Social Stratification : Meaning, Feature And Functions


Social stratification refers to the ranking of people or groups of people within a society. Stratification is a phenomenon present in all societies that have produced a surplus. Social stratification is the arrangement of any social group or society by which positions are hierarchically divided. Stratification is the condition in which social positions are ranked in terms of importance, rewarded differentially, acquired by individuals and their families.


According to BERNARD BARBER, "Social stratification, in its most general sense, is a sociological concept that refers to the fact that both individuals and groups of individuals are conceived of as constituting higher or lower differentiated strata, or class in terms of some specific or generalised characteristic or some of characteristics.

According to MURRAY, "Social stratification is a horizontal division of society into higher and lower social units."


  1. SOCIAL IN NATURE - Stratification is social means that it is not biological. It is definite and patterned. In this system people are divided into layers according to their relative power, poverty and prestige. 
  2. ANCIENT IN NATURE - Stratification is not something new to the society and it is proved with evidence by many thinkers such as Pato, Aristotle and many others that in earlier time also stratification on the basis of sex, age, and physique was always there.
  3. UNIVERSAL IN NATURE - Stratification is universal in that all societies maintain some form of differentiation among other members. In every nation, including all the so-called socialist countries, stratification is to be found.
  4. DIVERSE IN FORM - From the past to present stratification is found in all societies in diverse form. THERE ARE FOUR MAJOR SYSTEMS OF SOCIAL STRATIFICATION :
    1. SLAVERY : This system is based on the ownership of people as property, with those who are enslaved having no rights or freedoms and being considered as mere commodities.
    2. CASTE : Caste systems are found mainly in India and are based on strict, inherited social divisions that determine a person's occupation, lifestyle, and social status.
    3. ESTATE : Estate systems were prevalent in feudal Europe, where individuals were born into specific social classes based on their birthright and had little opportunity to move up the social ladder.
    4. CLASS : Class systems are more fluid than the other systems, with social mobility being possible based on a person's education, wealth, and occupation. Social classes are determined by factors such as income, wealth, education, and occupation.


Stratification, or the division of society into hierarchical layers based on factors such as wealth, power, and status, can have significant consequences for individuals in terms of their life chances and lifestyle.



LIFE CHANCES - Life chances refer to the opportunities that individuals have in life to achieve their goals and attain a certain standard of living. Stratification can affect life chances by limiting access to resources and opportunities for individuals in lower strata of society, such as education, employment, and healthcare. For example, individuals from low-income backgrounds may not have access to the same quality of education as those from wealthy backgrounds, and this can impact their future career prospects and earnings potential.

LIFE-STYLE - Lifestyle is also influenced by stratification, as individuals from different social strata may have access to different resources and experiences. For example, individuals in higher strata may be able to afford to live in more affluent neighborhoods, participate in expensive leisure activities, and have access to better healthcare. In contrast, individuals in lower strata may live in lower-quality housing, have limited access to recreational activities, and face challenges in accessing quality healthcare.


Social stratification refers to the way in which a society is organized into hierarchical layers, or strata, based on factors such as income, wealth, education, occupation, and power. These layers create a social hierarchy, with some individuals and groups having greater access to resources, opportunities, and power, while others have less.

There are five main basic points that clarifies the idea of social stratification -

  1. INEQUALITY : Inequality is a fundamental cause of social stratification. The unequal distribution of resources and opportunities creates a divide between those who have access to these resources and those who do not. This divide is often maintained by the unequal distribution of power and wealth, which allows some individuals and groups to maintain their dominant position.
  2. CONFLICT : Social stratification can also result from conflict between different groups over resources, power, and status. When different groups compete for these resources, it can lead to the unequal distribution of resources and opportunities and the creation of a social hierarchy.
  3. POWER : Power imbalances are a major factor in social stratification. Those with more power have greater control over resources and are able to maintain their dominant position. They also have greater influence in shaping the social, political, and economic systems of a society, which can perpetuate their dominance and contribute to social stratification.
  4. WEALTH : Wealth is another factor that contributes to social stratification. Those with greater wealth have greater access to resources, opportunities, and power, which can lead to the creation of a social hierarchy. Wealth can also be used to maintain and reinforce power imbalances, further perpetuating social stratification.
  5. INSTABILITY : Instability in a society can also contribute to social stratification. During times of economic or political turmoil, those who are able to maintain their resources and opportunities are more likely to maintain their social position, while others may fall down the social hierarchy.


Importance of stratification can be seen with regard to the functions it performs for the individual and the society. Functions for the Individual - System of Stratification is applicable to the world but serves 


  1. COMPETITION : Stratification can create a competitive environment, where individuals and groups compete for status, resources, and opportunities.
  2. MOTIVATION : Stratification can act as a motivator for people to work harder and strive for success, in order to improve their social standing and access to resources.
  3. MOBILITY : Stratification provides a means for social mobility, allowing individuals and groups to move up or down the social hierarchy based on their achievements and circumstances.
  4. RECOGNITION OF TALENT : Stratification can help to identify and recognize talent and skill, allowing those with exceptional abilities to rise to the top of their respective fields.
  5. JOB SATISFACTION : Stratification can affect job satisfaction, as individuals with higher social status and more resources may have more fulfilling and satisfying careers.


  1. ACHIEVED FORM : Stratification can take the form of an achieved status, where individuals are placed in different strata based on their own personal achievements, such as education and career success.
  2. HIERARCHY : Stratification creates a social hierarchy, with some individuals and groups enjoying higher status and more resources than others.
  3. ASCRIPTIVE FORM : Stratification can also take the form of an ascriptive status, where individuals are placed in different strata based on factors beyond their control, such as birth, family background, or race.
  4. DEVELOPMENT : Stratification can affect the development and progress of individuals and society as a whole, as those with higher status and resources may have more opportunities for growth and improvement.
  5. TRAINING : Stratification can determine access to training and education, with those in higher strata having more opportunities for personal and professional development.


Stratification as a process has the following basis :

1. On the basis of Ascription

2. On the basis of Achievement

  1. ON THE BASIS OF ASCRIPTION - Ascription-based stratification refers to social inequality that is based on an individual's inherited characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, gender, or family background. This type of stratification is determined by factors beyond an individual's control, and is often considered to be arbitrary and unjust. For example, a person born into a wealthy family is likely to have access to more opportunities and resources than someone born into a less privileged family, regardless of their abilities or efforts.

One of the key aspects of ascription-based stratification is that it is often linked to discrimination and prejudice. For instance, individuals belonging to certain races or ethnic groups may face discrimination and bias in the job market or in the criminal justice system, which can result in unequal opportunities and outcomes

2. ON THE BASIS OF ACHIEVEMENT - Achievement-based stratification refers to social inequality that is based on an individual's merit or earned status. This type of stratification is determined by factors such as education, work experience, and income, and is often seen as more fair and just because it is based on personal effort and ability.

In an achievement-based stratification system, individuals are ranked and placed in different social classes based on their accomplishments and the rewards they receive for their achievements. For example, a highly educated individual with extensive work experience and a high income is likely to be placed in a higher social class compared to someone with less education and less work experience.

One of the key features of achievement-based stratification is that it is considered more dynamic and fluid compared to ascription-based stratification. This means that individuals have the potential to move up or down the social ladder based on their achievements and life circumstances.

It's worth noting that both ascription-based and achievement-based stratification are present in most societies, and they often interact and overlap in complex ways. For example, an individual's race, ethnicity, or family background may affect their opportunities for education and employment, which in turn affects their chances for upward mobility. The relationship between the two bases of stratification can be complex and is an area of ongoing study and research in the field of sociology.


From the above reading we came to the conclusion that stratification is an ongoing process of sorting people into different levels on the achieved and ascribed basis. Stratification refers to how individuals and groups are ranked in society according to the valued resources they possess.


  1. What is social stratification?
    Social stratification refers to the hierarchical arrangement of individuals or groups within a society based on various factors such as wealth, income, occupation, education, social status, and power. It is a way of categorizing people into different social classes, with some having more advantages and resources than others. Social stratification affects people's life chances, opportunities, and social mobility. In many societies, the higher one's social status, the more power, influence, and privileges one has, while those in lower social classes have fewer opportunities and resources. Social stratification is a complex and dynamic phenomenon that varies across cultures and time periods, and is often a subject of study in sociology and other social sciences.
  2. What are the features of social stratification, and what are the major systems of social stratification?
    Features of Social Stratification:
    Social differentiation: Social stratification involves the differentiation of individuals or groups based on their characteristics, such as their occupation, education, income, and social status.
    Social inequality: Social stratification creates unequal access to resources, opportunities, and power, which results in unequal distribution of wealth, status, and influence in society.
    Social mobility: Social stratification systems may offer opportunities for individuals or groups to move up or down the social ladder, either through merit or inheritance.
    Persistence: Social stratification is often resistant to change, as the existing hierarchy is maintained through cultural, economic, and political factors.
    Major Systems of Social Stratification: Caste System: This system is based on birth and is characterized by a rigid hierarchy where individuals are born into a particular social status that determines their opportunities, occupation, and social interactions. It is common in societies with a strong religious or traditional caste system, such as India. Estate System: This system is based on land ownership and is characterized by a hierarchical social structure with three main classes: the nobility, the clergy, and the commoners. It was common in medieval Europe.
    Class System: This system is based on economic and occupational factors and is characterized by a more fluid social structure where individuals can move up or down the social ladder based on their achievements, skills, and education. It is common in modern capitalist societies, such as the United States.
    Slavery System: This system is based on the ownership of individuals as property and is characterized by a complete lack of social mobility and extreme inequality. It has been abolished in most societies, although forms of modern-day slavery still exist in some parts of the world.
  3. What are the consequences and causes of social stratification?
    Consequences of social stratification:
    Inequality: The most significant consequence of social stratification is the unequal distribution of resources and opportunities. Those at the top of the social hierarchy have access to better education, healthcare, jobs, and living conditions compared to those at the bottom.
    Conflict and tension: Social stratification can lead to conflict and tension between different social classes. This can manifest in various forms, such as discrimination, protests, riots, and even revolutions. Limited mobility: Social stratification can create barriers to upward mobility for individuals in lower classes. This can limit their opportunities for social and economic advancement, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
    Stereotyping and prejudice: Social stratification can lead to the creation of stereotypes and prejudice towards certain social classes. This can result in discrimination, stigmatization, and even violence against those in lower classes.
    Causes of social stratification: Historical factors: Social stratification can be traced back to historical factors such as colonization, slavery, and feudalism. These systems of oppression created a hierarchy of power and wealth, which continue to affect modern society.
    Economic factors: Economic factors such as the availability of resources, means of production, and market forces can contribute to social stratification. Capitalism, for instance, creates a system where those with more wealth and resources have greater power and influence.
    Social factors: Social factors such as gender, race, ethnicity, and religion can also contribute to social stratification. Discrimination based on these factors can limit opportunities for certain groups, perpetuating social inequality.
    Political factors: Political factors such as government policies, laws, and regulations can also contribute to social stratification. Policies that favor certain groups or protect the interests of the wealthy and powerful can perpetuate social inequality.
    Overall, social stratification is a complex phenomenon that has significant consequences for individuals and society as a whole. It is important to understand the causes and consequences of social stratification to work towards creating a more equitable and just society.
  4. What are the functions of stratification?