This paper introduced the concept of social stratification and mobility in the United States. In the USA, people are categorized into different groups based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, and family ancestry. People further categorize others based on intellectual capabilities, personal and professional skills, appearance as well as achievements. This concept of grouping people based on their social factors is what sociologists refer to as social stratification.
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According to Kerbo (2017, p.1), social stratification includes a ranking of people in a society. However, social stratification is more concerned with systematic inequalities other than individualistic differences. There exist certain predictable factors, rules, and justifications behind the ranking of individuals and groups. Economic factors usually influence societal stratification, which includes issues such as wealth, level of education, and income. As a result of social stratification, most societies have unequal distribution of goods and services.
Most people in society work hard to shift from one class to another. This is referred to as social mobility, where individuals and groups move from different social structures and hierarchies because of the changes in wealth, jobs, or income. Social mobility is either upward or downward (Strauss, 2017). In upward mobility, individuals or groups shift into a higher social structure, whereas downward mobility involves moving from a more upper class to a lower group.
Sociologists designed some theories to explain the concept of social mobility and stratification. Marxian theory views society as a relationship between two groups, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat based on the ownership and non-ownership of property (Sharma, Pathak, & Sinha, 2017). The Marxist theory understood that the social classes are influenced by economic factors of those who own the means of production and the working class who only offer labor. The bourgeoisie, owners of production methods, exploit those that do not produce, the proletariat (Sharma et al., 2017).
The relationship described in Marx’s theory is adversarial in that it creates inequality because the exploited are forced to work for the exploiters to earn a living. Consequently, the bourgeoisie continues to live off the surplus obtained from this relationship, and the cycle continues. The Marxist theory recognizes the hostility that exists between different classes. For instance, Sharma et al. (2017) noted that laborers understand the role they play in the production process when compared to the owners. As a result, there exist intergroup tensions as each group tries to secure its interests. This conflict is witnessed in modern society in the form of various debates between the rich and the poor.
In contrast to the Marxist theory, functionalist theory view society as different components designed to work together in harmony. According to Sharma et al. (2017), functionalists assume that a community is similar to a human body, which is composed of different institutions that are integrated as a whole. Just like the various parts of the body combine to perform a task, different aspects of society must function together for there to be stability.
As a result, functionalists understand that each person plays a crucial role in society through shared responsibilities and tasks. For instance, Brym and Lie (2017) described how members in a nuclear family set-up play unique roles to achieve stability and efficiency. Functionalists view social stratification and class as inevitable because it maintains balance in society.
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Cultural influence and societal values play a huge role in shaping an individual’s personality or socio-economic success. The social learning theory explains that children imitate what they observe and learn from society (Bandura & Walters, 1977). Therefore, values held by the community model the emotional reactions, attitudes, and behaviors of children from a younger age. For instance, increased cases of school dropouts, high unemployment rates, teenage pregnancies, and criminal activities in the US inner cities reflect a deleterious society. Such a community affects the destiny and social mobility of an individual or a child.
Alternatively, societies with better primary schools, low-income inequality, and residential segregation have high mobility. Additionally, Bezin and Moizeau (2017) showed that children who grow up in homes where parents are at the 25th percentile of national income have a better chance of making 10% more in the future. The disparity between the two types of neighborhoods is apparent because of the social interaction where children learn from society or parents.
In conclusion, several factors influence social mobility and stratification. Contrary to the American dream, most people born in the middle and lower classes rarely move into higher social levels. The lack of upward mobility is explained by the Marxist and functionalist theories. It is also relatively easier for downward mobility compared to upward mobility. Additionally, cultural influence plays a huge role in social mobility and stratification. Children who grow up understanding the concept of hard work and have access to proper production tools have a higher chance of succeeding or moving up the social ladder than those in poor neighborhoods. As a result, it is essential to understand family’s and society’s contributions to social mobility.
Bandura, A., & Walters, R. H. (1977). Social learning theory (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-hall.
Bezin, E., & Moizeau, F. (2017). Cultural dynamics, social mobility and urban segregation. Journal of Urban Economics, 99, 173-187. Web.
Brym, R., & Lie, J. (2017). SOC+. Cengage Learning.
Kerbo, H. (2017). Social stratification. The Wiley‐Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Theory, 1-4. Web.
Sharma, C. B., Pathak, A., & Sinha, A. (2017). Unit-2 Education, Social Structure, Social Stratification and Social Mobility. Web.
Strauss, A. L. (2017). The contexts of social mobility: Ideology and theory. Transaction Publishers.