Are there any advantages of social stratification?

The advantages of social stratification can include efficiency and certainty, since people know their role within society. Provided that there is flexibility to move between strata on the basis of competence, social stratification is also an incentive to work hard and improve society.

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The biggest advantage of social stratification is that it provides order and stability in society. All societies, no matter how simple or complex, require some kind of social stratification in order to maintain stability.

Vigorous arguments can certainly be had about the precise way in which social stratification manifests itself in any given society, but the phenomenon of social stratification itself is unavoidable if society is to be properly organized.

It's notable in this regard that even the most ostensibly egalitarian societies, such as those that existed in the countries of the Communist block of Eastern Europe, showed clear signs of social stratification.

Whereas in the capitalist West, society tended—and still tends—to be stratified according to wealth, ethnicity, and social class, in Communist countries, society was stratified on the lines of loyalty to the Party. Those deemed most loyal formed the unacknowledged elite of society, with special privileges unavailable to common folk, the very people whose interests Communism was supposed to serve.

If anything, social stratification is more essential to egalitarian societies than unequal ones. This is because there needs to be greater stability in society for the state to control it. The more stratified a society is, the easier it can be manipulated and controlled by the state to pursue certain political objectives.

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The advantages of social stratification are suggested by the obvious fact that stratification is replicated in almost every organization within society, generally with much more precision than it is in society at large. The most egalitarian societies in the world have military ranks in their armies because some must lead and make decisions, while others must carry out those decisions, if the unit is to function efficiently.

Social stratification works well when the hierarchy is reasonably flexible, allowing people's position in it to reflect their competence. A general should understand tactics and strategy better than a lieutenant, and a professor of surgery should be more skilled than a junior doctor. Similarly, in wider society, the leaders should be those best adapted to and most skilled at the task of governing, whichever level of society they were born into. Where the stratification of society is extremely rigid (one based on racial apartheid, for instance), the system will become unstable because the most able people in the lower levels will have no way to reach the top except through revolution.

Where it is flexible, however, social stratification encourages hard work and initiative, as people seek higher positions for themselves and their children. In a completely equal society, they would have no such advancement for which to strive. Such a completely equal society would also be anarchic and therefore inherently unstable.

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Most societies have some form of stratification. A few societies are egalitarian, meaning that they strongly emphasize the equal status of all members and employ “leveling mechanisms” to prevent people from trying to gain superiority over others. This system tends to work only in small groups. A stratum is a layer or level, so stratification refers to the arrangement of the levels. Economic and political stratification are intertwined with social stratification.

The most important advantage of stratification is that it facilitates social organization and governance. Within the social group, having one or more acknowledged leaders leads to greater efficiency in decision-making, in contrast to egalitarian systems that rely on achieving consensus among the entire group. Without some orderly arrangement of positions, anarchy or chaos might ensue, ultimately leading to violent conflict within the group.

Another advantage is that the group’s members have clear expectations of appropriate behavior. This is especially true in a “closed” stratified society, in which people gain their positions by birthright or family connections. In an “open” system, in contrast, statuses are achieved; while clear divisions exist, anyone could, in theory, take the required steps to move up the levels. In reality, however, individuals have unequal opportunities to gain status, and people of high status are protected (through social support, inheritance, etc.) from losing it, so it is common for generations to maintain their status.

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Whether or not there are any advantages to social stratification really depends on who you are and where you fall in that system. By its very nature, social stratification limits access to power, prestige, and privilege by systemically oppressing and exploiting particular groups of people. Though complex societies rely on the differentiation of labor, there does not necessarily need to be a differential distribution of wealth based on irrelevant characteristics like race, gender, ethnicity, bodily ability, religion, health status, or socioeconomic background. 

I would say that there are advantages to social stratification for those who fall into the preferential categories and higher ranks of stratification. Though there may exist advantages in access to power, prestige, and privilege, they are not justified in a system of social stratification. Where there are systemic advantages, there are also disadvantages. For example, in the United States, there persists a racial and ethnically based system of social stratification which gives preferential access to health, wealth, and education to white people, while placing People of Color in a cycle of poverty. For every one white person who does well in the United States, there is a handful of People of Color who have been denied the opportunity and resources for achievement.

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