The Davis–Moore theory is a central claim within the structural functionalist paradigm of sociological theory, and was advanced by Kingsley Davis and Wilbert E. Moore in a paper published in 1945. The theory is an explanation of social stratification. As a structural functionalist theory, it is also associated with Talcott Parsons and Robert K. Merton.
The theory is an explanation of social stratification, based on the idea of "functional necessity." Davis and Moore argue that the most difficult jobs in any society are the most necessary and require the highest rewards and compensation to sufficiently motivate individuals to fill them. Once the roles are filled, the division of labour functions properly, based on the notion of organic solidarity advanced by Emile Durkheim.
This argument has been criticized as fallacious from a number of different angles. The first problem is that they posit rewards as a guarantee of performance, when rewards are supposed to be based on merit in their argument. It is argued that if abilities were inherent, there would be no need of a reward system. Secondly, Davis and Moore do not clearly indicate why some positions should be worth more than others, other than the fact that they are remunerated more. E.g., teachers are equally, if not more, functionally necessary than athletes and movie stars, yet, they receive significantly lower incomes. These critics have suggested that structural inequality (inherited wealth, family power, etc.), is itself a cause of individual success or failure, rather than a consequence of it. Class analysts point out that it is not merely income that determines inequality but wealth, access to social networks, and cultural practices that put some individuals in better positions than others to succeed.
- Davis, Kingsley and Wilbert E. Moore. (1970 ). "Some principles of stratification." American Sociological Review, 10 (2), 242-9.
- De Maio, F. (2010). Health & Social Theory. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 29-30.
- Tumin, M. M. (1953). "Some principles of stratification: a critical analysis." American Sociological Review, 18, 387-97.
- The New York Times. Class Matters. (2005). New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 9.