Social stratification


Social stratification is the way in which the components of a certain society are classified. Based on criteria such as wealth, status, occupation or power.

Social stratification is used to divide the population based on the criteria mentioned above. Thus the inequalities that exist between the different strata that would make up the whole are observed, this set is usually represented graphically in the form of a pyramid. Depending on the society studied, this classification is carried out in one way or another, it depends on the time or the singularities of each one.

Each stratum is made up of people with shared socioeconomic characteristics. In some cases, mobility between strata has been impossible for various reasons. In others, as in contemporary society, it is possible to go from one to the other. Although this is not an easy task, since in Western societies, merit and effort are two of the most important factors that facilitate this mobility.

There are four major types of social stratification: slavery, the caste system, the estate system, and the social class system.


Slavery has existed in numerous times and territories, mainly in ancient Greece, in ancient Rome, and in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries.

In slavery there are two clearly defined strata, the master and the slave. This is the most unequal form of stratification, since the slave is directly a possession of the slaveholder. Another feature is that this formula was legal. That is, it was totally institutionalized and rooted in society, it was seen as something normal.

Now, a distinction can be made between slaves in ancient societies and those in the North American country during the Modern and Contemporary Ages. This is the possibility of ceasing to be a slave, called manumission. In Greece and Rome, the slave could cease to be one if certain exceptional situations arose, on the other hand, the American slave was deprived of this possibility.

The end of slavery has a mainly economic explanation. With the onset of the industrial revolution, high productivity was needed. Slaves were characterized by low productivity and high control costs.

Caste system

The caste system has been in India for about three thousand years. It is a system that divides the population into five large groups and mobility between strata is not allowed. In addition, this system, as we mentioned with slavery, is also institutionalized, especially by custom. The reason why it is maintained is because of reincarnation, according to Hinduism, if an exemplary life is maintained, one can ascend the caste after reincarnation.

The five castes we are talking about are:

  • Brahmins: They are the priests, intellectuals and teachers.
  • Kshátriyas: They are the warriors and kings
  • Vaishyas: They are the merchants.
  • Shudras: They are the peasants and workers.
  • Dalits: They are the outcasts or untouchables.

Estamental system

The class system is probably, together with that of social classes, the best known system of social stratification. This was carried out during the Middle Ages and, unlike the previous ones, it was not regulated by law. Mobility was very difficult but it was not prohibited. The strata were basically three.

  • Nobility: There is a distinction between the King and the rest of the nobles since these were his vassals, and therefore they were subject to him in exchange for maintaining the privileges of the nobility.
  • Clergy: It consisted of all the members of the Church.
  • Third estate: As in the nobility, it is also possible to make a subdivision. First of all the merchants and artisans. They belonged to the lower stratum but they were not poor, since their position was not as precarious as the peasants. The latter would be the other part of the establishment, and their situation was poorer and more vulnerable.

The third state was more than 95% of the population, even so they were subdued by the other two estates of the estate system. The French Revolution will be in charge of breaking with this social stratification and will give rise, throughout the 19th century, to the emergence of a new classification, social classes.

The social class system

This new system of stratification, that of social classes, emerged with the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. It is not legally regulated either, but economic inequalities are what will place each group of people in a stratum. Contrary to previous systems, the boundaries between classes are fuzzy and the possibility of moving from one class to another is relatively high. That is why it is said that the class is partly acquired, and not so much received as it used to be.

Classes, broadly speaking, can be divided into upper, middle and lower class. Going into more detail, they can be subdivided, descending as follows: very high, high, medium high, medium low, low and very low. Why so many distinctions? Due to the difficulty of establishing well-defined limits. Due to the fact that there are numerous professions and forms of income, in addition to wealth or other variables, this task becomes very complicated.

The OECD establishes that the middle class is that family whose annual income is between 75% and 200% of the national average, thus leaving a fairly wide range. The lower class would be below 75%, and the upper class above 200%.

Some authors have developed their theories and postulates about how to define social classes. For Marx, they were simply divided into those who owned the means of production, that is, the bourgeoisie, and the proletarians, the workers. But does an elite athlete belong to the same social class as a salaried baker? The economic differences are abysmal. For Weber, income, prestige and power had to be taken into account.

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