Social stratification occurs when a society has a number of different “layers” of people within it who have different statuses. In other words, social stratification exists if there are different groups of people who have different levels of such things as power, prestige, and wealth. All societies have social stratification. However, different societies base these groupings or strata on different things. Sociologists generally identify four different bases for social stratification. These are the different systems of social stratification.
One system of social stratification is slavery. In this system, there is a basic two-level stratification. Some people are free while other people are property.
A second system is a caste system. In this system, groups are given a set status by society and members of that group have that status follow them throughout their lives. People do not earn or choose their status. Instead, it is “ascribed” to them by society and there is nothing they can do to change it. India’s caste system is the most widely-known example of a society that is stratified by caste.
A third system, one that is not really in use any longer, is an estate system. This system was widely used in Europe in the Middle Ages and beyond. It divided people into three estates: the nobility, the clergy, and the common people. This was the system of social stratification that helped lead to the French Revolution.
Finally, there is the class system of stratification. This is, for the most part, what we have today. People in our society are stratified based on how much material wealth they have. We tend to give more power and prestige to those who have more money or more of other forms of wealth.
These are the four main ways in which societies can be stratified.