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9.1 What Is Social Stratification?

Stratification systems, where people are ranked based on their wealth, power, and status within society, are either closed, meaning they allow little change in social position, or open, meaning they allow movement and interaction between the layers. A caste system is one in which social standing is based on ascribed status or birth. Class systems are open, with achievement playing a role in social position. People fall into classes based on factors like wealth, income, education, and occupation. A meritocracy is an ideal system of social stratification that confers standing based on solely on personal worth, rewarding effort. A pure meritocracy has never existed. Stratification is reinforced and shaped by cultural beliefs and values, called an ideology.

9.2 Social Stratification and Mobility in the United States

The United States has a high standard of living, where individuals expect to own property and have the ability to travel. Even so, the United States struggles with economic inequality, with a small number of citizens with a large amount of wealth and a larger number of people falling into relative poverty. There are three main classes in the United States: upper, middle, and lower class. Social mobility describes a shift from one social class to another. Class traits, also called class markers, are the typical behaviors, customs, and norms that define each class, but have become less definitive in assigning class to a specific individual.

9.3 Global Stratification and Inequality

Global stratification compares the wealth, status, power, and economic stability, of countries and ranks the countries. By comparing income and productivity between nations, researchers can better identify global financial and econommic leaders as well as inequalities within and among nations.

9.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Social Stratification

Social stratification can be examined from different sociological perspectives—functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism. The functionalist perspective states that systems exist in society for good reasons, such as incentives and rewards for those who demonstrate high skill and complete a high-level of education or training. Conflict theorists observe that stratification promotes inequality, such as different opportunities and success of rich business owners and their lower paid workers. Symbolic interactionists examine stratification from a micro-level perspective. They observe how social standing affects people’s everyday interactions and how the concept of “social class” is constructed and maintained through everyday interactions.

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