Social Inequality and Stratification Question: What are the three main forms of inequality in diverse societies? Social Inequality happens when an individual or a group within a society has unequal rights to social commodities such as power, wealth, education and opportunity. The book defines Inequality as “the degree to which culturally valued material and social rewards are given disproportionately to individuals, families and other kinds of groups”.
Each culture has a different expression of inequality. Morton Fried, a Professor of Anthropology in the 1960’s, proposed that there exists three kinds main kinds of inequalities across most cultures: Egalitarian, Ranked and Stratified. Egalitarian refers to a social characteristic that exists in most foraging bands and tribes. In Egalitarian societies, except for very little age and gender biases, every member has an equal right to power and resources in the community.
This particular system is popular among foraging societies because in order to survive in the environment that they have chosen to live in, everyone must share resources. This setting makes it difficult for any kind of elite social status to exist, and is also difficult for an individual to amass power. A ranked society is a type of societal inequality that gives members unequal access to prestige, although wealth and power remains equal across all of it’s members. The type of prestige one holds is usually hereditary within families and kin groups.
High ranking social positions might grant authority or may issue orders to other members, however, a high ranked title is not enough to give an individual or group more rights over material resources. The book mentions the Tikopia of the Pacific Islands as an example of a ranked society. The Tikopian people are divided into patriclans, each with their own chief. Each patriclan consists of clans, with each clan having a clan head. Each clan is further subdivided into lineages and so on. But the head of these subdivisions are not any wealthier than the people under their rank.
The last type of inequality is called stratified. In a stratified society, there exists social hierarchies wherein one group has more access to prestige, wealth, power, land ownership, education and opportunity than the other. There are two kinds of social stratification: the Caste and the Class. The type of caste one is subjected to usually depends on birthright. You are born into a caste and belong there no matter what. Castes are endogamous in nature as well; one is unable to marry out of their own social caste.
A class, on the other hand, may also be hereditary but is not entirely endogamous. A person born from a lower social class is able to move up into a higher class by hard work, marriage, or by amassing wealth. An example of a caste system exists in traditional India, where groups are ranked according to their “varna” or caste; the highest being the “brahmins” and the lowest being the “untouchables”. Modern day American society is also one that is stratified, however we practice more of a class system instead of a caste system.