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Social Stratification and Mobility

Updated on November 5, 2016

Social Stratification

Social Stratification is a universal phenomenon. No society has ever been found in the human history which was egalitarian in all senses. Some form of stratification was always found on the basis of either ascription or achievement.

Stratification is based on two criteria:

1) Objective – Wealth, Job, Post, etc.

2) Subjective – Caste, Gender, Colour, etc.

Stratification can be defined as a form of inequality in which different groups are arranged vertically on the basis of some objective or subjective characteristics in which those who are on the top of the ladder gets privileges whereas the group at the bottom suffers from disadvantages.

Concepts of Social Stratification

(Equality, Inequality, Hierarchy, Exclusion, Poverty and Deprivation)

Equality and Inequality

Equality literally means equal or similar in the terms of privileges and disadvantages, whereas inequality is unequal treatment in terms of opportunities, advantages, disadvantages. But the issue of equality and inequality is largely complex because it is guided by the concept of ideologies of different societies.

Liberal society believe that equality lies in equality of opportunity i.e. any social system which has absence of any form of hurdle for the individual to ensure social mobility can be called as equal society. Hence, for the liberal ideology, if any society has a system of not putting any form of obstacle and individual on the basis of their capabilities, efforts and motivation can go to any extent in the social hierarchy

But Marxist or Socialist ideology do not accept the definition of equality given by liberal ideologies. They believe that the real equality lies in “system of distributive justice” i.e. when the economic resources of the society does not lie in some hands rather it is equally distributed in all the members of society is only equality.

Hence, the absence of private property and equal treatment in all the situations is equality in true sense. In reality though like Marx, many a thinkers believed that there should be an equal society but in reality never ever in history any single reformer was born who opposed inequality in all forms. Only, they have opposed some form of inequality. For example, Dr. Ambedkar opposed inequality based on caste, feminists in western society opposed gender inequality, Martin Luther King opposed inequality based on colour.

Rousseau believed that social inequality is the extension of natural inequality. Mountains, trees, rivers, etc. are nothing in equal shape, means nature in itself is unequal in its shape. Hence, inequality is a natural phenomena which is extended on the society also. This is the reason why all societies have certain form of inequality which is natural. He believed that all individual are not equal in their potential, talent, etc. that is why the society reflects unequal because the unequal talent leads to unequal society.

But, this is a rejected theory because it is believed that unequal training leads to unequal potential. If given equal environment there is a larger chance that potential will be always equal. Hence, inequality is not a natural phenomena, rather based on unequal training system of all the societies.


Hierarchy is the form of social inequality but unlike social stratification posts/ranks are vertically divided in the chain of command and obedience. In stratification, the groups are divided into the privileged and disadvantaged group whereas in hierarchy it has nothing to do with any individual or group. It is vertically divided on the basis of post and according to the post rights, responsibilities, and privileges are attached.

Generally, the system of hierarchy is the concept of formal organization which forms a pyramid shape. Many sociologists use the term hierarchy and stratification interchangeably which is not true.

Louis Dumont in his book ‘Homo Hierarchicus’ called the Hindu caste system as the hierarchy because he believed that Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudras are not a group or community, rather it is a post based on “purity and pollution.” But except Louis Dumont other sociologist believed that caste system is the form of social stratification and not hierarchy.

The term hierarchy is largely used to understand the unequal privileges in professional organization where every post is vertically divided and mutually joined with a system of command and obedience. In this system, individual does not get privileges or disadvantages. It lies in the post. Hence, any individual moves up in the hierarchy they get the same privileges.

Hierarchy, since is a form of inequality, is a subject-matter of sociology and also of political science and public administration, but sociology only studies in social hierarchy and not the hierarchy of formal organization.

Social Exclusion

Social exclusion is an extreme form of social inequality in which a group or individual is largely cut off from the full involvement with the wider society.

Since man is a social animal, his life, goals, ambition, needs are largely fulfilled by the society. Hence, living in society is the need of individual but in some societies some group or individuals are forced to get cut off from the wider social interaction due to objective or prejudiced facts.

There are following types of social exclusion:

1) Based on economic deprivation (Poverty): Especially in Western societies or class-based societies those groups are excluded from the society who have little achievement in economic terms. Society forces them to live in slums and discourage them to have contact with the wider society. Albert Cohen in his study of slum dwellers in America has given the concept of ‘status frustration’ and he believed that the poors in American societies are so marginalized and cut off from the interaction/involvement that out of frustration they move towards deviance.

2) Exclusion based on occupation: In every society, there are certain occupations that are unhygienic, disrespectful like manual scavenging, sweeping, etc. Those groups or individual who are attached with these occupations are excluded from the larger society. Untouchable caste in India is an example.

3) Exclusion based on violation of norms/rules: Every society expects from its individuals to conform to the social norms but if some individuals deviate from the norm which causes harm or discomfort to the general social order, they get excluded from the society. Imprisonment or social boycott is the example.

4) Exclusion based on ascription: In many societies, there are certain prejudices which believe that individual due to their birth, caste, race, etc. are not entitled to interact with the larger society. They are forced to live in isolation because of it Shudras in India, apartheid in Europe and Africa is the example.

5) Exclusion on the basis of achievement: This exclusion is not imposed by the society, rather it is a self chosen form of exclusion, generally found among the celebrities. They disconnect themselves from the larger involvement with the society because they believe that they are no more common social being. They live in fenced houses and do not permit individual to come to them easily.Hence, social exclusion is a form of inequality found in almost all societies, though the criteria and the form of social exclusion are not universal but in traditional societies it is based on certain cultural prejudices which are always a concern for social reforms.

Poverty and Deprivation

Poverty can be defined as “a socio-economic condition of an individual in which individual and their dependents are devoid of or deprived from those basic things which are essential for the effective functioning of body and mind.”

The cause and effect of poverty is multi-dimensional in which following causes are considered as important:

1) Culture of poverty (Ocsar Lewis)

2) Lack of opportunity due to overpopulation

3) Natural disasters prone society

4) Religious dominance which discourages individuals not to go for worldly achievement (Weber)

5) Concentration of wealth or resources in the hands of a particular group (Marx)

There are two types of poverty identified:

Absolute Poverty – Absolute poverty refers to the inability of a person or a household to provide even the basic necessities of life. It refers to conditions of acute physical wants, starvation, malnutrition, want of clothing, want of shelter, total lack of medical care. At times “absolute poverty” is also called “subsistence poverty”, since it is based on an assessment of minimum subsistence requirement. Nutrition is measured by intake of calories and proteins, shelter by quality of dwelling and degree of over-crowding, and the rate of infant mortality and the quality of medical facility. In broader sense it suggested that one should go beyond the physical need and also include cultural needs—education, security, leisure and recreation.

Relative Deprivation/Poverty – Poverty according to this concept is to be measured according to standards of life at a given time and place. The idea is that standards of society can be changing standards. Definition of poverty should therefore be related to the needs and demands of changing societies. For example, in India in 1960 those who had a per capita income of Rs.20/- or less per month in rural areas were considered to be below the poverty line. In 2011-12 those who have an income of less than Rs.816/- per month in rural area and Rs.1000 (Tendulkar Committee) in urban area are considered to be below the poverty line.

The poverty and deprivation have various socio-economic consequences:

1) It may lead to class conflict and proletariat revolution (Marx)

2) It may lead to sequential migration (Notestein)

3) Poverty leads to moral corruption, law and order problem, bad habits etc.

4) Concentration of population at the place of emerging opportunities which on the one hand will lead to over population of one place and under population at the another.

5) It develops a sense of retreatism and pessimism.

6) It may cause social movements, civil wars, communal tensions, separatist movements, etc.

Thus, in socio-economic dimension, poverty and deprivation is always considered as dysfunctional for the society, especially, the conflict theorists in sociology consider that the poverty and unequal distribution always create tensions, conflicts which leads to social changes but functionalists like Parsons do not agree with.

Theories of Social Stratification

(Structural functionalist Theory, Marxian Theory, Weberian Theory)

Structural Functionalist Theory

The most famous structural-functionalist theory of stratification was first presented in 1945 in an article by the American Sociologists “Davis and Moore” entitled ‘Some Principles of Stratification’.

Davis and Moore begin with the observation that stratification exists in every known society. They attempt to explain in functional terms the universal necessity which calls for stratification in any social system. They argue that all social system share certain functional pre-requisites, which must be met if the system is to survive and operate efficiently. One such functional pre-requisite is ‘effective role allocation and performance’. This means that firstly, all roles must be filled. Secondly, that they be filled by those best able to perform and thirdly, that the necessary training for them be undertaken and fourthly that the role be performed conscientiously (carefully).

Davis and Moore argue that all societies need some mechanism for ensuring effective role allocation and performance. This mechanism is social stratification which they see as a system which attaches unequal rewards and privileges to the different position in the society.

If the people and positions which make up society did not differ in important respects there would be no need for stratification. However, people differ in terms of their innate ability and talent. Positions differ in terms of their importance for the survival and the maintenance of the society. Certain positions are more functionally important than others. They require special skills for their effective performance. A major function of stratification is to match the most able people with the functionally the most important positions. It does this by attaching high rewards to those positions. The desire for such rewards motivates people to compete for them and in theory the most talented will win through. Thus, Davis and Moore, conclude that social stratification is a device by which societies ensure that the most important positions are conscientiously filled by the most qualified persons.

Davis and Moore realize that the difficulty with their theory is to show clearly which positions are functionally most important. The fact that a position is highly rewarded does not necessarily mean it is functionally important. They suggest that the importance of a position can be measured in two ways.

Firstly, by the degree to which a position is functionally unique, there be no other positions that can perform the same function satisfactorily. Thus, it could be argued that a doctor is functionally more important than a nurse. Since his position carries with it many of the skills necessary to perform a nurse role, but not vice-versa.The second measure of importance is the degree to which other positions are dependent on one in question. Thus, it may be argued that managers are more important than routine office-staffs. Since the latter are dependent on direction from management.

To summarize, Davis and Moore regard social stratification as a functional necessity for all societies. They see it as a solution to problem faced by all social systems that of placing and motivating individuals in the social structure. They offer no other means of solving of this problem and imply that social inequality is an inevitable feature of human society. They conclude that differential rewards are functional for society that they contribute to the maintenance and well being of social system.

Tumin’s Criticism to Davis and Moore

/Davis and Moore’s view provoked a long debate. M.M. Tumin has produced a comprehensive criticism of their theory. He begins by questioning the adequacy of their measurement of the functional importance of positions. Davis and Moore have tended to assume that the most highly rewarded position are indeed most important. However, many occupations which afford little prestige or economic reward can be seen as vital to society.

Thus, Tumin argues that – some labour force of unskill workmen is as important and as indispensible to the factory as some labour force engineers. In fact, a number of sociologist have argued that there is no objective way of measuring the functional importance of positions.

Tumin argues that Davis and Moore have ignored the influence of power on the unequal distribution of rewards. Thus, differences in pay and prestige between occupational group may be due to differences in their power rather than their functional importance.

According to Davis and Moore the major function of unequal reward is to motivate talented individuals and allocate them to the functionally most important positions. Tumin rejects this view, he argues that social stratification can act as a barrier to the motivation and recruitment of talent. This readily apparent in a close system of caste and racial stratification. Thus, the ascribed status of untouchables prevented even the most talented from becoming Brahmins.

Tumin concludes that stratification by its very nature can never adequately perform the functions which Davis and Moore assigned to it. He argues that those born into lower strata can never have the same opportunities for realizing their talents as those born into the higher strata.

Finally, Tumin questions the view that social stratification functions to integrate the social system. He argues that differential rewards can encourage hostility, suspicion and distrust among the various segments of society. From this view point stratification is a divisive rather than an integrating force.

Marxist’s (Conflict) Theory of Stratification

The conflict theory of stratification is represented by Karl Marx. He believed that stratification is an exploitive mechanism made by the ‘haves’ to dominate or subjugate the ‘have-nots’ of the society. He believed that private property or unequal distribution of wealth is the reason of all form of social stratification.

He identified only two economic classes i.e. ‘haves’ who controls the surplus production and by the virtue of it, controls all other institutions of the society. ‘Have-nots’ are those who earn their livelihood by selling their labour to the ‘haves’ and do not control the means of production.

Marx exclusively had never talked about social stratification rather this theory is derived out of his theory of class conflict. Hence, the major concept of his view over social stratification are following:

1) The base of all inequalities and social stratification lies in unequal distribution of economic resources.

2) Stratification may be universal phenomena but it is not inevitable for all societies.

3) Stratification is an outcome of conflict which took place in the process of control over the surplus production in the society.

4) The values and ideology of social stratification represents the values of dominant class which justifies inequality and the suffering of the have-nots.

5) Stratification is a medium to ensure unequal distribution, hence it is unethical, unjustifiable and illegitimate as an institution.

6) Marx predicted that in communist society it would not be existing.

Hence, Marxian view over class conflict can be identified as - it believes that social stratification justifies dominance and inequality of one group over another which is not ethical and hence it is required to be abolished.

Max Weber’s Theory of Social Stratification

(Trinitarian Model)

The three-component theory (Trinitarian model) of social stratification more widely known as Weberian Stratification was developed by Max Weber with class, status and party as distinct ideal types. Weber developed a multidimensional approach to social stratification that reflects the interplay among wealth, prestige and power.

Weber believed, there were more class divisions than Marx suggests, taking different concepts from both functionalist and Marxist theories to create his own system. Weber believed in the difference between class, status and party, and treated these as separate but related sources of power, each with different effects on people’s lives.

He claimed there should be four main classes: the upper class (like the bourgeoisie of Marx’s theory), the propertyless white-collar workers, the petite bourgeoisie, and the manual working class (like Marx’s proletariat).

Weber derived many of his key concepts on social stratification by examining the social structure of Germany. He noted that contrary to Marx’s theories, stratification was based on more than simply ownership of capital. Weber examined how many members of the aristocracy lacked economic wealth yet had strong political power. Many wealthy families lacked prestige and power, for example, because they were Jewish. Weber introduced three independent factors that form his theory of stratification hierarch i.e. class, status and party.

Class: It refers to a person’s economic position in a society. Like Marx, Weber sees class in economic terms. He argues that classes develop in market economies in which individuals compete for economic gain. He defines a class as a group of individuals who share a similar position in a market economy and by virtue of that fact receive similar economic rewards.

Thus, in Weber’s terminology, a person’s ‘class situation’ is basically his ‘market situation’. Those who share a similar class situation also share similar life chances. Their economic position will directly affect their chances of obtaining those things defined as desirable in their society, for example, access to higher education and good quality housing.

Like Marx, Weber argues that the major class division is between those who own the forces of production and those who do not. Thus, those who have substantial property holdings will receive the highest economic rewards and enjoy superior life chances.

However, Weber sees important differences in the market situation of the propertyless groups in society. In particular the various skills and services offered by different occupations having differing market values. For example, in capitalist society, Managers, administrators and professionals receive relatively high salaries because of the demand for their services.

Weber admits that a common market situation may provide a basis for collective class action but he sees this only as a possibility. The market value of the skills of the propertyless varies and the resulting differences in economic return are sufficient to produce different social classes. Thus, he rejects the Marxian view that political power necessarily derives from economic power. Weber noted how managers of corporations or industries control firms they do not own; Marx would have placed such a person in the proletariat.

Status: It refers to a person’s prestige, social honour or popularity in a society. Weber noted that political power was not rooted in capital value solely, but also in one’s individual status.

While class forms one possible basis for group formation, collective action and the acquisition of political power, Weber argues that there are other bases for these activities. In particular, groups form because their members share a similar ‘status situation’.

Whereas class refers to the unequal distribution of economic rewards, status refers to the unequal distribution of ‘social honour’. Occupations, ethnic and religious groups and most importantly styles of life are accorded differing degrees of prestige or esteem by members of society.

A status group is made up of individuals who are awarded a similar amount of social honour and therefore share the same status situation. Unlike classes, members of status groups are almost always aware of their common status situation. They share a similar life style, identify with and feel they belong to their status group and often place restrictions on the ways in which outsiders may interact with them. In pre-Industrial Europe, there were two status groups i.e. Patrician and Peblician. Patrician were the noblers or elites who lived in the centre of the city whereas the Peblicians were commoners who lived on the periphery. Weber argues that status groups reached their most developed form in the caste system of traditional Hindu society in India.

In many societies class and status situations are closely linked. Weber notes that, ‘property as such is not always recognized as a status qualification, but in the long run it is, and with extraordinary regularity’. However, those who share the same class situation will not necessarily belong to the same status group. For example, the nouveaux riches (the newly rich) are sometimes excluded from the status groups of the privileged because their tastes, manners and dress are defined as vulgar.

Status groups may create divisions within classes. For example, a worker may have same ‘market situation’ with their co-workers but different ‘status situation’. The presence of different status groups within a single class cut across class boundaries and weaken class solidarity, and reduce the potential for class consciousness.

Party: Weber defines ‘parties’ as groups which are specifically concerned with influencing policies and making decisions in the interests of their memberships. In Weber’s words parties are concerned with ‘the acquisition of social powers’. Parties include a variety of associations from the mass political parties of Western democracies to the whole range of pressure or interest groups which include professional associations, trade unions, the Automobile Associations etc. Parties often represent the interests of classes or status groups, but not necessarily.

In Weber’s words, Parties may represent interests determined through ‘class situation’ or ‘status situation’. In most cases they are partly class parties and partly status parties. For example, the combination of class and status interests can be seen in the various Black Power organizations in the USA. They represent a status group but they also represent class interests. The majority of Blacks are working-class and many Black organizations are directly concerned with improving their class situation.

Weber’s view of parties suggests that the relationship between political groups and class and status groups is far from clear-cut. Just as status groups can both divide classes and cut across boundaries, so parties can divide and cut across both classes and status groups. Weber’s analysis of classes, status groups and parties suggests that no single theory can pinpoint and explain their relationship. The interplay of class, status and party in the formation of social groups in complex and variable and must be examined in particular societies during particular time periods. Marx attempted to reduce all forms of inequality to social class and argued that classes formed the only significant social groups in society. Weber argues that the evidence provides a more complex and diversified picture of social stratification.Dimensions of Social Stratification

(Class, Status group, Gender, Ethnicity and Race)


Class is an economic phenomena which is determined generally in objective terms. Karl Marx defined class ‘a group which is having a similar and stable relation with the mode of production is class’. He identified two classes in all ages in Europe (except primitive communism)

i) Haves – who control both infrastructure and superstructure

ii) Have-nots – who earn their livelihood through their labour

Max Weber believed that the “class is determined by the ‘market situation’ of an individual.” He identified four classes in modern capitalist society.

i) Propertied upper class

ii) Property less white collar class

iii) Petite bourgeoisie

iv) Manual workers

Ohlin Wright studied the American society with the synthesis of Marxian and Weberian perspectives and identified three classes in American society:

1) Upper class– who controls the capital and investment

2) Middle class – who control technology and management

3) Lower class – who earn their livelihood by earning wages

Wright believed that the upper class controls all the three classes whereas lower class cannot control even themselves.

Marx, Weber and Ohlin Wright took pure objective criteria while explaining class whereas W. Lloyd Warner in his study of Yankee city applied the reputational approach (what others think about you and what individual thinks about himself). This includes the income, nature of profession, family background, lifestyle, etc.

He identified six classes in Yankee City:

Upper – Upper

Upper – Lower

Middle – Upper

Middle – Lower

Lower – Upper

Lower – Lower

In general senses, there are three classes identified in all societies:

1) Upper class – who usually do not work themselves, rather they control the capital and also control the labour forces of the society.

2) Middle class – It is that class which is white collar professional who also earn livelihood by selling their labour but not manually.

3) Lower class – who earn their livelihood through manual labour and usually considered as a community with now lifestyle.

Since the nature of societies and classes is so complex that merely three classifications is not enough to explain the complexity of class because in every class there are various sub classes. For example, Upper class can be further classified as U–U, U–M, U-L class so does middle and lower class.

The classes always exist in pyramid shape in all the societies where upper classes are in minority and labour classes in majority.

Status Group:

The concept of status group was given by Weber who explained this concept in his Trinitarian model of social stratification. Contrary to Karl Marx, he believed that in pre-industrial Europe there were no classes because market was non-existential.

He believed status comes from the lifestyle which ensures prestige of an individual. In pre-industrial Europe, he identified two status group i.e Patrician – who live in the centre of city and Peblician, who live in the periphery of city.

Weber called Hindu caste group as “advanced status group” and believed Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra are lifestyle and not economic class. Marx believed that the status comes from class whereas for Weber it is independent to it. For Weber, class may or may not determine the status.

Theoretically, class and status may look independent to each other but practically these two phenomena have capability to influence each other. In modern society, it can be observed that the economically well-off upper class over the period by acquiring the lifestyle of traditional upper class gets the status of the same. But, in sociological framework even the upper classes are divided into two classes on the basis of their reputation and lifestyle i.e. Traditional upper class and Nouveau-riche.

Weber unlike Marx believed that the classes have potential to influence their status but he also identified that even after acquiring a particular class in process of social mobility one may not change their status because it always depends upon the “group acceptance”. Sanskritization in India is an example.


Sex and gender are two identical terms which are used interchangeably but both are different terms because sex is a biological phenomena which is determined on the basis of reproductive organs of an individual whereas gender is socio-cultural expression of sex. It is largely determined by the cultural perception of the society. Hence, male and female are sexes whereas man and women are genders.

Sex and gender though used interchangeably but gender is purely a cultural perception which determines the hierarchy in the social order. Since almost all part of the world is patriarchal except Garo, Khasi, Nayar, etc. the stratification is determined on the basis of the gender in which man is the super-ordinate. Whereas woman is subordinate and accordingly they enjoy privileges and disadvantages.

It is believed that since male is biologically superior, it reflects in hierarchy also but modern researchers proved that biologically some ways female is superior than male. For example, Man is superior because the muscles of male are more developed (50%) than the female. Secondly the size of lung, heart and liver are bigger than female. These two make males superior than females.

On the other hand, females are superior than males in following terms (i) life expectancy of female is more than male (ii) Females speak earlier than males and also learns walking earlier than males. (iii) Females have better oratory skill than the males.

Hence, we can say that on biological yardsticks it cannot be proved that males are superior.

Margaret Mead in her book “Sex and Temperament in three Primitive Societies” studied three primitive communities i.e. Zuni, Arapesh and Tshambuli and found different form of personalities. In Zuni, both males and females were Appolonian (cool, calm, peace-loving, cooperative) personality. In Arapesh, both males and females were Dynosian personality (jealous, competitive, violent, aggressive etc.). And in Tshambuli, contrary to general perception, males were Appolonian whereas females were Dynosian.

There were many studies conducted in different societies and almost it is believed that the gender inequality is based on cultural prejudices than the scientific facts. Before Industrial and French revolution except few exceptions societies were largely patriarchal in which man was at the advantageous position whereas females are subject to various disadvantages politically, culturally and socially.

Two phenomena led to change in the status of women initially in Europe and later worldwide:

(i) Industrial and French revolution

(ii) Two world wars

(i) Industrial and French revolution: Industrial revolution created an economic environment where women emerged as a major working force. First time, they came out of the four walls and realized their potential which led to self-belief among them. Whereas, French revolution entrusted the ideology of equality among them, which inspire them to mobilize for the cause of equality, which simultaneously gave birth to Feminist movement in Europe.

(ii) Two World Wars: These two wars changed the demographic profile of Europe where the loss of male young population due to war gave the opportunity to women to take the responsibilities which traditionally belonged to men. This further led to realization of potential among the women who started challenging male dominance over them.

Hence, after these two phenomena, the status of women started changing in Europe and as other continents and subcontinents became the colony of Europe, this culture diffused to other societies also.

But again it is a wrong perception that the women in American or European societies enjoy equality whereas in traditional or Asian societies do not. Even in American societies, the gender inequality still prevails. In a study on American society, it was found that women prefer relatively easier jobs popularly known as ‘women jobs’. Women are 97% in jobs like, typing, front office employee, steno, nurse, primary teachers, etc. whereas there are merely 3% in ‘man’s job’ like attorney, doctor, engineering, etc.

Similar studies have been conducted in England also and it has been found that 33.5% of British women population is either unemployed or underemployed which proves that man gets priority in the jobs than the woman. A sociological research has been conducted in Britain among the employers that why they prefer man, in which majority replied that since they take care of the household and job simultaneously, they do not give 100%. Second, they take frequent obligatory leaves than the males. This proves that there are certain cultural prejudices regarding potential and problems of women even in most modern societies.

In US, a sociological investigation was conducted in which a question has been asked to the husbands – What your wife is doing? Majority replied, she is doing nothing, she is housewife. When same question was asked from wife - What are you doing? She replied, I have no leisure from early morning to evening because I take care of household. This proves that the job of women is nothing in the eyes of man.

But, in modern society the relative status of women is fast changing. Feminism, economic activities, social legislations, legal safeguards, education and awareness has held to challenge the old age patriarchal system worldwide.

Now, it has been established that if given an equal opportunity, women can do equally good like men. Edward Alice in her book “Cult of True Womenhood” wrote that now the world has started giving space to women dignity, aspiration and better chances for realizing their individual dreams. Now, women can seek their identity beyond the identity of daughter, sister, mother, wife etc.But still, the gender equality is a myth. Only it is relatively better in one society than the others. But after the efforts of state, society and other modern institutions, the inequality opposed on the basis of gender is diminishing and the hope is alive that one day society with give up all the prejudices of gender and a gender neutral society will be realized.

Race and Ethnicity:

Race is a physiological phenomena in which on the basis of certain biological characteristics individuals are classified. On the basis of biological characteristics, there are four types of races i.e. Caucasian (white), Negrito (black), Proto-australoid, and Mongoloid.

Ethnicity is a socio-cultural expression of race, for example, a single race Caucasian spreaded worldwide from Germany and settled in different parts of the world. They adopted a distinguished language, culture, food habits, clothing according to the new environment and hence became ethnic groups. Hence, Aryans, Britons, French, Russian, etc. are some of the ethnic groups which emerged out of Caucasian race.

Racial purity is a myth. Over the period, the different races have intermixed with each other and hence, a single race in its purest form cannot be identified.

In history, on the basis of racial prejudices, white dominated and exploited the black for centuries on the basis of the myth of racial superiority. On the basis of ‘whiteman’s burden’ whites believed that they have the natural right to rule the black because god has made them superior. In Europe, Africa and America on the basis of the racial prejudices, social structures were formed.

In US, when Britons and Europeans got settled, over the period they made blacks as slaves and they were kept under social exclusion for decades. Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln finally managed to end the regime of apartheid and equal rights have been given to Blacks. But still on the socio-economic and cultural dimension, whites are far ahead than the Blacks, for example, in courts, public offices, prisons, Blacks are unequally treated than the Whites.

The per capita income of Blacks is far less than the Whites. Blacks live in slums, small houses and filthy condition. It is general belief that blacks are good for the manual jobs. Similarly, in Britain for the same job, White gets better salary than the Blacks. Blacks are given unequal treatment in terms of promotion, opportunities facilities, etc. Blacks are considered as good for the jobs like construction transportation and factories. The job environment given to the Blacks is far inferior than the whites.

In South Africa, before the end of apartheid, the Whites used to treat Blacks in very inhuman manner. On the stations, parks, trains, restaurants, the Blacks had different seating arrangements. Certain roads, hospitals, restaurants, markets were only meant to be used by the Whites. They were not given democratic and voting rights. They were not allowed to take up white-collar jobs.

In all the racially prejudiced societies, ethnic stigmas were put over them which was derogatory and against the dignity of that group.

Against the ethnic inequality, various social reformers like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mandela, etc. took the initiative and launched social movements and finally legally it has been abolished perhaps in all societies. But, in practical senses the ethnic equality is still far from the reality and different states and international bodies are trying hard to abolish it.Social Mobility

(Types of mobility, Open and closed system, sources and causes of mobility)

Social Mobility

The term sociology mobility was introduced in sociology by Pitrim Sorokin in his book “The Cultural Dynamics”. In social stratification in every society different groups are placed or given a social position on the basis of some cultural or social yardsticks and accordingly they are assigned privileges and disadvantages. When individual or group ensures change of the social position in social hierarchy it is known as ‘social mobility’.

Sorokin has identified two type of social mobility i.e. Vertical Social Mobility and Horizontal Social Mobility.

1) Vertical Social Mobility – When individual or group moves in the social ladder in terms of gain or loss in the social position is Vertical Social Mobility. Vertical social mobility is of two types:

(i) Upward Social Mobility – It signifies as ‘social climbing’. When individual or group gains in terms of money, power privileges, than the previous one is upward. For example, A petty bourgeoisie becomes a capitalist.

(ii) Downward Social Mobility – It signifies in terms of ‘social sinking’. When individual or group loses in terms of money, power, privileges than the previous one is Downward Social Mobility. For example, when capitalists become poor.

(2) Horizontal Social Mobility – It involves moving within the same status category. When individual changes his place, occupation, etc. but necessarily do not get changes in their social position is Horizontal Social Mobility. For example, an officer gets transferred from one place to another or a rickshaw puller becomes wage earners.

Lipset and Benedix identified two more types of Social Mobility i.e. Intra-generational and Inter-generational Social Mobility.

1) Intra-generation Social Mobility – It is also termed ‘career mobility’, refers to social mobility within a single generation. It is measured by comparing the occupational status of individual at two or more points in time. Individual ensures social climbing or social sinking in their own life. For example, someone becomes rich suddenly and poor suddenly.

2) Inter-generational Social Mobility – It refers to the social mobility between generations. It is measured by comparing occupational status of sons with that of father (and only rarely the occupational status of father or mother with that of their daughter). For example, a son of a farmer becomes an IAS and vice versa.

The social mobility depends upon the social systems, if the social structure is open it provides hinderless chances of social mobility. Whereas the close system don’t provide the opportunity of social mobility for the individual.

In an open society with a class system mobility is possible between different social classes. The positions in this stratification system depend more on achieved status. Achieved status is a sociological term denoting a social position that a person can acquire on the basis of merit. It is a position that is earned or chosen. It reflects personal skills, abilities and efforts; examples of achieved status are being an Olympic athlete, being a criminal or being a college professor.

On the other hand, in a close society an individual’s position is largely ascribed, that is, fixed by birth. Ascribed status is position assigned to individuals or groups based on traits beyond their control such as sex, race or parental social status. In other words a position based on who a person is, not what they can do. Indian caste system is most appropriate example for closed system.

Theoretically, societies are open or closed but practically no society is completely open or closed.

Lockwood and Gold Thorpe in their study of ‘Black-coated workers’ found that the lower class do not get easy acceptance in the middle class in spite of their economic achievements. They are rejected by being called Nouveau Riche. They also found that in schools, offices are different and unfriendly environment and they believe that they are not accepted by the middle class.

Caste, race, and gender based social stratification are the examples of closed social system. These societies do not offer any opportunity of Social Mobility to its members. Individual born and dies in same social position. But practically no system can be closed enough not to provide Social Mobility to its members because in any closed system some individual can ensure social mobility through their efforts. For example, Sankritization (M. N. Srinivas), migration (David F. Pocock), conversion (Yogendra Singh) and Royal Proclamation were some of the means of social mobility within the caste system.

Hence, the open and close system is a relative concept. The closed system provides little opportunities for Social Mobility whereas open system has least hindrances but practically no society is open or close absolutely.

Sources and Causes of Social Mobility

The rate of mobility in modern societies is determined by structural factors i.e. those factors which determine social mobility of group or individual due to structural changes, for example, economic boom or depression; and Second individual factors includes individual skills and traits that determined which people get the positions.

Structural Factors:

(a). Occupational Structure: Societies differ in the relative proportion of high and low status positions to be filled. A society with a primarily agricultural and extractive economy (mining and forestry) will have many low-status and few high-status positions, and mobility will be low. The rate of mobility rises with the degree of industrialization in both the capitalist and socialist countries. Most people in the developing countries are still in an agricultural and extractive economy leaving limited opportunity for upward mobility.

(b). Mobility Barriers: Even in a relatively open class society, upward mobility is not open equally to everyone. Middle-class children typically have learning experiences which are more helpful in gaining upward mobility than the experiences of lower-class children. Conflict theory scholars maintain that credentials (certificates), recommendations, the ‘old-boy network,’ and over discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities and lower-class persons seriously limit upward mobility while protecting the children of the upper classes from downward mobility.

Individual Factors:

While structural factors may determine the proportion of high-status, well-paid positions in a society, individual factors greatly affect which persons get them.

(a). Ability Differences: Other things being equal, the talented usually earn more than the untalented. It is all known that not all people are equally talented. While it is impossible to measure individual ability differences satisfactorily, we assume that they are important factors in life success and mobility.

(b). Mobility-Oriented Behaviour:

(i) Education: It is an important mobility ladder. Even a well-paid working-class job is hard to find unless one can read directions and do simple arithmetic. About one in five Americans is ‘functionally illiterate,’ and most of these people spend their lives on the bottom rung of the mobility ladder. For many careers the greatest value of education lies not in the particular knowledge and skills it provides but in cultivating one's ability to locate and use information as it is needed.

(ii) Work Habits: These are sometimes over-looked as a mobility factor. One recent study concludes that work habits learned in early childhood are the most important for all eventual success and well-being. Hard work carries no guarantee of upward mobility, but not many achieve upward mobility without it.

(iii) Deferred-Gratification Pattern (DGP): This consists of postponing immediate satisfaction in order to gain some later goal. The middle class may have the most to gain through the DGP. The upper class has little need to defer gratification, for it needs only to retain positions already held. There is evidence that lower-class persons more often have a short-term perspective and less often follow the DGP. This is not surprising, for persons whose grasp upon jobs and income are short-term are likely to have short-term plans and values.

(iv) Mobility ‘Game Playing’: This has received little study, but it seems likely that a good deal of ‘game playing’ and artful ‘presentation of self’ may be involved in upward mobility. Graduating seniors are coached on how to conduct themselves before the corporate recruiter. To be well-liked may be as important as to be competent. A skillful ‘presentation of self’ will seldom take the place of competence, but it may gain one a chance to demonstrate competence and thus be a factor in mobility.

This discussion on sources and causes of mobility has centered upon upward mobility. The same determinants also produce downward mobility. The structural factors, such as declining industries, a stagnating economy with declining productivity, a declining rate of economic growth and technological change tend to increase the total number of persons who must lose class status. The individual factors - education, work habits and the others determine which persons suffer class status decline.


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