Theories of social stratification


The term "social stratification" refers to the practise of categorising members of a society into distinct groups based on their socioeconomic status. It's a cornerstone of every society and has profound effects on people's daily lives.

Layers of individuals make up society, and those at different levels of the social pyramid receive unequal shares of the pie. The wealthiest members of society make up the upper tiers of society's stratification system. The lower tiers of our society are made up of other groups of individuals who have increasingly fewer resources.

Kings and subjects, lords and serfs, the wealthy and the poor, the landowners and the working class, the top and lower castes, etc. are all examples of social stratifications that have existed throughout human history.

Definition of Social Stratification

Social stratification is a system of classification that divides society's members along economic, political, and social lines. It can also be based on ethnicity, gender, and religion.

According to the famous philosopher Karl Marx, divisions in society arise from people's unequal access to the means of production, which might be either private ownership or wage labour.

Every society has some form of social stratification. Economic class is the primary determinant of social stratification, with the wealthy at the top, the middle class in the centre, and the poor at the bottom.Some countries, for instance, have caste systems based on things like genealogy or race. Gender and religious affiliation are sometimes used to create distinct social strata in other countries.

The Functions of Social Stratification

Sociologists Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore believe that inequality is not only inevitable but also crucial for the smooth functioning of society, argued the social stratification serves the following functions −

  • One can go up or down in status through the accomplished status system. Those who put in the time and effort and who are smart rise in the ranks of society. Contrarily, those who fall short of expectations fall further. Therefore, people are constantly alert due to the possibility of a change in position, and this motivates them to work hard.

  • Occupations deemed crucial to a society's well-being are accorded high status, whereas those deemed unnecessary are assigned low status since they do not need much education or training. There would be no room for ambiguity in such a system, and the populace would be encouraged to exert themselves to the fullest in order to enter more respectable fields of work.

  • Efficiency in the workplace is achieved when people with the right skills and experience are assigned to the right jobs. As a result, they are more effective in their work. This way the rule of survival of the fittest is strictly adhered to.

  • It contributes to societal stability. It's a way to establish rigid social stratifications based on innate characteristics like intelligence and talent, and to enforce uniform norms of conduct across the board. This helps to keep society running smoothly.

Stratification and Conflict

Stratification and conflict are closely related and often intertwined. Stratification creates a system of inequality, which can lead to feelings of resentment and frustration among those who are disadvantaged. This can lead to conflict between different social classes, as well as within a society.

Divisions in society are often the root of war and violence. For instance, the difference between the educated and the uneducated might be rather wide in certain nations. This can lead to conflict between the two groups, since the educated have better access to resources and opportunities, while the uneducated are left behind. Conflicts can arise as a result of the resulting resentment and dissatisfaction.

Theories of Social Stratification

There are four hypotheses that attempt to explain the causes and effects of social stratification. When trying to make sense of the nuances of social stratification, it's vital to take into account the merits and limitations of a variety of theories.

Functionalist theory

This theory suggests that stratification is necessary for the functioning of society. It argues that stratification is beneficial because it allows for the specialization of labour and division, which leads to increased efficiency and productivity. Additionally, it suggests that stratification is necessary to maintain social order and stability.

Conflict Theory

This theory suggests that stratification results from power struggles between different social classes. It argues that those with power and wealth can maintain their positions of privilege by exploiting those with less power and wealth. This theory suggests that stratification results from the unequal distribution of resources and power in society.

Symbolic interactionist Theory

This theory suggests that stratification results from the meanings and symbols that people attach to different social positions. It argues that people’s beliefs and values about social positions influence how they interact with each other and how they view their social position.

Cultural Theory

This theory suggests that stratification is the result of cultural beliefs and values.


Social stratification, is a method of categorising people in a society based on their economic, political, and social status. The end result of social stratification is based on merit, giving a form of organisation in which advancement is granted solely on the basis of one's abilities and credentials. Conflict and social stratification go hand in hand. Disadvantaged members of society may become resentful and angry because of the unequal treatment they receive as a result of stratification. There are four hypotheses that attempt to explain the causes and effects of social stratification: Functionalist theory, Conflict theory, Symbolic interactionist theory and Cultural theory.


Q1. What are the criticisms of conflict theory?

Ans. Critics of conflict theory argue that it is too simplistic and fails to take into account the complexity of social stratification. They also argue that it ignores the role of culture and values in shaping social stratification.

Q2. What are some of the philosophies on social stratification?

Ans. Some of the philosophies on social stratification include Marxism, Functionalism, and Conflict Theory.

Q3. How can social stratification be addressed?

Ans. Social stratification can be addressed by creating policies and programs that promote equality and provide access to resources, power, and opportunities for all members of society. Additionally, education and awareness can help to reduce the effects of social stratification and reduce the potential for conflict.

Updated on: 27-Feb-2023

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