Social stratification

In the area of ​​sociology, we speak of social stratification to refer to the existing inequalities between the individuals and groups that make up a human society. It could be argued that societies are hierarchized by different strata and that those with the most benefits are at the top of this hierarchy while those with the least privileges are at the bottom.

What is social stratification?

The expression “social stratification” refers to the segmentation of the population of a society into different differentiated and hierarchical social groups . This segmentation takes place because every society is built on a system of differentiation or hierarchy of social positions. Depending on the time or angle of analysis, this segmentation is carried out based on criteria that make each group a homogeneous set. These criteria can be linked to social, political or economic organization .

  • Types of social stratification
  • Castes
  • The estates
  • Social classes
  • Outstanding Theories of Social Stratification
  • Karl Marx
  • Max weber
  • Adam smith
  • Social inequality
  • Examples of social stratification
  • The mayans
  • The Incas
  • Social stratification in Argentina and Chile

Types of social stratification

Three major types of social stratification are distinguished : castes, estates and social classes .


They are rigorously hierarchical groups organized by religious law that determines their number, composition and, in some cases, their privileges. Their membership of the caste is made from their birth and is transmitted from generation to generation . Castes are based on inbreeding. The best known example is that of India in which the untouchables and the Brahmins coexist.

The estates

The estates take place particularly in European feudalism . These originated in societies in which there was an aristocracy in which the nobility was inherited . The different strata that make up the estates have both obligations and rights towards each other.

Social classes

In this case, the criterion for differentiation is income . Unlike the other two types of stratification, social classes are not of legal origin. The bourgeoisie , the middle class and the working class are distinguished . In some countries, with the rise of the middle class, society became more homogeneous.

Outstanding Theories of Social Stratification

Karl Marx

Marxist analysis hierarchizes society into more or less antagonistic social classes in a class struggle: the working class, the middle class, the bourgeoisie, or capitalist society.

Max weber

For his part, Max Weber makes a classification of society following criteria of economic, political and social order . The economic sphere marks the origin of classes while in the political sphere, the parties clash for the conquest of power. Finally, in the social sphere, the prestige of positions hierarchizes status groups.

Adam smith

Adam Smith conceives of a social stratification based on the source of income . The sociologist divides commercial society into three large classes: those who receive a salary that ensures their subsistence, those who have a capital from which they obtain a benefit proportional to the risk they run when making investments, and the owners who live on the income of the company. land.

Social inequality

At present, both the followers of Weber’s theory and those of Marxist theory agree that there is a social inequality that is growing every day . When it comes to social inequality, it generally refers to the way in which material and financial wealth are distributed among the population. This inequality translates into differences in the value system of society.

Examples of social stratification

The mayans

In Mayan society, the social stratification included five groups . In the first place, the priests who had the power and were in charge of running each city. In second place were the group of nobles made up of chiefs, warrior chiefs, high officials and their families. Third, merchants followed on the scale by artisans and peasants . Finally, in fifth place, were the slaves who had committed crimes or were prisoners of war.

The Incas

The Inca social organization had the particularity of being hierarchized by a high nobility inherited by birth and a low nobility obtained by merit or privilege . These two groups were followed by artisans and peasants who made up the majority of the town and worked in ayllus. Finally, at the bottom of the social stratum, were the serfs or yanoconas , who were slaves for life and by inheritance.

Social stratification in Argentina and Chile

Following criteria related to educational level, profession and labor income, it could be said that out of every 10 Argentines, 8 would be considered as part of the middle class. However, it should be noted that this percentage includes people who do not actually live in the middle class social situations that are traditionally known. Indeed, only 30% of Argentine society would be part of the traditional middle class, while 15% would belong to the upper middle class and around 30% would belong to the lower middle class.

A similar case occurs in Chile , a country in which around 70% of the population is considered middle class. However, statistics show that many of those who identify as middle class actually belong to other social groups with lower incomes.

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