Social stratification

In sociology, social stratification is used to refer to inequalities between individuals and groups that make up a human society. It could be said that societies are hierarchical by different strata and that those with the most benefits are at the top of this hierarchy, while those with the least privileges are at the bottom.

What is social stratification?

The expression "social stratification" refers to the population segmentation of a society into different differentiated and hierarchical social groups. This division takes place because every society is built on a differential or hierarchical system of social positions. Depending on the period or the angle of analysis, this segmentation is carried out on the basis of criteria that make each group a homogeneous whole. These criteria can be linked to social, political or economic organization. Según la época o el ángulo de análisis, esta segmentación es efectuada a partir de criterios que hacen de cada grupo un conjunto homogéneo. Esos criterios pueden estar vinculados a la organización social, política o económica.

Types of social stratification

Three major types of social stratification are distinguished: castes, estates and social classes.

The castes

They are strictly hierarchical groups organized by religious law that determines their number, their composition, and in some cases, their privileges. They belong to the caste from birth is transmitted from generation to generation. Castes are based on inbreeding. The best known example is India, where untouchables and Brahmins coexist.

The estates

The estates take place particularly in the European feudalism. These originated in societies in which there was an aristocracy in which nobility was inherited. The different strata that make up the estates have both obligations and rights towards each other.

Social classes

In this case, the differentiation criterion is income. Unlike the other two types of stratification, social classes are not of legal origin. A distinction is made between the bourgeoisie, the middle class and the working class. In some countries, with the rise of the middle class, society became more homogeneous.

Outstanding theories of social stratification

Karl Marx

Marxist analysis hierarchizes society into social classes that are more or less antagonistic in a class struggle: the working class, the middle class, the bourgeoisie or capitalist society.

Max Weber

Max Weber, for his part, classifies society, according to economic, political and social criteria. The economic sphere marks the origin of classes while in the political sphere, the parties face each other for the conquest of power. Finally, in the social sphere, the prestige of the positions gives rise to status groups.

Adam Smith

Adam Smith conceives of a social stratification based on income source. The sociologist divides the commercial society into three broad classes: those who receive a salary that ensures their subsistence, those who own capital from which they obtain a profit proportional to the risk they run when making investments, and the owners who live off the rents of the land.

Social inequality

Today, both Weber’s and Marxist theorists agree that there is a growing social inequality. When speaking of social inequality, reference is generally made to the way in which material and financial wealth is distributed among population. This inequality translates into differences in society’s value system.

Examples of social stratification

The Mayans

In Mayan society, social stratification included five groups. First, the priests who held the power and were in charge of running each city. In second place were the noble group made up of chiefs, warlords, high officials and their families. Thirdly, the merchants followed by the artisans and peasants. Finally, in the fifth place, there were slaves who had committed crimes or were prisoners of war.

The Incas

The Inca social organization had the particularity of being hierarchized by a high nobility inherited by birth and a low nobility obtained by merit or privilege. These two groups were followed by artisans and peasants, who constituted the majority of the village and worked in ayllus. Finally, at the bottom of the social stratum were the serfs or Yanoconas, who were slaves for life and inheritance.

Social stratification in Argentina and Chile

Following criteria related to educational level, profession and labor income, it could be said that out of every 10 Argentines, 8 would be considered as part of the middle class. However, it should be noted that this percentage, includes people who do not actually live in traditionally known middle-class social situations. In fact, only 30% of Argentine society would be part of the traditional middle class while 15% would belong to the upper middle class and around 30% would belong to the lower middle class.

A similar case occurs in Chile, a country in which about 70% of the population is considered middle class. However, statistics show that many of those identified as middle class actually belong to other social groups with lower incomes.

Written by Gabriela Briceño V.
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