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6: Social Stratification

No matter what determines it, a society’s stratification has significant consequences for its members’ attitudes, behavior, and, perhaps most important of all, life chances—how well people do in such areas as education, income, and health. We will see examples of these consequences in the pages ahead and end with a discussion of some promising policies and programs for reducing inequality and poverty.

  • 6.0: Prelude to Social Stratification
    Life is filled with differences in wealth and other resources a society values. Sociologists refer to rankings based on these differences as social stratification. Except for the simplest preindustrial societies, every society is stratified to some extent, and some societies are more stratified than others. Another way of saying this is that some societies have more economic inequality, or a greater difference between the best-off and the worst-off, than others.
  • 6.1: Systems of Stratification
    Different types of stratification systems vary on their degree of vertical mobility, or the chances of rising up or falling down the stratification ladder. In some so-called closed societies, an individual has virtually no chance of moving up or down. Open societies have more vertical mobility, as some people, and perhaps many people, can move up or even down. That said, a key question is how much vertical mobility really exists in these societies.
  • 6.2: Explaining Stratification
    Why is stratification so common? Is it possible to have a society without stratification? Sociologists trying to answer these questions have developed two very different macro explanations of stratification, while symbolic interactionists have examined the differences that stratification produces for everyday interaction.
  • 6.3: Social Class in the United States
    There is a surprising amount of disagreement among sociologists on the number of social classes in the United States and even on how to measure social class membership. We first look at the measurement issue and then discuss the number and types of classes sociologists have delineated.
  • 6.4: Economic Inequality and Poverty in the United States
    Economic inequality refers to the extent of the economic difference between the rich and the poor. Because most societies are stratified, there will always be some people who are richer or poorer than others, but the key question is how much richer or poorer they are. When the gap between them is large, we say that much economic inequality exists; when the gap between them is small, we say that relatively little economic inequality exists.
  • 6.5: Global Stratification
    If the United States is stratified by wealth, power, and prestige, so is the world. In fact, inequality around the globe is even more striking than inequality within the United States. This section examines the major dimensions of global stratification, popular explanations for its existence, and its consequences for the lives of people across the world.
  • 6.S: Social Stratification (Summary)