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Social Stratification Examples: How to Understand and Challenge Inequality

Social stratification divides society into groups based on wealth, power, and status. It is a form of social inequality that creates hierarchies and privileges some people over others. Social stratification can negatively affect individuals and society by limiting opportunities, reducing well-being, and increasing conflict.

This post will talk about social stratification and how it affects people. We’ll also talk about how to make society more fair and inclusive.

What is Social Stratification?

Social stratification is the systematic ranking of people into different groups or layers based on their access to valued resources, such as money, education, health care, and political influence. These resources are often scarce and unevenly distributed, creating a hierarchy of advantages and disadvantages.

The groups or layers resulting from social stratification are social classes, social strata, or social categories. They are not fixed or natural but socially constructed and maintained by various institutions, norms, and beliefs. 

For example, the legal system, education system, media, and culture define and reinforce social stratification.

Social stratification can be based on different criteria, such as income, occupation, education, race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, or citizenship. These criteria are often interrelated and overlapping, creating complex patterns of inequality and diversity. 

For example, a person’s income may depend on their occupation, which may depend on their education, which may depend on their race or gender.

Social stratification can also vary across time and space. Different societies may have different forms and degrees of social stratification depending on their historical, economic, political, and cultural contexts. 

For example, feudal societies had a rigid system of social stratification based on land ownership and birthright. In contrast, modern capitalist societies had a more flexible system of social stratification based on market forces and meritocracy. Similarly, social stratification can change over time within a society due to social movements, revolutions, wars, or globalization.

Why is Social Stratification Important?

Social stratification is important because it affects how people live in various ways. It influences their chances of survival, health, happiness, education, occupation, income, consumption, leisure, political participation, and social relationships. It also shapes their identities, values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours.

Some of the effects of social stratification are:

Life chances: 

People from higher social classes have better life chances than those from lower social classes. They have more access to resources that enable them to live longer, healthier, safer, and more comfortable lives. They also have more opportunities to pursue their goals, interests, and talents. 

WHO says the average life expectancy at birth in 2019 ranged from 53 years in Sierra Leone (a low-income country) to 84 years in Japan (a high-income country).


People from higher social classes tend to have higher levels of well-being than those from lower social classes. They have more satisfaction with their lives, more happiness, more self-esteem, more optimism, and less stress. They also have more freedom, autonomy, and control over their lives. 

For example, according to the World Happiness Report 2020, Finland ranked first among 153 countries in terms of happiness, while Afghanistan ranked last.


People from higher social classes have more access to quality education than those from lower social classes. They have more opportunities to attend school, complete higher levels of education, acquire valuable skills and knowledge, and benefit from educational resources and facilities. They also have more academic performance, achievement, and attainment advantages. 

UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) says the global literacy rate in 2018 was 86% for adults (aged 15 and above) and 91% for youth (aged 15-24). Still, it varied widely across regions and countries.

The literacy rate was 95% for adults and 98% for youth in Europe and North America. Still, it was 65% for adults and 76% for youth in sub-Saharan Africa.


People from higher social classes have more access to education, training, and career opportunities that enable them to secure high-paying jobs and prestigious positions in society.

For example, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and managers are often considered upper-class or upper-middle-class occupations. In contrast, factory workers, cleaners, drivers, and salespersons are often considered lower- or lower-middle-class occupations. Occupation influences lifestyle, consumption patterns, social networks, and cultural capital.


Education is another important factor that affects social stratification. People who have gone to school no longer have more knowledge, skills, and connections. This helps them do better in their jobs and life. Education also shapes one’s values, beliefs, attitudes, and preferences, which affect one’s social identity and status.

For example, people with a college or postgraduate degree are often regarded as more intelligent, cultured, and sophisticated than those with only a high school diploma or less.

Income and Wealth:

Income and wealth are the most obvious indicators of social stratification. Income refers to the money one earns from work or other sources. In contrast, wealth refers to the total value of assets minus liabilities. People with higher incomes and wealth tend to have more economic power and societal influence. They can afford better housing, health care, education, transportation, entertainment, and other goods and services that enhance their quality of life. They can also accumulate more savings and investments, increasing their financial security and prospects.


Power means controlling or influencing others and achieving your goals even if people try to stop you. Power can be derived from various sources, such as political authority, economic resources, social connections, physical force, or charisma. People with more power tend to have more say in the decision-making processes and policies affecting society. They can also protect their interests and benefits from potential threats or challenges. Power can also confer prestige and respect from others who acknowledge one’s authority or influence.


Prestige is the degree of respect or admiration from others based on one’s achievements, qualities, or status. Prestige can be earned through various means, such as academic excellence, professional success, artistic talent, athletic skill, moral virtue, or humanitarian service. People with more prestige tend to have more recognition and appreciation from society. They can also enjoy more self-esteem and confidence in their abilities and worth.


Societies worldwide have common examples of social stratification. Social stratification changes over time because of economic growth, social movements, culture, technology, population changes, and global connections. It’s not fixed or unchanging. Social stratification can have both positive and negative effects on individuals and groups. On the one hand, it can incentivize people to work hard and achieve their goals; on the other hand, it can create inequalities and injustices that limit people’s opportunities and potential.

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