Topic of the lecture: Social Inequality and Social Stratification
1. Definition of social stratification and inequality
2. Forms of stratification:
3. Maintaining stratification:
Sociologists use a geological metaphor to explain how groups of people are divided into social rankings similar to the layers, or strata, in the Earth’s surface. The term that sociologists use to describe this division of people into layers is social stratification, the structured hierarchy, or social strata, that exist in a society.Social stratification is one of the most basic concepts in sociology.
Stratification is systemic; It is actually part of our social system, not something that occurs haphazardly (randomly). Stratification is a “social arrangement patterned socially and historically, which is rooted in an ideological framework that legitimates and justifies the subordination of particular groups of people” This means that stratification isan enduring facet of society, supported by social values and belief systems.
Stratification results in inequalitiesof valued resources (wealth, social opportunities, power, etc.) between groups or categories of people. Inequalityis the degree of disparity(imbalance) of this distribution within society. Although the term is sometimes used interchangeably with social stratification, inequality is actually more specific. Some of the most important questions for sociologists studying stratification involve understanding the impacts of this inequality on our lives.Stratification results in great variations in lifestyles representing systemic differences in opportunities
Stratification impacts our lives in ways that we might not immediately recognize, both materially and nonmaterial. It impacts our health through such factors as differential access to nutrition, health care, treatment quality, the resources people have available to cope with stress in their lives, and living conditions, with the poor being more likely to live in unhealthy locations. Stratification impacts our access to quality education (DiMaggio 1982), which will, in turn, impact other areas such as income. It impacts our toleration of controversial behaviors, our political affiliations, and our voting patterns.
In our family lives, stratification even impacts how we divide responsibilities and our child-care arrangements. Stratification impacts what we want for our children, the type of activities we feel comfortable participating in, and our life chances. It impacts our likelihood of arrest, conviction, and imprisonment. Stratification can even impact whether we live or die. A famous example is provided by the Titanic. When that ship sank, over 60% of first-class passengers with more expensive tickets on the upper decks survived, while only a quarter of those holding third-class passage survived (Hall 1986).
Forms of stratification
A variety of social-stratification systems with varying opportunities to move between strata have existed throughout history (Lenski 1984). The earliest types of societies were hunting and gathering societies stratified along tribal systems into groups of chiefs, shamans, and others. Other preindustrial societies were stratified by feudal systems (consisting of kings, nobles, and serfs) and slave systems. Feudal systems were justified by tradition and religion; slavery was justified by those in power as a matter of natural selection.
A type of stratification system widely associated with agrarian societies is a caste society. In caste societies,a person’s location in the social strata is ascribed by birth ratherthan based on individual accomplishments. Movement between strata, or castes, is prohibited or severely limited. The system is maintained through endogamous marriages,cultural rules requiring that people marry only within their own group. Other strict restrictions on interactions between the castes are also important in maintaining the system.
Traditional Indian society was a caste system. Some rural areas in that country still remain largely caste systems (Human Rights Watch 1999). South African society under apartheid(laws that formalized strict racial segregation) was a caste system based on race. That system of legally sanctioned segregation was officially eliminated in 1992. Some scholars have also classified feudal medieval Europe and the southern United States under slavery as caste societies.
Industrial society gave rise to class-based systems of stratification. In class societies, social stratification is based on a combination of ascribed and achieved statuses. Strata are largely established along economic lines but are not as clearly delineated as in a caste system. Class societies allow movement between classes based on individual accomplishments. This movement, however, can still be limited by factors such as unequal treatment based on ascribed statuses.
The United Kingdom is a class society with remaining vestiges of a caste-based past. This past is seen in the monarchy and the British Parliament’s House of Lords, a legislative body that was traditionally made up of individuals of noble birth. Some of these seats now, however, are occupied by “commoners.” The other legislative body, the House of Commons, is made up of elected members.
Sometimes distinctions are based on more than income.
For example, the highest class is sometimes divided into “old money” and “new money.” Those with old money have wealth primarily due to birth. These elite have exclusive lifestyles and extensive networking opportunities.
Even activities such as supporting charitable organizations often provide networking opportunities with other elites. In his autobiography, sociologist George Homans (1984), writes about his time at Harvard University. There, students sought membership in a hierarchy of social clubs that determined many of the networking connections the student would have for a lifetime.