The Origin of Social Stratification

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Social stratification is rigid subdivision of society into a hierarchy of layers, differentiated on the basis of power, prestige and wealth. It is the hierarchical arrangement of people in a society.

Stratification is common in the animal kingdom on the basis of power and gender and some form of stratification has probably always existed among humans. With the development of food and other surpluses resulting from technological advances in agriculture and manufacturing, some people began to accumulate more recourses or wealth than others.

Social stratification can happen on the basis of caste, income, wealth, education, religion, power, age, gender, occupation, race, region, language, party and politics. There could be many other factors influencing social stratification.

For the greater part of history, the existing stratification order was regarded as an immutable feature of society and the implicit objective of commentators was to explain or justify that order in terms of religious or quasi-religious doctrines.

In early societies, people shared a common social standing. As societies evolved and became more complex, they began to elevate some members. Today, stratification, a system by which society ranks its members in a hierarchy, is the norm throughout the world. All societies stratify their members. A stratified society is one in which there is an unequal distribution of society’s rewards and in which people are arranged hierarchically into layers according to how much of society’s rewards they possess. To understand stratification, we must first understand its origins.

Hunting and gathering societies had little stratification. Men hunted for meat while women gathered edible plants, and the general welfare of the society depended on all its members sharing what it had. The society as a whole undertook the rearing and socialization of children and shared food and other acquisitions more or less equally. Therefore, no group emerged as better off than the others.

The emergence of horticultural and pastoral societies led to social inequality. For the first time, groups had reliable sources of food: horticultural societies cultivated plants, while pastoral societies domesticated and bred animals. Societies grew larger, and not all members needed to be involved in the production of food. Pastoral societies began to produce more food than was needed for mere survival, which meant that people could choose to do things other than hunt for or grow food.

Division of labour in agricultural societies led to job specialization and stratification. People began to value certain jobs more highly than others. The further someone was from actual agriculture work, the more highly he or she was respected. Manual labourers became the least respected members of society, while those engaged in “high culture,” such as art or music, became the most respected. As basic survival needs were met, people began trading goods and services they could not provide for themselves and began accumulating possessions. Some accumulated more than others and gained prestige in society as a result. For some people, accumulating possessions became their primary goal. These individuals passed on what they had to future generations, concentrating wealth into the hands of a few groups. INDUSTRIALIZED SOCIETIES

The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain in the mid-1700s, when the steam engine came into use as a means of running other machines. The rise of industrialization led to increased social stratification. Factory owners hired workers who had migrated from rural areas in search of jobs and a better life. The owners exploited the workers to become wealthy, making them work long hours in unsafe conditions for very low...
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