Society Compares and Ranks Individuals and Group:
Members of a group compare different individuals, as when selecting a mate, or employing a worker, or dealing with a neighbour, or developing friendship with an individual.
They also compare groups such as castes, races, colleges, cities, athletic teams. These comparisons are valuations, and when members of a group agree, these judgements are social evaluations.
All societies differentiate members in terms of roles and all societies evaluate roles differently. Some roles are regarded as more important or socially more valuable than others.
The persons who perform the more highly esteemed roles are rewarded more highly. Thus stratification is simply a process of interaction of differentiation whereby some people come to rank higher than others.
1. Ogburn and Nimkoff:
“The process by which individuals and groups are ranked in a more or less enduring hierarchy of status is known as stratification.”
“Social stratification is the division of society into permanent groups of categories linked with each other by the relationship of superiority and subordination.”
3. Melvin M. Tumin:
Social stratification refers to “arrangement of any social group or society into a hierarchy of positions that are unequal with regard to power, property, social evaluation, and/ or psychic gratification.”
“A stratified society is one marked by inequality, by differences among people that are evaluated by them as being lower’ and ‘higher’”
5. Raymond W. Murry:
“Social stratification is a horizontal division of society into ‘high’ and ‘lower’ social units”.
The Universality of Social Stratification:
Social stratification is ubiquitous. In all societies there is social differentiation of the population by age, sex, and personal characteristics. The roles and privileges of children differ from those of adults; and those of good hunters or warriors differ from those of the rank and file. It is not customary to speak of a society as startified if every individual in it has an equal chance to succeed to whatever statuses are open.
Strictly speaking, there are no purely equalitarian societies, only societies differing in degree of stratification. Even Russia which dreamt of a ‘classless society’ could not, any more than any other society, escape the necessity of ranking people according to their functions.
The criterion of rank has changed along with values of society. P.A. Sorokin wrote in his ‘ Social Mobility’ that ‘Unstratified society with real equality of its members, is a myth which has never been realised in the history of mankind.”
Social Differentiation and Stratification:
As it is clear from the above, all societies exhibit some system of hierarchy whereby its members are placed in positions that are higher or lower, superior or inferior, in relation to each other. The two concepts – ‘social differentiation’ and ‘social stratification’ – are made use of to refer to such classification or gradation and placement of people in society.
In differentiation society bases status on a certain kind of trait which may be (i) physical or biological such as skin-colour, physical appearance, age, sex, (ii) social and cultural such as differences in etiquettes, manners, values, ideals, ideologies, etc. Thus, differentiation serves as a sorting process according to which the people are graded on the basis of roles and status.
Stratification tends to perpetuate these differences in status. Hence, through this process people are fixed in the structure of the society. In some cases, [as it is in the case of caste] status may become hereditary. Differentiation may be considered the first stage preceding stratification in society, sorted and classified into groups. It does not, however, mean that all differentiation leads to stratification in society.
Characteristics of Social Stratification:
According to M.M. Tumin the main attributes of stratification are as follows:
1. It is Social:
Stratification is social in the sense; it does not represent biologically caused inequalities. It is true that such factors as strength, intelligence, age and sex can often serve as the basis on which statuses or strata are distinguished.
But such differences by themselves are not sufficient to explain why some statuses receive more power, property, and prestige than others. Biological traits do not determine social superiority and inferiority until they are socially recognised and given importance.
For example, the manager of an industry attains a dominant position not by his physical strength, nor by his age, but by having the socially defined traits. His education, training skills, experience, personality, character, etc. are found to be more important than his biological equalities.
Further, as Tumin has pointed out, the stratification system is – (i) governed by social norms and sanctions, (ii) is likely to be unstable because it may be disturbed by different factors, and (iii) is intimately connected with the other systems of society such as the political, family, religious, economic, educational and other institutions.
2. It is Ancient:
The stratification system is quite old. According to historical and archaeological records, stratification was present even in the small wandering bands. Age and sex were the main criterion of stratification then.
‘ Women and children last’ was probably the dominant rule of order. Difference between the rich and poor, powerful and humble, freemen and slaves was there in almost all the ancient civilisations. Ever since the time of Plato and Kautilya social philosophers have been deeply concerned with economic, social and political inequalities.
3. It is Universal:
The stratification system is a worldwide phenomenon. Difference between the rich and the poor or the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ is evident everywhere. Even in the ‘non-literate’, societies stratification is very much present. As Sorokin has said, all permanently organised groups are stratified.
4. It is in Diverse Forms:
The stratification system has never been uniform in all the societies. The ancient Roman society was stratified into two strata: the patricians and the plebians, the ancient Aryan society into four Varnas: the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras, the ancient Greek Society into freemen and slaves; the ancient Chinese society into the mandarins, merchants, farmers and the soldiers and so on.
Class, caste and estate seem to be the general forms of stratification to be found in the modem world. But stratification system seems to be much more complex in the civilised societies.
5. It is Consequential:
The stratification system has its own consequences. The most important, most desired, and often the scarcest things in human life are distributed unequally because of stratification. The system leads to two main kinds of consequences: (i) ‘life chances’ and (ii) ‘lifestyles’.’Life-chances’ refer to such things as infant mortality, longevity, physical and mental illness, childlessness, marital conflict, separation and divorce.
‘Life-styles’ include such matters as – the mode of housing, residential area, one’s education, means of recreation, relationships between the parents and children, the kind of books, magazines and TV shows to which one is exposed, one’s mode of conveyance and so on. Life-chances are more involuntary, while life-styles reflect differences in preferences, tastes and values.