For some, we are supposed to be born equal. For others, equality is very far-fetched. In all societies, we witness some sort of social stratification. Social stratification can simply be defined as the division of people into the formation of layers/strata according to rankings based on factors such as power, education, race, income, wealth and so much more.
What are the origins of stratification? How has the ideology of social stratification evolved over time? Do you ever imagine a world without stratification?
Origins of stratification
Stratification can be traced back to the earliest human societies, such as the hunting and gathering societies had little stratification that is to say Men hunted for meat while women gathered edible plants, and the general welfare of the society depended on all its members sharing what it had. Society as a whole undertook the rearing and socialization of children and shared food and other acquisitions more or less equally. Therefore, no group emerged as better off than the others. Anthropologists believe that social stratification emerged as a result of the development of agriculture and the accumulation of wealth and surplus resources. As societies became more complex, social hierarchies developed, with some individuals holding more power and influence than others.
The main historical extreme stratification systems are slavery, apartheid, and the caste system which is by far the oldest form of social stratification. Slavery is a system where a person owned another person as property and can literally do anything they want with them. Aren’t we all human? Who gives someone else the power to own another human being as property? Perhaps ideology? Perhaps! Perhaps! Slavery allowed the wealthy and powerful to gain control over labor and resources, and it created a rigid social hierarchy that was difficult to escape.
Religion played a role in social stratification. In ancient India, the caste system was based on religious beliefs, with each caste having its own set of duties and responsibilities. In medieval Europe, the Catholic Church played a significant role in determining social status and hierarchy. In many other societies, social stratification was also based on ancestry and lineage. In feudal Europe, for example, nobles held power and wealth based on their family lineage, while peasants were tied to the land and had little opportunity for social mobility.
As societies became more industrialized and urbanized, social stratification began to shift from being based on ancestry and lineage to being based on wealth and income. Many people immigrated from rural areas searching for a better life. Factory owners hired workers and exploited the workers to become wealthy, making them work long hours in unsafe conditions for very low wages. The gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” widened. The rise of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution created new opportunities for upward social mobility, but it also led to the growth of poverty and inequality.
Does equality actually exist or can it exist per se?
Social stratification today
Today, social stratification exists in almost every society across the world, and it is influenced by a variety of factors such as wealth, income, education, occupation, race, ethnicity, gender, and age. In developed countries such as the United States, social stratification is primarily based on income and wealth. The wealthiest 1% of Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. This extreme inequality has led to a growing wealth gap, with the middle class shrinking and more people living in poverty. Education is also a significant factor in social stratification, as those with higher levels of education tend to have better-paying jobs and more opportunities for advancement.
In developing countries, social stratification is often based on occupation and social status. In India, for example, the caste system determined a person’s social status from birth. The lower castes, such as the Dalits, face discrimination and limited opportunities for education and employment. In many African countries, social stratification is based on tribal affiliations, with certain tribes having more power and influence than others.
Gender is another important factor in social stratification across the world. Women are often paid less than men for the same work and are underrepresented in leadership positions. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive, vote, or hold certain jobs. Age also plays a role in social stratification, particularly in societies with large generational gaps. In Japan, for example, there is a strong emphasis on respect for elders, and younger generations are expected to defer to their elders in social situations. This can lead to age-based discrimination in employment and other areas.
That being stated, social stratification is a definite complex and multifaceted phenomenon that affects people’s lives in many ways. While some countries have made progress in reducing inequality and promoting social mobility, there is still much work to be done to create a more just and equitable world.
How stratification impacts mental health?
Social stratification can have significant effects on mental health. Individuals who belong to lower social strata often face stressors such as poverty, discrimination, and poor living conditions. These stressors can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition, individuals who belong to lower social strata may have limited access to healthcare and mental health services, which can exacerbate existing mental health problems. They may also be more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as substance abuse and high-risk sexual behavior as a coping mechanism for stress.
On the other hand, individuals who belong to higher social strata may also be affected by mental health problems such as anxiety and depression due to the pressure to maintain their status and the fear of losing it. Overall, social stratification can have significant impacts on mental health, and addressing these disparities is crucial to promoting mental health and well-being for all individuals.