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 society. 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.
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 pollution. 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.
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 necessary. 2. A critical assesment of functionalist theory argues that: 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.
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