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Social stratification'''''' Social stratification is a term used in the social sciences to describe the relative social position of persons in a given social group, category, geographical region or other social unit. It derives from the Latin strātum (plural strata; parallel, horizontal layers) referring to a given society’s categorization of its people into rankings of socioeconomic tiers based on factors like wealth, income, social status, occupation and power. In modern Western societies, stratification is often broadly classified into three major divisions of social class: upper class, middle class, and lower class. Each of these classes can be further subdivided into smaller classes (e.g. "upper middle"). Social strata may also be delineated on the basis of kinship ties or caste relations.

Caste System A caste system is a social system based on ascribed statuses, which are traits or characteristics that people possess as a result of their birth. Ascribed statuses can include race, gender, nationality, body type, and age. A caste system ranks people rigidly. No matter what a person does, he or she cannot change castes. People often try to compensate for ascribed statuses by changing their nationality, lying about their age, or undergoing plastic surgery to alter their body type. In some societies, this strategy works; in others, it does not.

Example: Religion is an ascribed status in some societies. Americans may convert to other religions, but in other countries, people may not change out of the particular religion into which they were born.

India’s Caste System The Indian government officially outlawed the caste system in 1949, but vestiges of it remain today. The system originated with the Hindu religion, which subscribes to the concept of reincarnation, the belief that while the physical body dies, the soul of a person is immortal and goes on to be reborn into another body. People who are good in their current life will come back to improved circumstances in the next life, but if they are evil, they will be punished in the next one. Therefore, those who are poor or ill are suffering punishment for having done something wrong in a past life. One should not interfere in the life of another person because that individual’s circumstances are the result of what he or she has done in a previous incarnation.

The Five Castes The Indian caste system has existed for about 3,000 years. There were four original castes, and one caste so low that it was not even considered to be part of the caste system:

The Brahman caste usually consisted of priests or scholars and enjoyed a great deal of prestige and wealth.

The Kshatriya caste, or warrior caste, was composed of those who distinguished themselves in military service.

The Vaishva caste comprised two sets of people—business-people and skilled craftspeople.

The Shudra caste consisted of those who made their living doing manual labor.

Class System In a class system, an individual’s place in the social system is based on achieved statuses, which are statuses that we either earn or choose and that are not subject to where or to whom we were born. Those born within a class system can choose their educational level, careers, and spouses. Social mobility, or movement up or down the social hierarchy, is a major characteristic of the class system.

The American Dream The value referred to as the American Dream is indicative of the American social class system. The American Dream reflects what we see as the kind of equality of opportunity that can exist only in a class system. Americans believe that all people, regardless of the conditions into which they were born, have an equal chance to achieve success. Part of the American Dream is the belief that every child can grow up to be president of the United States. Former president Bill Clinton, for example, came from a relatively poor background and grew up in a small town in Arkansas. His father died before he was born, and he was raised by his mother and abusive stepfather. Clinton rose above his humble beginnings to attend prestigious universities, receive a Rhodes scholarship, and enjoy a successful career in politics that began with his election as governor of Arkansas.

 Dimensions of stratification Stratification describes the way in which different groups of people are placed within society. This usually plays out in ethnic makeup, wealth, gender, political party, etc. Max Weber, the German sociologist, developed a three component theory of stratification based of class, status and party as distinct ideal types which reflects the relationship between wealth, prestige and power. Weber believed that an individual’s power was evidenced in the economic order through their class, in the social order through their status, and in the political order through their party.

Wealth: includes property such as buildings, lands, farms, houses, factories and as well as other assets - Economic Situation

Prestige: the respect with which a person or status position is regarded by others - Status Situation

Power: the ability of people or groups to achieve their goals despite opposition from others - Parties

According to Weber, there are two basic dimensions of power: The possession of power and the exercising of power.

The possession of power According to Weber, the ability to possess power derives from the individual's ability to control various "social resources." “The mode of distribution gives to the propertied a monopoly on the possibility of transferring property from the sphere of use as “wealth” to the sphere of “capital,” that is, it gives them the entrepreneurial function and all chances to share directly or indirectly in returns on capital.” These resources can be anything and everything and might include things like land, capital, social respect, physical strength, and intellectual knowledge.

The exercising of power The ability to exercise power takes a number of different forms, but all involve the idea that it means the ability to get your own way with others, regardless of their ability to resist you.“For example, if we think about an individual’s chances of realizing their own will against someone else, it is reasonable to believe that the person’s social prestige, class position, and membership in a political group will have an effect on these chances.”

 Global Stratification Not only is each society stratified, but in a global perspective, societies are stratified in relation to one another. Sociologists employ three broad categories to denote global stratification: most industrialized nations, industrializing nations, and least industrialized nations. In each category, countries differ on a variety of factors, but they also have differing amounts of the three basic components of the American stratification system: wealth (as defined by land and money), power, and prestige. The countries that could be considered the most industrialized include the United States, Canada, Japan, Great Britain, France, and the other industrialized countries of Western Europe, all of which are capitalistic. Industrializing nations include most of the countries of the former Soviet Union. The least industrialized nations account for about half of the land on Earth and include almost 70 percent of the world’s people. These countries are primarily agricultural and tend to be characterized by extreme poverty. The majority of the residents of the least industrialized nations do not own the land they farm, and many lack running water, indoor plumbing, and access to medical care. Their life expectancy is low when compared to residents of richer countries, and their rates of illness are higher.

Theories of Global Stratification Several theories purport to explain how the world became so highly stratified.

Colonialism Colonialism exists when a powerful country invades a weaker country in order to exploit its resources, thereby making it a colony. Those countries that were among the first to industrialize, such as Great Britain, were able to make colonies out of a number of foreign countries. At one time, the British Empire included India, Australia, South Africa, and countries in the Caribbean, among others. France likewise colonized many countries in Africa, which is why in countries such as Algeria, Morocco, and Mali French is spoken in addition to the countries’ indigenous languages.

World System Theory Immanuel Wallerstein’s world system theory posited that as societies industrialized, capitalism became the dominant economic system, leading to the globalization of capitalism. The globalization of capitalism refers to the adoption of capitalism by countries around the world. Wallerstein said that as capitalism spread, countries around the world became closely interconnected. For example, seemingly remote events that occur on the other side of the world can have a profound impact on daily life in the United States. If a terrorist attack on a Middle Eastern oil pipeline interrupts production, American drivers wind up paying more for fuel because the cost of oil has risen.

Neocolonialism Sociologist Michael Harrington used the term neocolonialism to describe the tendency of the most industrialized nations to exploit less-developed countries politically and economically. Powerful countries sell goods to less-developed countries, allowing them to run up enormous debts that take years to pay off. In so doing, the most developed nations gain a political and economic advantage over the countries that owe them money.

Multinational Corporations' Sometimes, multinational corporations, large corporations that do business in a number of different countries, can exploit weak or poor countries by scouring the globe for inexpensive labor and cheap raw materials. These corporations often pay a fraction of what they would pay for the same goods and employees in their home countries. Though they do contribute to the economies of other countries, the real beneficiaries of their profits are their home countries. Multinational corporations help to keep the global stratification system in place.