Social Stratification

What is Social Stratification?

In a particular social system, there exist institutionalized inequalities with respect to power, wealth and status, amidst different groups of people belonging to different caste, classes, and sex, which is nothing but social stratification. In various societies of the world, members are classified on the basis of their superiority, inferiority, and equality.

One should note that in all societies, stratification is present, i.e. social differentiation among populations in terms of age, sex, and personal characteristics, etc. Hence, it is that system that bifurcates people in a hierarchy. It is based on four important principles which are:

  • Trait of society is not only a reflection of individual differences.
  • Persists over generations
  • Universal but variable
  • Involves not just inequality but beliefs.

Simply put, social stratification refers to the process in which members of the society are ranked in a hierarchy on the basis of their status, i.e. power, property, social evaluation, psychic gratification.

What is Stratification?

The word ‘stratification’ is originated from the term ‘stratum’ that implies layer. In this way, to stratify means to arrange something in layers and stratification is the process of classifying something as per the graded scale. It is characterized by:

  1. Social: It is evident that stratification is social in a way that does not refer to inequalities due to biological factors.
  2. Ancient: The system is ancient, i.e. as per the historical and archaeological records, all the old civilizations had differences between rich class and poor class, powerful and humble.
  3. Universal: It is ubiquitous, the difference between the haves and have nots is present all around the world.
  4. Diverse forms: It can be found in various forms. For example, As per ancient Aryan society, was stratified into four Varnas – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras, whereas the ancient greek society was stratified into Freeman and Slaves, etc.
  5. Consequential: It may lead to two consequences i.e. life chances and lifestyle, wherein life chances refer to infant mortality, longevity, etc and lifestyle may cover things like housing, education, etc.

Characteristics of Social Stratification

Social stratification is widespread, which can be found everywhere. That is to say, all the societies show some level of differences among their people, be it on the basis of age, personal achievements, race, caste, class, sex, etc.

  • Social stratification is social and not biological, i.e. biological factors do not form a base for differences and so it is magnified by way of dressing style, food, residence, mobility, etc. However, there are some countries where biological factors like race and sex are also a factor of social differentiation.
  • It is exhibited in all the facets of life, where internal divisions related to wealth, authority, power, language, status, customs, etc. persist.
  • Different forms of stratification can be found in different countries. In some countries, it is base on caste, while in others it is based on race, sex, or wealth. Further, it has undergone changes.
  • It is the presence of a hierarchy in ranking people. Hierarchy implies the categorization of a phenomenon on a continuous scale in a manner that the constituents of the whole are graded or classified in relation to the whole.
  • It amounts to competition and an impulse to do better and achieve more, to get a superior position or status in society.

Forms of Social Stratification

The three main forms of social stratification are discussed hereunder:forms-of-social-stratification


Class is the main form of social stratification that is prevalent in modern civilized society, which hinges on the economic wellbeing of the people living in society. In this system, more priority is given to the material possessions of the person. Therefore, his/her status in society is based on the amount of money they have or they earn or on material success.

Classes are groups of people having similar income sources and have similar economic interests.


A unique category of stratification is caste, which is an occupationally specialized group that is bound together due to the social custom that permits marriage within the same group. It is identified by the fact of ascription or ascriptive inequality takes place when the placement of social class is hereditary.

It is a community as it depends on kinship and primordial relationships. It is a collection of families having common names, descent, etc.


Gender is a social construct that states the roles prescribed specifically for men and women. It is one of the bases of status differences. In olden times women are considered as ‘less’ in comparison to men, which has been changed over the years due to feminists movements.

It is a structure of inequality within the system, which assigns the roles of men and women unequally. It determines difference and domination, by distinguishing between men and women.

Race and Ethnicity

It implies a system of inequality wherein race, religion, and nationality acts as a criterion for ranking social positions.

The race is the genetic heritage, that amounts to unique physical characteristics. Ethnicity implies the condition of being distinctive culturally. Such people are closely knit due to their common ancestry and cultural background.

Wrap Up

Social Stratification refers to differences between various members of the society that encompasses an arrangement of elements, be it vertically, horizontally, or separately. It is based on the principle of inequality.

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