1. (noun) The system of power distribution in which an individual or group resides within a culture, organization, or society.

2. (noun) A ranking of people or things.


  1. castes
  2. division of labor

Audio Pronunciation: (hi·er·ar·chy)

Download Audio Pronunciation: hierarchy.mp3

Usage Notes:

  • Plural: hierarchies
  • As societies became more complex, increasingly multi-layered hierarchies develop to control people and resources.
  • Also called:
    • class structure
    • echelon
    • power structure
    • ranking
    • social hierarchy
    • social ladder
    • social pyramid
    • status hierarchy
  • Also informally called pecking order.
  • Type:
  • Sociologists study stratification to understand (adjective) hierarchic or (adjective) hierarchical power structures.

Additional Information:

Related Terms:

Works Consulted

Abercrombie, Nicholas, Stephen Hill, and Bryan Turner. 2006. The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. 5th ed. London: Penguin.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 5th ed. 2011. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Bruce, Steve, and Steven Yearley. 2006. The SAGE Dictionary of Sociology. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Collins English Dictionary: Complete and Unabridged. 6th ed. 2003. Glasgow, Scotland: Collins.

Jary, David, and Julia Jary. 2000. Collins Dictionary of Sociology. 3rd ed. Glasgow, Scotland: HarperCollins.

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/).

Princeton University. 2010. WordNet. (https://wordnet.princeton.edu/).

Scott, John, and Gordon Marshall. 2005. A Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Turner, Bryan S., ed. 2006. The Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/).

How to Cite the Definition of Hierarchy

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “hierarchy.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved February 18, 2019 (http://sociologydictionary.org/hierarchy/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

hierarchy. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from http://sociologydictionary.org/hierarchy/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “hierarchy.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed February 18, 2019. http://sociologydictionary.org/hierarchy/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“hierarchy.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2019. <http://sociologydictionary.org/hierarchy/>.