Social Stratification


Social Stratification.

“Social stratification refers to hierarchies of statuses that reflect the unequal distribution of power, prestige and property in a given society”.

{Sociology by Hess, Markson Stein}

Dimension/Basis of Stratfication:

Karl Marx believed that the central feature of Capitalist societies is the division between those who own control the Means of Production (The tools, factories, land, investment capital used to produce wealth)—the Bourgeoisie or the oppressing capitalist class—- and those who have only their labour to sell— the Proletariat or the oppressed working class. In short, according to Marx, people relationship to the means of production determines their social class.

But sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) contended that Marx had an overly simplistic image of stratification. Weber said that other divisions within society are at times independent of the class or economic aspect. He took a multidimensional views of stratification and identified and components of social stratification.

  • Class (Economic or Wealth or Income)
  • Status (Prestige)
  • Party (Power)

Property, prestige and power are also called the social rewards or the three p’s of social class. Wealth, power and prestige are respectively, economic, political and social rewards. They usually go together. If we are rich we are also likely to have considerable political power and social prestige. But possession of one reward does not guarantee enjoyment of others. Compared with a government segment, prostitutes may make more money but have little prestige or powers.


Wealth has to do with what people own. Income refers to the amount of money people receive. Wealth is based on what people have whereas income consists of what people get. Wealth consists of all the economic assets of a person or group— not only money but also material objects, land etc. Some of the objects defined as wealth may have value because of the hours of skilled labour that go into making them, some because of their beauty and some because they will bring future economic rewards. Diamonds have value for instance, because they are both scarce and beautiful.

Income means the economic gain derived from the use of human or material resources.  Wealth refers to the total of all the possessions owned by a person or group. Income refers to the amount of money that a person r group receives on a regular basis. When we say that a man is “worth ten Million $” we are giving on estimate of his wealth— the sum total of all his liquid non liquid assets; his house, his car, his investments, his bank accounts etc. When we say that this same man earns 100,000 $ annually, we are describing him income.


Power—- the ability of people or groups to control or influence the action of others, whether those other wish to cooperate or not —- is associated with wealth. People with more wealth tend to have more power. This is evident in the domination of top government positions by the wealthy. Poor people are more likely to feel powerless to influence major political decisions they are therefore, more indifferent to politics.

Authority refers to powers that belongs to a socially recognized status and is therefore, considered legitimate by other members of the society. It includes the control that parents exercise over children; that of husbands over wives in most societies; of employers over employee; of teachers over students. But not all power is considered legitimate e.g. leaders of organized crime enjoy great economic political powers while operating outside of the law.

The bases of power

The bases of power are


These are the resources that allow one party to add new disadvantages to a situation. People typically view constraints as punishments, because they entail harming the body, psyche or possessions of others.


These are the resources that allow one party to add new Advantages to a situation. Inducements are rewards because they involve the transfer of socially defined good things—- such as material objects, services or social positions in exchange for compliance with the wishes of the power wielders.


These are the resources that enable one person to change the minds of others without either adding advantages or disadvantage to a situation. It is based on reputation, wisdom, personal attractiveness or control of the media— individuals or groups one led to prefer the outcomes that the power wielder prefers.

To the extent to which some groups command rewards, punishments persuasive communications, they are able to dictate the terms by which the game of life is played. They set the agendas decide the rules of the game.


Sociologists call this stratification a status system a system in which people are stratified according in their social prestige.

Prestige refers to the social respect, admiration and recognition that a person receives from others. It involves the feeling that we are admired and thought well by others. Prestige is intangible something that we carry about in our heads. However, in our daily lives we typically seek to give it a tangible existence through title, degree, emblems and displays of leisure and consumption. These activities serve as symbols of prestige.

There is a difference between prestige, on the one hand, and wealth powers, on the other. Wealth power are objective entitles an individual can have them regardless of what other people think of the individual. But prestige is subjective depending on how the individual is perceived by other. The boss of an organized crime syndicate may make millions, exercise great power, but he might never acquire prestige because most people refuse to hold him in esteem. On the other hand many college professors may not be rich or powerful, but they do enjoy more prestige than he crime boss. Why the difference? The answer has much to do with occupation.


Occupation that require more education and offer higher income, according to surveys, than other are generally given higher prestige. The occupation of a doctor carries high prestige e.g., that that of on electrician and that of an electrician has more prestige than a shoe shiner.

Socioeconomic Status:

Social scientists have long looked for one simplified measure of social rank. The common usuage today is to refer to. (SES) based on a combination of income, occupation, education. SES is used as a measure of another abstract concept Social Class. SES rating this includes the dimensions of power prestige as well as that of wealth.

Note: A status symbol can be anything an obviously cheeps or expensive object a style of —- a manner of speech that communicates to others that an individual displaying it occupies a particular level of statues. Examples a house, a neighbourhood, a choice of words a model of car, a painting on the wall etc.

Yet status symbols can also mislead. A status symbol many be used fraudulently by people who do not in fact possess the status elected by the symbol.  To present the impression of higher economic status, families may buy pieces of furniture for their living rooms or cars that they can barely afford.

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