratification system influences every part of our lives; where we live, go to school and work; what we eat how we vote and whom we marry. Our sexual behaviour, sports, hobbies and health are all affected by the rank society gives us. Therefore social stratification is an area of great interest to sociologists.


The term stratification is derived from the geological concept of ‘Strata‘ which means rock layers created by natural processes. Stratification is a hierarchy of positions with regard to economic production which influences the social rewards to those in the positions.

According Raymond W. Murray; “Social Stratification is horizontal division of society into ‘higher‘ and ‘lower‘ social units.”

Every society is divided into more or less distinct groups. Even the most primitive societies had some form of social stratification.

According to Gilbert; “Social Stratification is the division of society into permanent groups or categories linked with each other by the relationship of superiority and subordination.”

According to Kurt B. Mayer; “Social Stratification is, a system of differentiation which includes social positions whose occupants are treated as superior, equal or inferior relative to one another in socially important respect.”

Lundberg writes, “A stratified society is one marked by inequality, by difference among people that are evaluated by them as being ‘lower‘ and ‘higher‘.

According to Peter Robert Saunders, “In modern Western Societies, Stratification depends on social and economic classes comprising three main layers: upper class, middle class and lower class. Each class is further subdivided into smaller classes related, in part, to occupation.

It can be said that, people classify one another into categories and rank these categories from higher to lower. The process of defining such categories is called ‘Social Stratification‘, and the resulting of ranked categories is called the stratification structure. The categories themselves are known as strata, popularly termed as classes.

The main features of social stratification are;

1. It is a social and economic categorization of individuals within a societal framework.
2. It is based on Caste, Class, and Status & Power of a Community or Section of People within the framework of a society.
3. Social Stratification exists because of natural differences in peoples abilities.
4. Due to Social Stratification societies tend to be stable and are held together through consensus.
5. It lessens conflicts & provides structure.
6. Social Stratification is a natural & voluntary separation according to race, social & economic status.


The categories of social stratification are; social class, gender, race and ethnicity and age and disability.

Some indicative features of these categories are as follows:

a) Social Class

• Distinction between wealth and income and their distribution in society.
• Social mobility and the link between class and life chances.
• Changing nature of class and its relationship to the economy and occupational structure.

b) Gender

• Difference between biological notion of sex and the socially constructed notion of gender.
• Nature and consequences of gender-role socialisation.
• Gender inequalities in terms of occupation, family and social roles and expectations.

c) Race and Ethnicity

• Nature, size and distribution of different racial and ethnic groups in modern society.
• Inequality relating to race and ethnicity; in particular, discrimination in education, employment and on life chances.
• Role of the mass media in the formation of stereotypes and the consequences for ethnic groups.

d) Age

• Social construction of the concept of age, including awareness of different notions of childhood, adolescence and old age in different societies.
• Inequalities as a result of age, such as employment, unemployment, low pay, access to benefits and restrictions on social behaviour.
• Implications of changes in the age structure of modern society.

e) Disability

• Social construction of disability.
• Inequality relating to disability; in particular, discrimination in education, employment and on life chances.
• Role of the mass media in the formation of negative stereotypes and the consequences for disabled individuals and groups.

The effects of stratification on the lives of individuals and groups :

The above aspects of social stratification should be studies in order to explore the nature of social relationships, processes, structures and issues. Sub-cultural, cross-cultural, historical, contemporary or anthropological examples should be used wherever possible and candidates should be encouraged to apply insights to current social issues or their own life experiences. Cross-cultural and/or anthropological examples may be drawn from the Socialization.

 Causes of Social Stratification:

There are five basic points which gives clear idea about the causes of social stratification;
(1) Inequality – Inequality exists because of natural differences in people‘s abilities.
(2) Conflict – Stratification occurs due to conflict between different classes, with the upper classes using superior power to take a larger share of the social resources.
(3) Power – Power influences one‘s definition of self and the importance of ideas in defining social situations.
(4) Wealth – Difference in the wealth is also one of the causes of social stratification.
(5) Instability – Instability in the society being the cause of social stratification enhances stability and induces members of the society to work hard.

The Process of Stratification:

People‘s differing ranks in society are based on class and status. Class rankings are based on wealth, income, and life chances to acquire wealth and income. Status comes from the honour and respect people receive from others. Class and status are sources of power, and they are the criteria used to rank people in a system of stratification. Structural functionalists believe that systems of stratification develop because societies need scarce leadership skills and reward to those who are willing to assume the responsibility of leadership. Conflict theorists contend that stratification develops because certain groups gain a monopoly of the scarce resources through inheritance or conflict and use those resources to maintain their high positions.

Research indicates that Stratification becomes more pronounced as wealth and the division of labour increase.

Very simple societies have little division of labour and little stratification. Agrarian and industrial societies have more wealth, greater division of labour, and more stratification. There are several types of stratification systems. In a caste system, positions assigned of birth according to the position of the caste, and a person‘s caste is fixed for life.

The class system is found only in industrial societies and allows movement into higher or lower strata through the accumulation or loss of wealth and status. The differences are especially profound between the rich and the poor, and the most important ones are found in housing, health care, and educational opportunity. It is these variations that affect life chances.

Types of Social Stratification :

(1) Caste : Caste can be defined as a hereditary intermarrying group which determines the individual‘s status in the social stratification by his occupation, etc. e.g. Brahmin has the highest place in the social stratification of castes in India.
(2) Class : Social stratification is also based on Class. Class is a status group and in only society the social status of one group always differs from that of another. Class is also a person‘s economic position in a society. However, as per Weber, Class is not a supreme factor in stratification. He noted that how Managers of corporations or industries control firms they do not own.
(3) Status : Status is a person‘s prestige, social honour, or popularity in a society. Social stratification is also based on status of a person. Weber noted that political power was not rooted in capital value society, but also in one‘s individual status. Poets or saints can possess immense influence on society with often little economic growth.
(4) Power : A person‘s ability to get their way despite the resistance of others. For example, individuals in state jobs may hold little property or status but they still hold immense power.

 Major Explanations of Stratification :

Why are societies stratified? This question was widely debated by early sociologists, and their different viewpoints have shaped current debates on the subject. Spencer believed that superior people would educate themselves and become leaders, whereas inferior people would remain in the bottom ranks of society. However Marx contended that the poor would become aware of their plight and would revolt.

The theories of those early writers have had a strong influence on the two prevailing modern theories of stratification, structural functionalism and conflict theory.


Structural functionalists have refined Spencer‘s nation that society, like any other organism, is self-regulating and self-maintaining and that it consists of interrelated parts that serve a function in maintaining the system as a whole.

According to this view, stratification is necessary for society to function. Complex industrial system needs to be centralized, and power is place in the hands of people who are capable of being leaders. Leadership requires advanced learning, hard work, and the ability to assume responsibility. Society rewards those who serve as leaders by giving them wealth. Wealth and status, both scarce resources, provide power, so those who serve society by providing scarce skills became the powerful people. Thus, inequality is created by the needs of the society, to by the desires and needs of the individuals. If society had an equal need for all types of work, then all its members would be equal.

Conflict Theory of Stratification

Conflict theorists reject the functional viewpoint, arguing that inequality develops as a result of people‘s desire for scarce resources, and close-knit groups compete with one another to gain possession of these resources. According to this view, resources are not rewards for talent or for assuming difficult tasks but are acquired through inheritance, coercion, or exploitation. Inequality results when one group acquires more resources than other group.

Once the dominant group gets power, it tries to make its power appear legitimate by using propaganda to appeal to the masses through education, the mass media, religion, and politics. If the masses are influenced by the propaganda of the upper class, they are said to have what Marx called ‘false consciousness‘, a belief that the upper class is superior and has the right to rule, If, on the other hand, the masses reject the propaganda of the upper classes and are aware that they are being exploited, they are said to have ‘Class Consciousness‘. Regardless of their consciousness, there is little conflict if the masses have jobs and can live lives they find satisfactory. Serious conflicts develop only when the masses are severely exploited and possess class consciousness..


To view class in relation to ownership of the means of production; this means ownership of industry, factories, banks, etc. Simply put – you are either in the class that owns and controls the country‘s wealth, or you are not.

Marxists use the term ‘exploitation‘ to describe the relationship between the class who own the means of production – the bourgeoisie – and the people who work for a living –the proletariat. They claim that the bourgeoisie try to keep the wages of the proletariat as low as possible so that they can make as much profit as possible.

Marxists the interests of these classes are opposite to each other. The bourgeoisie want to increase profits and the proletariat want to increase their wages –Marxists argue you can‘t really do both.


A social class is ‘one or two or more broad group of individuals who are ranked by the members of the community in socially superior and inferior positions‘. Max Weber held that classes are aggregates of individuals‘ who have the same opportunities of acquiring goods, the same, exhibited standard of living‘. Social class can also be said as

‘Culturally defined group that is accorded a particular position or status within the population as a whole‘.

Social class is based on several closely related factors; Wealth, the power derived from wealth, and ‘life chances‘ to acquire wealth.



Without exception modern societies such as our own are socially stratified. This means that they contain social groups (i.e.), families, classes or ethnic groups that have unequal access to important advantages, such as economic resources, power and prestige. Such inequalities have not always existed, however. During most of human history, more equalitarian societies were the rule. Such equalitarian have some differences in advantages based on age, gender, or particular ability but all the families within them have the same access to rights and advantages.

Based upon customs or rules that confer or deny unequal access to economic resources, power or prestige, anthropologist has a model of three different kinds of societies.

1. Equalitarian Society
2. Rank Society
3. Class Society

(1) Equalitarian Societies are unstratified; no social group has unequal access to economic resources, power or prestige.
(2) Rank Societies are partly stratified; social groups do not have very unequal access to economic resources or power but they do have unequal access to prestige.
(3) Class societies are stratified; Social groups have unequal access to economic resources, power and prestige. Such stratified societies may range from somewhat open class systems to more rigid caste systems when caste membership is assigned at birth and unlikely to change throughout life. Within a society composed of people from widely varied backgrounds and different physical features racism is often associated with social stratification.

“Race” is not a scientifically useful device for classifying humans. Access to higher learning should be made possible for all regardless or race, ethnicity, gender, economic or social class, age, language, religion, location or disabilities. Equitable access and academic excellence are essential and compatible aspects of quality higher education.

(1) Division of society into groups that differ greatly in wealth, power and prestige.
(2) Class based on achieved status.
(3) Caste based on ascribed status.

 Principles of social stratification :

Stratification refers to a system of inequality, society is stratified.

There are five principles :
(1) It is social, not natural
(2) It‘s persistent, even as societies change.
(3) It is omnipresent in nearly all social settings, even in socialist systems.
(4) It is supported by ideology.
(5) It is micro – as well as a macro –level.

Liberal and Radical :-

1. Liberals:
Liberals support a moderately high level of social services but tend to favour equality of opportunity more than equality of social condition. They do believe that society has a duty to help the poor and oppressed, and to make appropriate arrangements for the young and elderly, but they would not go as social democrats and other radicals in the pursuit of these goals. Many liberals also believe that the educated elite should lead society and that the power of rational persuasion (“ideas” again) are sufficient to convince voters of the moral correctness of their aims; they are thus “idealists” in the strictly philosophical sense of the term.

2. Radical :


The important theoretical question of whether our interpretation of the relationship between social structure and personality applies also during times of radical social change.
Social change as change in the structure of the society, not merely as an eventful or dramatic period in the life of that society: "Change occurs when there is a shift in pattern, when new relationships emerge..." By radical social change, we prefer not to the pace of change but to the nature of the change--the transformation of one political and economic system into a quite different system. The idea of a relationship between social structure and personality implies a dynamic interchange. What we learn about this interchange during times of social stability offers a static slice of a dynamic process. Whether what we learn is typical of a more general process or is specific to times of social stability is an open question. The null hypothesis, so to speak, is that our general interpretation of the relationships between social structure and personality will prove to be valid even during periods of radical social change. Contrary hypotheses would predict that radical social change might greatly modify the relationships between social structure and personality: either because the social structures of the countries were themselves in process of change; or because the relationship between social-structural position and occupational self direction may weaken during periods of transition from one system to another, when the occupational structure itself may be in flux; or because the pivotal role of occupational self direction as an explanatory link between social-structural position and personality may be challenged under conditions of change and uncertainty; or simply because the experience of radical social change-- particularly the uncertainties and fears that it engenders--may itself have such wide-ranging psychological consequences as to overwhelm all else.

How does one test these hypotheses? Poland certainly has been experiencing radical social change, and for our purposes a restudy of Poland was strategically central. We studied Ukraine for much the same reason that my collaborators and I originally studied Poland and Japan--to differentiate social-structural universals from single-nation particularities

Liberal and Distributive Models of Social Justice

The definition of the ‘Distributive Liberal Social Contract‘ is proposed which appears ethically and practically acceptable. The logical consistency of the liberal social contract is established in a theorem which proves the existence of such a contract for all initial distributions of wealth, when individual agents share the common opinions that wealth should be consumed by individuals rather than disposed of, and that gifts should flow down the scale of wealth. The distributive liberal social contracts are then the Pareto efficient distributions that are unanimously preferred to the initial distribution of rights.


Social stratification refers to differential access to resources, power, autonomy, and status across social groups. Social stratification implies social inequality; if some groups have access to more resources than others, the distribution of those resources is inherently unequal. Societies can be stratified on any number of dimensions. In the United States, the most widely recognized stratification systems are based on race, social class, and gender. The challenge for those of us interested in understanding the implications of social stratification and social inequality for mental health is to trace the processes through which macrostructures of social stratification become manifest in the micro conditions of individual lives. Those micro conditions can be objective or subjective, and the effects of objective conditions often depend on how those conditions are subjectively perceived. Thus, the study of social stratification and mental health requires that we think at multiple levels of analysis and about the connections between objective and subjective experiences. Given renewed interest in macro-micro links among sociologists (e.g., Huber, 1990) and the centrality of subjective perceptions in social-psychological theory, the study of social stratification and mental health is a quintessentially sociological project.

"Even though social stratification is a multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional field of study, there is a tendency to understand it mainly from the perspective of sociology. Further, most analysts perceive Indian society as a series of antinomies such as caste/class, caste/power, structure/culture and structure/process. Departing significantly from both these viewpoints, this book provides a comprehensive understanding of social stratification and mobility in India drawing essential inputs from major debates and dialogues in various branches of the social sciences.

"Focusing on different segments of society--such as rural- agrarian and urban-industrial--K.L. Sharma covers a wide gamut of theoretical and methodological issues. He emphasizes the need to study the ideology, structure and process of social inequality both temporally and contextually. The inclusion of discussions on social stratification particularly enriches the comparative perspective of the study. The role of the state and its policies in the structuring of social stratification is also explored.

"The author maintains that while the cult urological explanation of social mobility suffers from serious inadequacies, the structural perspective alone is unable to explain the entire range of structure and change in the context of social inequality. He suggests that the caste- class-power nexus approach is not only more relevant for analyzing social stratification and mobility, but does away with antinomies as well.

"On the whole, this chapter provides a holistic understanding of the complexities of Indian society by analyzing the historical, cultural and political bases of social stratification. It will be of particular interest to students and scholars of sociology, social anthropology, and political sociology, as also to concerned intellectuals and planners."

Equality of Educational Opportunity

Equality is said to exist only when inequality has been removed. But in reality inequality is not totally eliminated. Whatever measures may be taken to ensure equality, inequality will exist to some degree. Thus what the programmes of equality do or can do is to narrow down the inequalities. It means “elimination of that level or type of Inequality which is considered undesirable or unacceptable within the society.” So the purist of equality aims not at total equality in the philosophical sense, but at an equitable distribution of societal resources.

Modern society views education as an important societal resource and a means of achieving the goal of egalitarianism. Education is looked upon as a means of raising the social status of an individual in various ways. It is accepted as a basic human need to have a desirable quality of life. Given equal opportunity for general, vocational, technical and professional education most citizens have equal status in the society. Education is often considered as an equalizer.

Equality of educational opportunities means that an individual has equal access to education. Equality of educational opportunities is one of the goals of the ideology of Egalitarianism. However, inequality of educational opportunities exists throughout the world and more so in India.

The Education Commission (1964-1966) has observed: “The main social objectives of education is to equalize opportunity, enabling the backward or underprivileged classes and individuals to use education as a lever for the improvement of their condition. Every society that values social justice and is anxious to improve a lot of the common man and cultivate all available talent must ensure progressive equality of opportunity to all sections of the population.

 Differential standard of Educational Institutions:

Children from poor families receive education in substandard institutions which are not properly equipped with teachers, teaching aids and apparatus. Usually urban schools and colleges are of better standard than rural schools and colleges. Differences in the standard of educational institutions ultimately cause inequality in the standard of students.

 Positive Discrimination in the Indian context:

In order to ensure equalization of educational opportunities certain measures to be taken with immediate effect. These measures may be based on the needs and status of disadvantaged groups, disabled children, and girls.

1. Primary Education:
Primary education should seek to satisfy the basic needs of all people. There should not be any differentiation of curricula at this stage. Equality of educational opportunities at the primary stage requires provision of free and compulsory education for all children without any discrimination.

2. Secondary Education:
Individual differences among boys and girls are more prominent at the secondary stage diversified curricula should be introduced to cater to the needs, interests and capabilities of students.

3. Higher Professional Education:
At the stage of higher education and professional education emphasis should be placed on individual capacity or merit and maintenance of quality and standard.

4. Compensatory Education:
Disadvantaged children have an unstimulating environment. They attend primary schools without prerequisite learning which are necessary for successful completion of primary education.

Common School System:

Equalization of educational opportunity necessitates adoption of a common school system-both at the primary and secondary stages. It will be a system-

1. Which will be open to all children without any discrimination?
2. Where admission will be based on talent.
3. Which will maintain adequate facilities and reasonably good standards?
4. Where no tuition fee will be charged.
5. Which will meet the needs and aspirations of the middle and lower classes.

Nationalization of education system is an important step to equalize educational opportunities. There should be only one agency in the country to spread and control education. No private agency should be allowed to function in the field of education. Uniform educational facilities can only be provided in a national system of education.

Free Education and Scholarships

To provide free and universal primary education for the age group 6-14 is a constitutional obligation. All Education should be tuition free. Free textbooks and writing materials should be made available to poor and meritorious students to ensure equality no limited for introducing large number of loan-scholarships, improving the method of selection.

Equalization of Educational opportunity

The equalization of educational opportunities is essentially linked with the equality notions in the social system. The social system which intends to provide equal opportunities for the advancement of all has to make provisions for equal educational opportunities also. In modern industrial society education has become the main agency for socializing new born into law abiding citizens and productive members of the society. Formal education has become almost indispensable because to participate in economic production one needs to learn specialized skills which cannot be acquired through family or any other agency. Due to the indispensability of formal education in advanced industrial societies education is provided by the state as a matter of right for all its citizens. Formal institutions – schools, colleges and universities are organized for this purpose.

In most societies today legislations exist guaranteeing equality of the right of education. In fact to realize this ideal of equality of educational opportunities special efforts are made by the welfare states in industrial societies to provide compulsory education to the socially deprived. In developing countries like India state has assumed the responsibility to provide universal free education at the school level. Special policy measures have been developed to spread modern scientific secular education to rural areas and policy of protective discriminating has been adopted to encourage the traditionally deprived section like SC and ST to take to modern education. However in spite of the creation of a legal framework in most societies to ensure quality of educational opportunity such an ideal continues to be elusive in reality even in the industrially advanced societies.

Bourdon relates the costs and benefits of course selection to family and peer group solidarity. His work has important implications for practical solutions to the problem of inequality of education opportunity. Even if positive discrimination worked and schools were able to compensate for the primary effects of stratification considerable inequality of educational opportunity would remain.

Bourdon argues that there are two ways of removing the secondary effects of stratification. The first involves the educational system. If it provides a single compulsory curriculum for all students the element of choice in the selection of course and duration of stay in the system would be removed. The individual would no longer be influenced by his courses

and remain in full time education for the same period of time. He said that more the branching points there are in the educational system point at which the student can leave or choose between alternative courses the more likely working class students are to leave or choose lower level courses. The gradual raising of the school leaving age in all advanced industrial societies has reduced inequality of educational opportunity but the present trend indicates that this reduction will at best proceed at a much slower rate. Bourdon‘s second solution to the problem of inequality of educational opportunity is the abolition of social stratification. He feels that this is the direction of economic equality as the most effective way of reducing inequality or educational opportunity. As a result he argues that the key to equality of opportunity lies outside rather than inside the schools. Bourdon concludes: for inequality or educational opportunity to be eliminated, either a society must be unstratified or its school system must be completely undifferentiated.

 Problems concerning equality of opportunities in education

Education helps in establishing equality and ensuring social justice but the system of education itself can add to the existing inequalities or at least perpetuate the same. Inequalities of educational opportunities arise due to - Poverty as the poor cannot afford to meet the expenses of education.

Children studying in the rural schools have to compete with the children in urban areas where there are well-equipped schools.

In the places where no primary, secondary or collegiate educational institutions exist children do not get the same opportunity as those who have all these in their neighborhood.

Wide inequalities also arise from differences in home environments. A child from a rural household or slum does not have the same opportunity as a child from an upper class home with educated parents.

There is wide sex disparity in India. Here girl‘s education is not given the same encouragement as boys. Education of backward classes including SC and ST and economically backward sections is not at par with that of other communities or classes.

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