Social Inequality is the result of granting unequal access to social commodities, including power, wealth, education, and opportunity. According to the book, Inequality refers to the uneven distribution of culturally valued material and social rewards among individuals, families, and other groups.
According to Morton Fried, a Professor of Anthropology in the 1960’s, inequality is expressed differently in each culture. Fried classified inequalities into three main kinds that are found in most cultures: Egalitarian, Ranked, and Stratified. Egalitarian societies are characterized by a social structure where power and resources are distributed equally among members, with only minimal biases based on age and gender, typically seen in foraging bands and tribes.
This system is popular among foraging societies as everyone must share resources to survive in their chosen environment, thus making it challenging for any elite social status or individual power accumulation. A ranked society exhibits societal inequality by providing members unequal access to prestige, while maintaining equal wealth and power among all its members. The type of prestige typically inherited within families and kin groups.
In terms of social hierarchy, individuals or groups with higher-ranking titles have the power to issue orders to others. However, this does not mean they automatically have 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 organized into patriclans, each led by chiefs. These patriclans consist of clans, each with their own clan head. Additionally, each clan is further divided into lineages and so on. It’s important to note that leaders in these subdivisions do not possess more wealth than those below them in rank.
The highest level of inequality is referred to as stratification. Within a society that is stratified, there are social hierarchies where certain groups have more access to prestige, wealth, power, land ownership, education, and opportunities than others. Social stratification can be divided into two categories: Caste and Class.
In most cases, a person’s caste is determined by their birthright and they stay in that caste no matter what. Castes are also known for being endogamous, which means people cannot marry someone outside of their own social caste. On the other hand, a class, although it can also be inherited, does not have the same restriction on marriage. People born into a lower social class can move up to a higher class through hard work, marriage, or gaining wealth.
In traditional India, there is a caste system that assesses groups based on their “varna” or caste. The topmost caste is called “brahmins”, while the lowest is known as “untouchables”. In contrast, modern American society has a hierarchical system resembling a class system rather than a caste system.