Decoding Social Stratification in Modern Times🌎🌇

Decoding Social Stratification in Modern Times🌎🌇

In all societies, some system of social stratification exists whereby the members of the society are differentiated. Throughout the world, inequality in social structure and position exists. Inequality is found in societies that claim them classless.

One should note that every human society maintains a system of social stratification, or layering, through which members are assigned ranks, grades, or positions. Using these, some members of society exploit others.

Referring to Kingsley Davis, Berkman, and Gilson in their book. “Consumer Behavior” mentioned that the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles. There are have and have not, oppressors and oppressed, rich and poor, lord and serf. It means that rewards and responsibilities among people are not distributed equally.

This system is transmitted from one generation to the next by agents of socialization such as the family, educational institutions, and religious institutions.

What is Social Stratification?

Loudon and Bitta defined social stratification as “the general term whereby people in a society are ranked by other members of a society into higher and lower social positions, which produces a hierarchy of respect or prestige.”

This stratification brings with its social inequality, that is, persons in lower strata have less access to money, power, prestige, and privilege. For example, secretaries are highly regarded and rewarded in our society, but ministerial staffs are not, even though both groups contribute to the well-being of the public.

There are two dimensions of social stratification – economic and non­economic. It should be well understood, for example, that income is not the only difference in the position of secretaries and staff. Insights of economics can help us understand how different levels of income influence consumer behavior.

Still, we must turn to sociology to better understand the impact of non-economic dimensions such as status. Analysis of the bases of social stratification and the resulting social groups within a culture or subculture can improve a marketer’s ability to define and analyze target markets.

Bases and Forms of Social Stratification

It is found that every member of society holds one or more socially defined positions. These positions are known as statuses.

We, in the society, occupy more than status at the same time. A man, for example, may simultaneously be a son, a teacher, and a father. Among the statuses, one is likely to dominate the others at any particular time. This dominant

status is known as ‘master status.’ An individual’s master status may change several times throughout his life.

The roles of these statuses vary, i.e., each status has its role. A role is a set of proper behaviors specified by culturally defined roles. The office of a Member of the Parliament (MP). for example, is status.

When an individual becomes an MP, he/she is expected to fulfill certain roles associated with that status. An MP may have legislative roles, political roles, and ceremonial roles. It is mentioned here that certain behaviors are considered improper for an MP, such as accepting bribes.

Social stratification systems, which are enforced through the assignments of statuses and roles, may be classified as either open or closed to social mobility.

Social mobility is the ability of a person or a category of people to move from one level to another within the system. In India, for example, Hindu society maintains a closed system of castes. Individuals born into a caste are expected to stay in it all their lives.

On the other hand, the US is a more open society. An individual there is born into the strata that his parents occupy.

But, he can move from one social strata to another either through his own efforts or chance circumstances. Engel, Blackwell, and Miniard identified three major forms of social stratification. They are ‘castes,’ ‘estates,’ and “social class.”

Caste System

The caste system is the older and traditional form of social stratification. Under the caste system, major emphasis is placed on hereditary status. Large differences are found between the highest and lowest castes regarding power and status.

The basis of the majority of the caste system is religion, one that is found in India. Members of different castes have limited interaction, and mobility between groups is very limited.

Estate System

The estate system is also an older form of social stratification prevalent in medieval Europe. Under this form, the rights and obligations of each group were clearly demarcated. This form was based on power and alliances.

The contemporary form of social stratification is the class system. It is found in the majority of present-day industrialized societies. Since classes are considered the basis of social interaction and differences in consumption, it is important for marketers to understand different aspects of social classes.

Max Weber’s Scheme of Social stratification

It is now evident from this discussion that societies distribute their individuals into different social strata having different positions, duties, and roles to perform.

How societies distribute their members into different social strata is a question. Mr. Max Weber developed a scheme that may be used to understand how people in a society are stratified into different groups.

According to this scheme, a society may be stratified using six variables. They are

  • prestige;
  • occupation,
  • possessions,
  • interaction,
  • class consciousness,
  • value orientation.

Now, we shall discuss each of the above six variables in the following sections:


Not everyone in the society commands the same level of prestige. We hold different attitudes toward individuals having different levels of prestige. In a particular society, some are found to command relatively more prestige than others; depending on that, they are parts of different social strata.


Individuals’ occupations vary as their prestige varies. Occupation may be considered the single best predictor of social strata that exist in a particular society.

The job you do greatly affects your lifestyle and is the most important basis for honor, prestige, and respect. Doctors in our country, for example, are accorded more respect and usually high financial reward.


The material goods that people possess may be used as a variable in social stratification. According to the types and nature of people’s material possession, a society may be classified into a hierarchy of social strata.


The kind of people with whom individuals meet and relate also is a variable using which a particular society may be stratified into different groups. Though it is one of the most important variables of stratifying societies, it is very difficult to measure an individual’s social interaction.

Class Consciousness

Class consciousness refers to the level at which people know themselves as belonging to a distinctive social grouping”. Everyone in a particular society is not equally conscious of class differences. Those who are relatively conscious of class differences are more likely to fit in the upper strata of society.

Value Orientation

Values are our ideas about what is correct and what is not by which we conduct ourselves. These are basically shared beliefs about how people should behave.

When a group of people shares a common set of abstract convictions that organize and relate many specific attitudes, it is possible to categorize an individual in the group by the degree to which he or she possesses these values.

The above six variables can be used to stratify or classify society into different groups. While using these variables in social stratification, one should remember that they (variables) are interrelated, thus affecting each other. He should also bear in mind that, among the six variables, prestige is more dominant than others.