What is the difference between caste and class?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is an excellent question.  Both concepts are examples of social stratification.  In my mind, the primary difference between them is that "class" is based primarily upon material acquisition or the lack of it, while "caste" can be based on such a premise but is more of a traditional notion of hierarchy.  Members in a particular "caste" share certain values or operational definitions of the good.  For example, in India, the definition of the "Brahmin" caste is more than economic, and is based on common beliefs and practices.  When the term "class" is used, it is linked through the primary notion of wealth or status, and does not carry with it the traditional concepts that caste does.  Both are forms of social segregation and stratification, but one is more ushered in over time while the other is a relatively modern construct predicated upon wealth and the prestige associated with it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Encyclopedia Britannica defines caste as

any of the ranked, hereditary, endogamous social groups, often linked with occupation, that together constitute traditional societies in South Asia

From this definition, we can see the ways in which class and caste differ.

The major difference between caste and class is that caste is almost a genetic idea -- it is something that is passed down from generation to generation automatically.  By contrast, a person's class may be very different from that of his or her parents.  Caste is automatically hereditary, class is not.

A second difference is that castes are "endogamous" -- which means that people from one caste may not marry outside the caste.  While it is often true that people of one class marry inside that class, there is no rule that says they must, as there is with caste.

Finally, please note that the word "caste" is not used very often to describe any societal groups other than those of India and some other parts of South Asia.


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial