Class and Stratification in the United States

Stratification in Modern Societies: Class, Status and Power
	A.  Social stratification consists of systematic inequalities of 
            wealth, power and prestige that result from one's social rank.

		1.  Inequality is the degree of disparity that exists in a 

		2.  Systematic inequality means that inequality is not chance
                    or random, but is actually built into the social structure.  
                    Inequality is an essential component of modern society, 
                    not a rare by product.

		3.  Stratification first became pronounced in agricultural 
                    societies due to the acquisition of surplus, and 
                    subsequently has become quite complex with the advent 
                    of industrial and post-industrial society.

		4.  There are three components to social stratification:

			a) class

			b) status

			c) power

	B. Class refers to one's location in society's economic system
           resulting in differences in income, wealth and nature of his 
           or her work.  Classified according to:
		1.  Occupation or paid employment, itself divided into 
                    blue collar, white collar, and pink collar jobs.
		2.  Income or the amount of money a person or household 
                    earns in a given period.
		3.  There are racial and gender differences in income 
                    (which will be elaborated later).
		4.  Wealth or net financial assets, the value of everything 
                    one owns less everything one owes.
		5.  Wealth is highly concentrated in the United States 
                    and racial differences in wealth are more pronounced 
                    than racial differences in income.

	C.  Status refers to one's relationship to established social 
            positions in society that vary in terms of prestige.  
		1.  Prestige rankings are also related to occupation; 
                    those occupations which work with ideas or people 
                    have higher status tha those occupations which involve 
                    working with one's hands or material objects.

		2.  Class and status are usually interrelated.

		3.  At the same time there are some high status positions 
                    which are not associated with great wealth (spiritual 
                    leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, for example), and some 
                    low status positions which have great wealth (for example, 
                    the leaders of organized crime or drug cartels).

	D.  Power can be represented with a pyramid-like stratification 
            system, having only a few people at the top and most at the base.
		1.  Theories of power include pluralism, class dominance, 
                    and structuralism.
			a.  Pluralism holds that power is distributed among 
                            different groups that contend with one another 
                            on roughly equal footing.
			b.  Class dominance argue that power is concentrated 
                            in the hands of a relatively small number of 
                            individuals who comprise an upper class power elite.
			c.  Structuralism holds that individuals themselves are 
                            largely captives of their organizational roles.

Changes in Stratification: Caste & Class

	A.  Stratification systems can be classified as relatively "open" 
            or "closed" depending on the difficulty of moving from one 
            stratum to another.

	B.  Caste societies are those in which the strata are closed to 
            movement, so that one must remain throughout one's life in 
            the stratum of one's birth.

		1.  Membership in caste societies is based on ascription 
                    in that it is acquired on the basis of personal 
                    characteristics that derive from birth, and is thus 
                    believed to be unchangeable.

		2.  Caste societies are concerned with endogamy and ritual 

		3.  Caste systems include:
			a.  India's Hindu based system (legal prejudices 
                            associates with caste were outlawed in 1949)

			b.  South Africa's system of Apartheid (dismantled 
                            in 1992),

			c.  Legal segregation in the Untied States (overturned 
                            with the 1964 Civil Rights Act).

	C.  Class societies membership is (partially) based on what one 
            does, rather than who one is (by birth).  Theoretically, movement 
            is relatively open in a class society.

		1.  Industrial capitalist societies favor a class system 
                    over a caste system, since mobility among workers 
                    and relative freedom to change jobs is necessary to 
                    the functioning of the system.  
		2.  Inequality has grown in the United States and other 
                    industrialized nations since 1970.

Why does Stratification Exist?

	A.  Functionalist explanations for stratification understand 
            stratification to provide benefits to society.
		1.  Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore suggested that society 
                    functions as a meritocracy, allowing the most qualified 
                    people to fill the most challenging positions, allowing 
                    for a smoothly functioning society and making inequality 

		2.  A critical assesment of functionalist theory argues 
			a.  It is an overly simplistic correlation between 
                            income and worth.

			b.  It ignores that wealth maintains itself.

			c.  Prejudice and discrimination are obstacles to 
                            class mobility.

For more interesting websites related to inequalities see:

US Census Bureau:
RAND homepage:
The Electronic Policy Network:
The Sociological Online Community:
The Dead Sociologists Society:
Sociological Research Online:


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