Meaning, characteristics and origin of stratification


ANTHONIO GIDDENS: ‘The existence of structured inequalities between groups in society in terms of their access to material or symbolic rewards. While all societies involve some forms of stratification, only with the development of state based systems do wide differences in wealth and power arise. The most distinctive form of stratification in modern societies involves class divisions’.

‘The term stratification in sociology is usually applied to studies of structured social inequality that is studies of any systematic inequalities between groups of people which arise as the unintended consequence of social processes and relationships. When we ask  why there is poverty why Black people or women in United States are disadvantaged vis-à-vis (respectively) Whites and men or what chances someone born into the working class has of achieving a middle class position we are posing questions about social stratification. ’ Oxford Dictionary of Sociology

Meaning of social stratification

  • Social stratification refers to existing social inequality in a society
  • This inequality is caused by the way  wealth, power, and prestige are distributed 
  • Social stratification exists in all societies

Types of social stratification

  1. Open stratification system:
  • The type of stratification system in which merit  and not inheritance (ascribed characteristics) determines social rank of a person.
  • For example Mrs A is the manager of a company and not Mr B because Mrs A is  good in management (achieved status) and not because of her caste or gender.
  • In this type of stratification achieved status is given importance.
  1. Closed stratification system
  • Stratification system in which inheritance (ascribed status) and not merit determines social rank
  • A wife is considered as  inferior to her husband because of the ascribed status. 

Characteristics of social stratification 



  1. Power: Capacity to impose your will on others, regardless of any resistance
  2. Material wellbeing: Involves access to economic resources required to pay for necessities of life and other possessions and advantages 

Prestige: Average evaluation of occupational activities and positions arranged in a hierarchy*