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Social Inequality and Stratification in the US

Factors Leading to Divide in Wealth

One of the factors of social inequality in the US is associated with social stratification. As noted by Karl Marx, the source of social inequality is the very development of civilization, and every person cannot master all the achievements of material and spiritual culture (Andersen & Taylor, 2017). There is a specialization of people that defines more and less valuable or relevant types of activities in society. The mentioned scholar identified the concept of social stratification as a systematically manifested inequality between groups of people, arising as an unintended consequence of social relationships and reproduced in every next generation.

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Social stratification is the organization of society, in which some individuals and social groups have more, others acquire less, and the thirds may have nothing. On the one hand, the stratification of society is fraught with social conflicts up to revolutions since people who are at the bottom of the system tend to be infringed both physically and psychologically. On the other hand, stratification forces people and social groups to show initiative and enterprise, thus contributing to the progress of society. Karl Marx considered the conflict of classes the main source of social change (Andersen & Taylor, 2017). In particular, antagonistic classes are singled out according to two objective criteria: the generality of the economic situation conditioned by the attitude to the means of production, and the generality of power over the state power.

The founder of another theory of stratification, Max Weber, unlike Karl Marx, believed that the social position is determined not only by class but also by status, and party. On these three criteria, three levels of social stratification can be distinguished, including the lower, the middle, and the higher ones. Differences in wealth are created by classes, in prestige – by the status that is also known as social strata, in power – by political parties. The latter implies the ability of a person or group to implement plans, take action, or pursue a specific policy even against objections from other people and groups. Weber took into account the significant role of political parties and groups united by common interests in the formation of the system of power in society (Andersen & Taylor, 2017). For example, the teaching staff of universities enjoys high prestige, while their wealth and power are usually relatively low. Some officials may have considerable power and, at the same time, receive low remuneration and have no prestige

From the point of view of the theory of conflict, the cause of social inequality is the system that controls society and power, has the opportunity to derive benefits for itself, and exploits people and resources to maintain status. Those social groups that control the means of production occupy a higher position in society than those who cannot exercise such control. Andersen and Taylor (2017) state that it is the amount of ownership that determines a person’s belonging to a particular class. An individual who does not own property finds himself or herself in economic and/or legal dependence on those who dispose of it. The class of property owners exploits poor classes, thus causing an antagonistic conflict and poverty. With regard to social conflict theory, the inequality of social provisions means disparate access to social groups or communities to the resources. Therefore, the problem of resources as a means of achieving social goals related to equality is included in the definition of the nature of the conflict.

Suggestions to Reduce the Gap

The first assumption to decrease the gap between the poor and rich population in the US refers to the concepts of social mobility and social justice. It goes without saying that a person from a wealthy family has the opportunity to get an education in prestigious universities and move faster along the social ladder than a person from lower classes. Nevertheless, the mechanism of social mobility should contribute to the alleviation of social inequality, although it cannot eliminate it. Doob (2016) argues that social justice is understood as an opportunity to occupy a prestigious place in the social hierarchy according to personal competence, talent, knowledge, and education. Addressing a measure of the distribution of social wealth, justice and mobility should compose the basis for social protection of children, the elderly, the disabled persons, and other social groups, which have difficulty in raising their social status.

The second suggestion is the revitalization of the economy. Taking into account the theory of conflict that seems to be quite relevant to nowadays’ environment in the US, one should note that the very system of economy promotes class segregation and the expansion of the gap between rich and poor people. Therefore, a new elaborate economic system should be developed or at least some regulations should be implemented to promote redistribution of wealth. For example, decent wages should be considered for an average employee, which would increase their position in the chart of wealth distribution in the US.


Andersen, M. L., & Taylor, H. F. (2017). Sociology: The essentials (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

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Doob, C. B. (2016). Social inequality and social stratification in US society. New York, NY: Routledge.

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