When we speak of social stratification we mean inequality between various groups of people. Inequality exists in all sorts of societies and cultures. Societies are consisted of layers that are hierarchical.
The four basic stratification systems are:
Stratification systems of slavery, caste and estate have been demolished in modern societies except some tribal societies.
The social class system is mainly a description of how scarce resources (wealth, income, education and occupation) are distributed in society. In other words Class could be explained as an indication of the positions a person may occupy within society, positions which are not equal.Thus, in order to analysis social classes in a society, it is necessary to explain that how these resources are distributed and make social classes.
In spite of the fact that some scholars argue that in developed countries, inequality has reduced rather than previous societies but, social stratification, inequality and class conflict have increasing rate today. In the United States Inequality between rich and poor has increased to the extent that the gap among them is larger than any point in the past 75 years. United States has the largest wealth disparity of any industrialized nation in the world and this disparity is growing larger every year.
In the United States, income is obviously one important scarce resource. Clearly, it is occupation that provides income, and it is education that determines the sort of occupation. At the more extent level, income is related to life consequences, such as the quality and quantity of education, health care, and housing one obtains, and even the how long one lives. So, there is interrelationship between accesses to each of these sources.
in the United States individual income depends on educational characteristics; in 2005 most people with doctorate and professional degrees were in top 15% of income earners. Those with Bachelor degrees had incomes considerably above the national median and people with college degree had less income.
The noticeable point is that, while the population of the United States is becoming increasingly educated on all levels, the conspicuous link between income and educational attainment remains.
Another point is that tertiary education is rarely free; education in elite private colleges for a four year program costs $120,000 approximately. While public colleges and universities costs much less but they are not free. Scholarships and low interest loans by government and universities are available too, but still the cost of education is high for many people.
Overall, educational attainment serves as one of the most essential class feature of most Americans, which is directly linked to income and occupation.
On one hand occupational status is consequence of educational attainment, personal or family income and on the other hand it defines access to other resources including income and health.
Low-wage jobs are associated with those people who have less education. Workers in these areas are unskilled because it does not require education in order to perform these jobs. But, White collar jobs require more human capital, skill and knowledge and therefore produce higher earnings. With higher education it is more likely for one to occupy a professional-level job wherein he or she may earn a higher salary. Therefore, those with less education are more likely to be working in Low-wage jobs.
Each particular job influences on lifestyle; income and prestige that gained from a job determine living environment, the kind of foods, medical care, sort of social networks, entertainment, spare times, and behavior.
It is education that makes upper-middle, middle and lower-middle scores on occupational spectrum; unskilled employees, employees with less than seven years of schooling, high school graduated ones, college graduate, licentiate, MS holders, professionals and experts with Doctorate degree located on different scores of occupational spectrum. So while all functions and positions in society do not determine with occupation, the job role is one of the most important status features in the United States.
Another feature that determines individuals’ position in the society is wealth. Wealth is what people own in assets such as houses, cars, stocks, shares, saved money, and lands.
While United States is the second rich county in the world, the distribution of wealth is too unfair. The top 1% of all population owned 38% of the wealth, 10% of population had 71% of wealth and on the other hand the bottom 40% owned less than 1% of the nation’s wealth.
Totally, the distribution of wealth is much more unequal than the distribution of income (what people receive in the course of a year by working).
According to these basic elements (income, wealth, occupation and education) which determine the social class of individuals and households, Americans believe in three- class model that includes the rich, the middle class and the poor, while, in reality American society is more diverse, economically and sociologically. It means that there is no clear class distinction between socio-economic strata.
The most important concept in a class system of stratification is social mobility. In class system, social stratification based on both birth and individual achievement; personal merit becomes more important. In fact, Industrial societies move towards meritocracy and in this kind of societies status consistency is lower than in other sorts of societies. Since societies became more competitive and more meritocratic some elements such as energy, social skills, character, ambition, physical attractiveness, talent, and luck played great role in social mobility and changing social position.
Now the question is that “How much mobility Americans have experienced during their life?”
Social mobility refers to changes in social position which occur during a person’s lifetime. There are two ways to study social mobility; Intragenerational Mobility and Intergenerational mobility.
By the first concept, we mean upward and downward movement in social ladder and by second one we refer to upward and downward movement in social hierarchy compared with the previous generation.
In order to explaining occupational mobility, mostly, scholars focus on father-child or household head-child occupational persistence (Intergenerational mobility).
If we distinguished six general occupational categories including upper professional or manager, lower professional or clerical, self-employed, technical or skilled trade, farm, unskilled and service workers, in united states, among men whom born after 1950, 32 percent of men were immobile (their occupation was in the same category as their father’s), 37 percent were upwardly mobile, and 32 percent were downwardly mobile. About women, data show that 27 percent were immobile, 46 percent were upwardly mobile, and 28 percent were downwardly mobile. Then, in occupation upward mobility was more common than downward mobility and Comparisons with other industrialized countries occupational mobility in the United States is reasonably high.
According to studies, intergenerational elasticity (IGE) in income between fathers and sons was estimated 0.4 or higher. Totally, actual association between parents’ and children’s incomes is high.
Wealth mobility is totally different from occupational and income mobility; at first, wealth is important because its distribution is more unequal than the distribution of income and on the other hand it effects on other aspects of family well-being, especially homeownership and investment in children’s education. Also, there is substantial intergenerational persistence in family wealth and the correlation is in the neighborhood of 0.50. The disparity in wealth persists between the generations. Thus, people who have no wealth loose opportunities. As an example, inherited wealth can put families in better neighborhoods and school districts than they could afford if they had to rely just on their incomes.
Social class in the United States is affected by individual achievement, as I said, Occupation, educational attainment and income can be earned and increased through a lifetime, but still it is undeniable that the rich have more money, more education, better occupation, better health, and consume more.
As a conclusion we should say that without the concept of social stratification, it is impossible to understand people’s behavior, because social class determines all aspects of our life…., our happiness, our religious beliefs, our customs, our interests and hobbies our health and even how long we will live and totally our life style.