Social Stratification

The term stratification system refers to the complex of institutions that generate inequalities in income, political power, social honor, and other valued goods. The main components of such systems are: (1) the social processes that define certain types of goods as valuable and desirable, (2) the rules of allocation that distribute these goods across various roles or occupations in the division of labor (e.g., houseworker, doctor, prime minister), and (3) the mobility mechanisms that link individuals to these roles or occupations and thereby generate unequal control over valued goods. It follows that inequality is produced by two types of matching processes: The social roles in society are first matched to ''reward packages'' of unequal value, and individual members of society are then allocated to the roles so defined and rewarded.

An important research field in the stratification literature is concerned with inequalities along the ascribed characteristics of race and ethnicity. The term race connotes biological differences among people (skin color, facial features) that are transmitted from generation to generation. As such, these biological differences are seen as permanent characteristics of people.

Although social stratification lies at the heart of macro-sociology, the study of gender and stratification is comparatively recent, and developed from feminist scholarship. The traditional sociological view is that the oppression of women is adequately covered by class analysis. Feminist theory insists that the class structure, and the oppression of women within patriarchal systems, are separate but interacting social processes.

Class

Class refers to a stratification system that divides a society into a hierarchy of social positions. It is also a particular social position within a class stratification system: lower class, working class, middle class, upper class, or other such class designation. It is a method of social ranking that involves money, power, culture, taste, identity, […]

Class Consciousness

For Marx, the transition from the objective conditions of a class ”in itself to one ”in and for itself results from workers experiencing and interpreting contradictions between ”the existing individualist relations of production and the emerging collective forces of production   (Mann 1973: 12). While the variation in Marxian discussions of the objective conditions is relatively […]

Elites

The classic work on elites was done in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by the Italians Vilfredo Pareto and his contemporary Gaetano Mosca. To them, the circulation of elites was paramount.  A seminal  study in this tradition is C. Wright Mills’s The Power Elite (1956), which shows that the United States governmental, military, and […]

Horizontal and Vertical Mobility

The notion that in contemporary highly industrialized societies persons may climb up or slide down the social ladder presupposed some scale with an upper end and a lower end and the possibility of ranking people on it. Individual income can be taken as such a scale, and if this is used it is possible to […]

Power Elite

The concept ”power elite” was advanced by the American sociologist C. Wright Mills (1956). The ”power elite” draws its membership from three areas: (1) political leaders and their close advisers; (2) major corporate owners and directors; (3) high-ranking military officers. Mills argues that through their control of governmental, financial, educational, civic and cultural institutions, the […]

Functional and Conflict Theories of Stratification

The classic, functionalist statement on social stratification is by Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore (1945). ”Starting from the proposition that no society is ‘classless,’ or unstratified,” they sought ”to explain, in functional terms, the universal necessity that calls forth stratification in any social system” (p. 242). The main functional requisites that stratification fulfills are the […]

Theories of Stratification and Inequality

The term stratification system refers to the complex of institutions that generate inequalities in income, political power, social honor, and other valued goods. The main components of such systems are: (1) the social processes that define certain types of goods as valuable and desirable, (2) the rules of allocation that distribute these goods across various […]

Class Conflict

Marx famously stated ”the history of all societies up to the present is the history of the class struggle. In his interpretation, the term class is used to refer to the main strata in all stratified society as constituted by a social group whose members share the same relationship to the forces of production. This […]

Gini Coefficient

The Gini coefficient is the most commonly used measure of inequality. The coefficient is named after the Italian statistician and demographer Corrado Gini (1884-1965), who invented the measure in 1912. While the Gini coefficient is often used to measure income and wealth inequality, it is also widely employed to indicate uneven distribution in other social […]

Socioeconomic Status, Health, and Mortality

Socioeconomic status (SES) – a marker of an individual’s or a group’s position in the societal structure – exerts a profound influence on all dimensions of health and mortality. Health is a measure of the quality of life, whereas mortality defines the risk of death and can be used to measure length of life. High […]

Gay and Lesbian Movement

Since the 1980s sociologists who have studied the gay and lesbian movement have focused on five sets of issues. The first set involves research on the structural conditions that led to the emergence of an organized movement. This research has stressed the importance of the rise of industrial capitalism, changes in the nature of the […]

Caste: Inequalities Past and Present

To categorize different forms of stratification systems sociologists most frequently examine the way resources such as wealth, power, and prestige are acquired in society. In some societies, such valued resources are acquired on the basis of achievement or merit. In others, these resources are accorded to individuals on the basis of ascribed, not achieved, characteristics. […]

Discrimination

Discrimination refers to the differential, and often unequal, treatment of people who have been either formally or informally grouped into a particular class of persons. There are many forms of discrimination that are specified according to the ways in which particular groups are identified, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, class, age, disability, […]

Race/Ethnicity and Stratification

An important research field in the stratification literature is concerned with inequalities along the ascribed characteristics of race and ethnicity. The term race connotes biological differences among people (skin color, facial features) that are transmitted from generation to generation. As such, these biological differences are seen as permanent characteristics of people. However, the notion of […]

Gender Oppression

Gender oppression is defined as oppression associated with the gender norms, relations, and stratification of a given society. Modern norms of gender in western societies consist of the dichotomous, mutually exclusive categories of masculinity and femininity. Developing in tandem with industrial capitalism and the nation-state, they had particular consequences for women and men. While masculinity […]

Gender Inequality and Stratification

Gender stratification refers to the level of inequality in society based on gender, the social characteristics associated with sex. Specifically, gender stratification refers to the differential ability of men and women to access society’s resources and to receive its privileges. As gender stratification increases, so does the level of gender inequality, reflecting greater differences between […]

Privilege

There is a historical and cultural tendency for dominant groups to institutionalize discrimination against subdominant groups. Discrimination is justified by arguing that members of the subdominant group are deficient in some way when compared to members of the dominant group. The idealized characteristics of the dominant group are intertwined in social, cultural, and legal institutions […]

Strategic Essentialism

Strategic essentialism is an approach developed by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, which describes the political use of what is considered to be an ”essence” with a critique and recognition of the essentialist nature of the essence itself. This concept operates in relationship to the concept of the subaltern. The subaltern is a term often used to […]

Stratification and Gender

Although social stratification lies at the heart of macro-sociology, the study of gender and stratification is comparatively recent, and developed from feminist scholarship. The traditional sociological view is that the oppression of women is adequately covered by class analysis. Feminist theory insists that the class structure, and the oppression of women within patriarchal systems, are […]

Third World and Postcolonial Feminisms

Third World feminism has taken important liberal and nationalist forms in both politics and the academy. Liberal feminist movements of the 1970s and 1980s drew on social science literature that linked women’s economic disadvantage to occupational and educational discrimination. Public policy responses included Women in Development (WID), promoting women’s participation in international development planning; and […]