Social Stratification Caste System


SocialStratification: Caste System

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Inearly days before the Industrial Revolution, people had fairlysimilar lifestyles and shared a common social standing. However, associeties evolved through the Agrarian Revolution, IndustrialRevolution, and post-industrial discoveries, distribution ofresources within the society changed (Boundless, 2014). Division oflabor and specialization brought about people having different skillsand being compensated differently as a result. These unequaldistribution of resources is what brought about socialstratification.

Ina stratified society, people are arranged in hierarchical layersaccording to how much resource they operate on (Henslin, 2007). Thishierarchy has become the norm throughout the world although in somesocieties the differences are much more pronounced than others. Inmedieval times, such differences were visible between the noblefamilies and the commoners. Those from nobility were ranked at thetop of the hierarchy and their lives were full of leisure. At thelowest rank were the peasants who were the least respected in thesociety and did all the manual work for the nobles.

Socialstratification thrives on four principles. The first principle isthat social stratification is an identifiable trait of society. Atany point of humanity’s existence, there has been a factordifferentiating a society’s populace whether economical or racial.Secondly, stratification is usually passed down from one generationof a society to another. When children are born, they inherit thesocietal status of their parents (Boundless, 2014).

Thirdly,though stratification is universal, it is also variable. Althoughevery society demonstrates a form of stratification, the structurevaries from another society’s based on the history and culture. Thefourth principle is that stratification does not only involveinequality, but belief as well. Besides economic endowment, there areusually underlying attitudes that heighten the differences betweenstrata in societies.

Socialstratification is responsible for the political, economic social andideological differences that exist in the society today. The systemis such that people evaluate and put each other in ranks based onthat evaluation. Wealth, prestige and power, and authority aredistributed to each person according to their determined rank. Thispaves way for injustices since there is likely to be a monopoly ofpower and wealth within a given societal rank (Henslin, 2007).

Theresultant disparity results in many social problems. The people atthe lower stratum of the society lack fair opportunities to accesswealth and power. The reason is that their access to education,health and other key aspects of life is limited to the social stratumthey have been classified under (Henslin, 2007). The gulf between onestratum and the other thwarts any attempts to strive for standardshigher than one’s social status. These disparities can brew chaosin a society if not well addressed with efforts to reduce the riftsbetween strata.

Thereare five coordinates in social stratification along which a societyis divided (Saunders, 1990). They are: ethnicity, race, income,education and work status. Race is usually associated with skincolor, with the most dark skinned being placed at the lowest level ofthe stratum. Today, skin color is the world’s most critical aspectof social stratification. It has been widely used as an excuse fordifferences in attitudes, justice, service access, and other aspectsof the society. Known stereotypes of a particular group areextrapolated and all persons belonging to that skin color receivesimilar treatment instead of being evaluated as individuals. Thisblanket treatment has spurred racial hatred and the aggressiveness toend it has resulted in even more negative assumptions.

Ethnicityis closely related to racial segregation but besides skin color,ethnicity encompasses other factors relating to the individual suchas religion (Saunders, 1990). Nothing can better evidence ethnicstrife in the current society than the issue of terrorism. Acts ofterror are a combination of resentment towards the Westerncivilization and religious extremism. A minority who are fed up withthe impositions of the Western superpowers are trying to reject theWestern influence, while at the same time the superpowers are adamanton their predispositions. The result is a guerilla war between theoutraged minority against the well organized and armed worldgovernments. The outcome is disasters such as the 9/11 attack costingthe lives of innocent people.

Inthe history of the world, income has never been evenly distributed.The people on the middle and lower strata have been the ones inturmoil. This uneven distribution of income can be traced to greed ofthe few people in power or fateful wastage and poor allocation ofpublic resources due to poor management. Such ineffectiveness spreadsto affect issues such as the access of quality education for thepeople who reply on public education. It becomes a vicious cycle whenthe one cannot access good education so they end up in a low payingmanual job and the cycle of low continues (Henslin, 2007).


Thereare three features of social stratification still notable to date.They are the class system, caste system and slavery (Saunders, 1990).As a case study of social stratification, we will explore in detailthe caste system.


Casteis a form of closed system social stratification. It is elaborate andcomplex, combining elements of social class, power, endogamy andother hereditary aspects. The key criteria of determining one’smembership to a caste is birth. The membership does not changethroughout one’s life. Children are automatically admitted byvirtue of being born to parents belonging to a caste. Although castesare often mostly associated with Indians, the system is common inmany societies that have no Indian heritage. In various parts of theworld, castes have been identified within different cultures butpredominantly among Hindu, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians. Anestimation by UNICEF revealed that there are approximately 250million people in the world whose identification is based on caste(Boundless, 2014).

Inthe 16thcentury, the caste system was used in colonial Spain, Central andSouth America. The term caste was used in the 17thcentury by Portuguese applying to the Indian society. The term wasalso used by the Dutch in a 19thcentury in an ethnographic study of southeast parts of Asia (Singh,1976). In most sociological studies, the word caste often encompasseseconomic status, race and ethnicity. Caste is distinguished from raceby the fact that people different races may belong to the same caste.

Theranking of people in castes is associated with the superiority orinferiority accorded to those people. Each caste has its owngovernance, rituals and customs that distinguish it clearly from theother castes. Since the status is acquired by birth, one cannot crossover to a higher caste regardless of their efforts or accomplishmentsin life. Therefore, castes are a hindrance to social mobility(Henslin, 2007).

Castesystem in India

Thecaste system in India has four categories. The Brahmins, who are thepriests, are the highest on the rank. Second in the rank are theKshatriyas, who are warriors. The third rank is the Vaishyas, whomainly engage in commerce and enterprise. The forth rank is theShudras, who are mainly manual laborers. The people who are notclassified under any of the four castes are commonly known as‘untouchables’. These outcasts were ostracized and avoided bymost of the people (Singh, 1976).

Castesystem in Europe

Historically,European societies have had a closed stratified system, with groupssuch as the clergy, nobles, bourgeoisie and the peasants (Singh,1976). Within this endogamous system, the different groups enjoyeddistinct privileges and rights. In some countries, these socialgroups had titles, specified social mores and codes of behavior, andeven distinct modes of dressing. Members of one social group wereonly allowed to marry or get married to people from their own socialgroup. In Finland for example, lying about one’s social class toget married to someone from a different social class was a crime(Boundless, 2014).

Thosebelonging to the lowest level of this hierarchy were known to servethose on the higher end of the stratum. This low caste had a verylarge number of people compared to the higher castes. Until the 19thcentury, members of this caste were known as serfs. The serf’sliberty was so restricted that even decisions such as marriage andliving arrangements were decided by either the church, state or thelandowners they worked for (Singh, 1976). The similarity in all thesesystems is striking. The lowest rank in the hierarchy has the highestnumber of people (Boundless, 2014). They are the most oppressed, haveto work for the higher ranks, and all the primary decisions are madefor them. Their prospects of rising from that lowly state hit a deadend because they are exposed to very limited resources. Even worse isthe fact that the status is rigidly determined by birth, one is notgiven a chance to prove their worth.


Boundless.“Caste.”Boundless Sociology.Retrieved from

Henslin,J. M. (2007).&nbspEssentialsof sociology: A down-to-earth approach.PearsonEducation: New Jersey.

Saunders,P. (1990).&nbspSocialclass and stratification.London: Routledge.

Singh,V. P. (1976).&nbspCaste,class and democracy: Changes in a stratification system.Cambridge, Mass: Schenkmann.