These unequal rewards are evident not only in the distribution of wealth and income but even in the distressing mortality rates of impoverished communities. Stratification involves the ways in which social inequalities are assed on from one generation to the next thereby producing groups of people arranged in rank order from low to high. 1
Stratification is one of the most important and complex subjects of sociological investigation because of its pervasive influence on human interactions and institutions. Social inequality is an inevitable result of stratification in that certain groups of people stand higher in social rankings, control scarce resources, wield power, and receive special treatment. The consequences of stratification are evident in the unequal distribution of wealth and income within industrial countries.
Is it necessary that some members of society receive greater rewards than others Can social life be organized without structured inequality Do people need to feel socially and economically superior to others These questions have been debated by social theorists for centuries. Such issues of stratification have also been of deep concern to political activists. Utopian socialists, religious minorities, and members of recent countercultures have all attempted to establish communities which to some extent or other abolish inequality in social relationships.
"Social science research has found that inequality exists in all societies even the simplest. Stratification is universal in that all societies maintain some form of differentiation among members. Depending on its values, a society may assign people to distinctive ranks based on their religious knowledge, skill in hunting, beauty, trading expertise or ability to provide healthcare." 2
Functionalist and conflict sociologists offer contrasting explanations for the existence and necessity of social stratification. Functionalists maintain that a differential system of rewards and punishments is necessary for the efficient operation of society. Conflict theorists argue that competition for scarce resources results in significant political, economic and social inequality.
In everyday life, people in the United States are continually judging relative amounts of wealth and income by assessing the cars people drive, the neighborhoods in which they live, the clothing they wear and so forth. Yet it is not so easy to locate an individual within our social hierarchies as it would be in slavery or caste systems of stratification. In order to determine someone's class position, sociologists generally rely on the objective method.
The objective method of measuring social class views class largely as a statistical category. Individuals are assigned to social classes on the basis of criteria such as occupation, education, income and residence. The key to the objective method is that the researcher rather than the person being classified makes a determination about an individual's class position.
The first step in using this method is to decide what indicators or causal factors will be measured objectively whether wealth, income, education or occupation. The prestige ranking of occupations has proved to be a useful indicator in determining a person's class position. The term prestige refers to respect and admiration with which an occupation is regarded by society.
Prestige is independent of the particular individual who occupies