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stratification (social stratification)

Definition of Stratification

(noun) A system of inequality based on ranking people or groups based on power, prestige, or wealth.

Stratification Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: strat·i·fi·ca·tion

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /strat-uh-fuh-kAY-shuhn/
  • British English – /strat-i-fi-kAY-shuhn/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /ˌstrædəfəˈkeɪʃən/
  • British English – /ˌstratᵻfᵻˈkeɪʃn/

Usage Notes

Related Videos

Related Quotations

  • “About 5000 years ago, people developed plow agriculture. By attaching oxen and other large animals to plows, farmers could increase the amount they produced. Again thanks to technological innovation, surpluses grew. With more wealth came still sharper social stratification. Agrarian societies developed religious beliefs justifying steeper inequality. People came to believe that kings and queens ruled by ‘divine right.’ They viewed large landowners as ‘lords.’ Moreover, if you were born a peasant, you and your children were likely to remain peasants. If you were born a lord, you and your children were likely to remain lords. In the vocabulary of modern sociology, we say that stratification in agrarian societies was based more on ascription than achievement” (Brym and Lie 2007:225).
  • Caste and class systems of stratification are opposite, extreme points on a continuum. The two systems differ in the ease of social mobility, the relative importance of achieved and ascribed statuses, and the extent to which each restricts interaction among people considered unequal” (Ferrante 2011:204).
  • “Most (and probably all) societies exist with systems of social division and social stratification, through which entire categories of people are elevated above others, providing one segment of the population with a disproportionate amount of money, power and prestige” (Macionis and Plummer 2012:232).
  • “‘Race‘ was a form of social identification and stratification that was seemingly grounded in the physical differences of populations interacting with one another in the New World, but whose real meaning rested in social and political realities” (Smedley 1998:694).
  • “Social stratification is universal but variable. Social stratification is found everywhere. Yet what is unequal and how unequal it is varies from one society to another. In some societies, inequality is mostly a matter of prestige; in others, wealth or power is the key element of difference. In addition, some societies contain more inequality than others” (Macionis 2012:225).
  • “There is an ordering of versions of femininity and masculinity at the level of the whole society, in some ways analogous to the patterns of face-to-face relations with institution. the possibilities of variation, of course, are vastly greater. The sheer complexity of relationships involving millions of people guarantees that ethnic differences and generational differences as well as class patterns come into play. But in key aspects the organization of gender on the very large scale must be more skeletal and simplified than the human relationships in face-to-face milieux. The forms of femininity and masculinity constituted at this level are stylized and impoverished. Their interrelation is centred on the single structural fact, the global dominance of men over women” (Connell 1987:183).

Additional Information

Related Terms


Brym, Robert J., and John Lie. 2007. Sociology: Your Compass for a New World. 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Connell, R. W. 1987. Gender and Power: Society, the Person, and Sexual Politics. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Ferrante, Joan. 2011. Sociology: A Global Perspective. 7th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Macionis, John. 2012. Sociology. 14th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Macionis, John, and Kenneth Plummer. 2012. Sociology: A Global Introduction. 4th ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Smedley, Audrey. 1998. ““Race” and the Construction of Human Identity.” American Anthropologist 100(3):690–702. doi:10.1525/aa.1998.100.3.690.

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Cite the Definition of Stratification

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “stratification.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved September 28, 2020 (https://sociologydictionary.org/stratification/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

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

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

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “stratification.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed September 28, 2020. https://sociologydictionary.org/stratification/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“stratification.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 28 Sep. 2020. <https://sociologydictionary.org/stratification/>.