Social stratification and social inequality

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MINISTERY OF EDUCATION OF THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS Belarus State Economic University REFERAT: «SOCIAL STRATIFICATION AND SOCIAL INEQUALITY» Minsk 2008 Understanding of social stratification and social inequality The grouping of people together is as old as the society itself. Racial grouping is one way that societies have done this, the example is the American South before the US civil war. Religion is another way if parts of Northern Ireland until the 1960s are meant. One common way is through the caste system to be found in India. Here, social differentiation is stressed by the caste that each individual is born into, for instance, the Brahmin caste is the top caste and the untouchables are the bottom caste. Caste membership in this life is the result of good or bad

conduct in the previous life. In any medieval country, the feudal system of land ownership meant that the nobility of land owners, with its sense of family tradition, privilege and knightly conduct became the dominant ruling group. Social stratification is the dividing of a society into levels or strata based on wealth or power. It is regarded quite differently by the principal perspectives of sociology. Proponents of structural functionalism suggest that since social stratification exists in all societies, a hierarchy must be beneficial in helping to stabilize their existence. Conflict theorists emphasize the inaccessibility of resources and lack of social mobility in many stratified societies. Anyway, all theorists share the opinion that social stratification has to do with

inequality. Social inequality refers to the distribution of material wealth in a society. For instance, the current level of inequality is as follows: the richest 1% of people (with an average income of US $24,000) earns more than the poorest 60% of households in the world combined. Another illustration of this difference is the fact that the world’s three richest people alone possess more assets than 600 million least wealthy people combined. Although there appears to be a consensus of what constitutes social inequality, there is far less agreement over the causes of it. Many theorists accept inequality as a given, but some of them see inequality as the natural consequence of Social Darwinism, proved by gender, age, IQ or the wealth of nations. Others argue that inequality is

in large part the negative consequence of destructive state policies (such as capitalism) and wars. Some modern economic theories, such as the neoclassical school, have suggested that functioning of economy requires a certain level of unemployment; other theories, such as Keynesianism and socialism, dispute this alleged positive role of unemployment. However, sociologists share the opinion that as soon as the society was reaching a higher economic and cultural level, social inequality between people was getting more and more obvious. Historically, inequality in a group might have been caused by division of labour: the more skilled the person was, the more and better products he could produce and exchange for more wealth. If the person was wealthy, he could impose his will on

others and acquire more wealth that entailed professional, territorial, religious and other differentiations. More important is the fact that wealth always entails power in the political sphere. In his famous work, On the Origins of Inequality among Men, R. Dahrendorf asserts that “the system of inequality which we call social stratification is only a secondary consequence of the social structure of power” and modern Russia is a good example to prove of. A person is viewed to show that he belongs to a certain stratum by using both objective and subjective criteria. The objective criteria are those to describe the level of education, income, property, power or occupation, the subjective ones are those to describe the level of somebody’s honour, reputation or prestige in the