Social Class and Stratification
Social class and social stratification are realities that individuals and groups deal with every day. Social class and social stratification have far-reaching consequences for individuals with reference to access to social and economic amenities and opportunities such as education, health and jobs (DeAngelis, 2015). The consequences are, however, different, given that each (social class and stratification) have different implications for individuals. Perhaps more important is the implication of social class on education. Individuals from lower class continue to face more hurdles in accessing higher education due to a number of reasons, which will be the subjects of discussion in this paper.
Sociology defines social stratification as the idea of “classification of people into groups based on shared socio-economic conditions … a relational set of inequalities with economic, social, political and ideological dimensions (DeAngelis, 2015, p. 62)” The differences herein usually cause great disparities in power, status and privilege for some groups. Within a stratified society, individuals rank and evaluate each other according to their socio-economic status. The evaluation forms the basis of rewarding the individuals, where highly placed ones get more wealth, authority, power and prestige (Karachi, 2011).
The division of society into classes has negative consequences. Karachi (2011), informs that social stratification essentially divides the society into three parts: upper class, middle class and lower class, all in relation to the power and wealth held by each of the groups. The three levels make social integration difficult, as many on the upper class curtail efforts by individuals from the lower classes to climb up the social levels. Social stratification, therefore, becomes the trait of the society and not merely a reflection of individual differences, and from it grounds not only inequity, but also the belief of superiority of the upper classes in comparison with those on the lower classes (Karachi, 2011).
Another consequence of social stratification is social disparity among other social problems. As a system of monopoly of power and wealth by the middle and upper class, social stratification means that individuals in the lower class have little or no chance in climbing up the social ladder due to the manipulation of resources by individual in the upper class (Karachi, 2011). The manipulation of the resources ideally creates bottlenecks affecting chances, lifestyle and prestige, additionally creating emotional stress and depression for those in the lower cadres of the society due to the unequal access to wealth, power and prestige (Karachi, 2011).
Further, social stratification creates a gap between people. Those from lower social classes continually receive low incomes, while those from upper classes regardless of academic qualification continually receive higher income (Karachi, 2011). The gap and inequity cuts across the board to other spheres of life including social position, health, psychological well-being and education. Of concern is the fact that such disparities brew mistrust and hate among individuals in the lower classes, eventually causing chaos in the society.
Closely related to social stratification is social class, which refers to an individual’s occupation, education level and income. The factors therefore dictate the class within which an individual falls, whether upper, middle or lower class. Social class in many societies is especially rigid, making it difficult for an individual to move from one class to another, especially from lower to upper. Like social stratification, social class has consequences to individuals in the society. Class consequences transcend on breakfast choice to “whether someone is going to be accepted into a particular kind of school, their likelihood of succeeding in that school, the kinds of jobs they have access to, the kinds of friends they make” (DeAngelis, 2015, p. 62). DeAngelis (2015) principally argues that social class accords advantages, particularly to individuals from the upper class. Such individuals enjoy access to better healthcare, go to prestigious schools, have more influence in politics and allocation of job opportunities, can make friends and marry from people in the higher social class. The opportunities and influence individuals from the upper class enjoy pale the opportunities, influence and choices individuals from lower classes have at their disposal.
Individuals from upper social classes have (and are members of) elite social networks. The economic and political power and position gives these individuals access to specialized knowledge and opportunities, largely missing in individuals from lower social classes. Such powerful networks translate into specialized benefits including upper hand in their search for education and employment, healthcare services, as well as within the criminal justice department in leniency by the police and courts (DeAngelis, 2015). Essentially, across the world, belonging to the upper class means better education, healthcare, professional outcomes, as well as “softer” treatment by the law. In contrast, belonging to the lower class means poor health, education, professional outcome, as well as the full force of the law for even the smallest of demeanors.
Perhaps the most negative of the consequence of class is the narcissistic tendencies and attitudes that social class cultivates in individuals from the upper class. Upper class individuals tend to have a sense of entitlement and selfish behavior. Research suggests, “because of this sense of entitlement, higher-class people can behave more selfishly and less ethically than lower-income peers” (DeAngelis, 2015, p. 62). While their social class is not a justification for the selfish behavior and attitude, these individual continually present such attitudes, mostly to the detriment of individuals from the lower class, who fall victims to such narcissistic tendencies.
While social class has an impact in all spheres of life, its impact is perhaps more visible in education. Class tends to influence education is such a profound manner. In a research on the effects of class on education, researchers discovered “that parents’ social class had a bigger influence on a child’s progress between the ages of five and seven than a range of parenting techniques, including reading before bedtime” (Shepherd, 2010). Reference to class here is the impact class has on parents’ ability to give more attention and their (parents) involvement in their children’s education. Upper and middle class parents are able to give special attention to their children’s education through registering the children in extracurricular activities such as music, dance and advance tutoring. Such activities, as well as other resources including mentoring, internships and field trips give the children a leg up in their education and future attainment in life.
Class is also a determinant of the level of education an individual can attain. Middle and upper class families live in neighborhoods with well-funded schools giving them an upper hand in educational facilities, and naturally higher chances of attaining higher education. On the contrary, individuals from lower classes live in poor neighborhoods with poorly-funded schools. Such students struggle to get basic necessities such as food, making it difficult to concentrate in education, and consequently passing highly to attain higher education. Moreover, children from poor neighborhood lack role models, who would encourage them on their path to education, making it even more difficult for them to attain higher education.
DeAngelis, T. (2015). Class differences. Monitor on Psychology, 46(2), 62. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/02/class-differences.aspx.
Karachi, A., H. (2011). Social stratification: Negative impacts. Dawn. Retrieved from https://www.dawn.com/news/627362.
Shepherd, J. (2010). Social class has more effect on children than good parenting, study finds. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2010/dec/07/social-class-parenting-study.