30 November, 2010
The Impact of Social Class/Stratification
Stratification and the division of people into social classes is a fundamental part of American society. Stratification is a concept that is universal; it is found in every country, every nation of the world. It is a system in which large groups of people, not individuals, are divided into different layers according to their relative property, power, and prestige. Stratification applies not only to the different nations of the world as a whole, but to the different groups of people within those nations as well. Each of these groups is stratified into its own class; the group of people ranked most closely to them in property, power, and prestige. A person’s position in the stratification system affects everything about their life, from what they think and expect in life to how they see the world, as well as what opportunities they will have access to.
There are three main types of stratification systems; slavery, caste, and class. In slavery systems individuals may be owned, bought, sold, or traded by other individuals. Slaves were not always treated poorly, and many were not imprisoned for life, but their circumstances were certainly gruesome. Most of us know the history of the events from our own country, in which we engaged in a civil war over the slavery stratification system that was in place at the time. In the second system, the caste system, your status is ascribed at birth. You are stratified into a certain caste and you will remain there for life no matter what accomplishments you may achieve, or mistakes that you may make. And third we have the class system, which is characterized by its social mobility. Unlike the slavery and caste systems, in which there is little or no movement between statuses, a class system is much more open and individuals may change their social class based on achievements. Your status is still assigned at birth, but you have the chance at upward social mobility based on material possessions that you acquire, or things that you achieve. Or you may be on the other end of the spectrum and experience downward social mobility, in which you drop down in social class, based on mistakes or missed opportunities.
Noted sociologist Max Weber stated that there are three components to social class; property, power, and prestige. Weber actually used the terms class, power, and status, but other sociologists updated them to provide clearer meaning. These three P’s of social class are what determine into which class each individual or group is placed. Property is another word for a person’s wealth. This includes any houses, cars, or properties you own, the money in your savings account, stocks, or investments; any material possessions of value. Property is a significant factor in determining your social class, but not the only one. Power is your ability to control others and carry out your own will, even over their objections. The final factor that influences your social class is prestige. This refers to the respect or regard in which you are held in your community and society. These three factors are closely interrelated in determining one’s class. Property can lead to both prestige and power. You can use power to gain prestige and property. And prestige alone is enough to earn you property and power in the right circumstances. So you can see how advancement or regression in one category can lead to the same in others (Henslin 177-179).
Sociologists Joseph Kahl and Dennis Gilbert developed a model to portray the structure of the social class system in the United States. The model is depicted as a six rung ladder (Henslin 207 Figure 8.5). The lowest rung is the underclass, which make up only about 4% of the United States population. These are the people for whom poverty is a persistent problem. They have little chance of moving up the ladder. Many are...