Elements of Social Stratification: The Davis and Moore Theory

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The society has always been about classes where chances of survival are basically a function of where one falls in the hierarchy of classification as a result of socio-economic status and which means, access to power, resources and services is mostly based on where or what class and group one belongs to. Generally, the upper classes have the most access to all these services on account of wealth and income, while the lower classes may get few or none, which puts them at a disadvantage.

These hierarchical inequality is referred to as social stratification, and this study is basically aimed at examining social stratification and the discrimination of groups as a result of the following elements of social classification – social classes, gender, age ethnicity and sexuality. The conflict theory of Karl Marx supplemented by Max Webber’s functionalist ideology will be drawn on as pertinent references for a decisive justice to the subject.


Social stratification is referred to as a system by which a society ranks categories of people in hierarchy. It is quite clear that certain groups have more rank, power and wealth than other groups. Such disparities are what contributed to stratification of society. Social stratification is based on four key principles:

  1. Social stratification is a trait of society, not simply a reflection of individual differences.
  2. Social stratification persists over generations.
  3. Social stratification is universal (it happens everywhere) but variable (it takes different forms across different societies).
  4. Social stratification involves not just inequality but beliefs as well – inequality is rooted in a society’s philosophy. (Kimberly Moffitt, Social stratification, Definitions, Theories, Example, 2015)

Stratification as a driver and tool for social order

Some early researchers justified the necessity and function of social stratification for the overall maintenance of social order and below is an excerpt from the Davies and Moore theory, a theory that I personally faulted for failing to adequately acknowledge the natural theory of equality and the fundamental human rights.

The Davis and Moore Theory

The Davis and Moore theory clearly and simply outlined the functional view of social stratification as necessary to meet the needs of complex social systems. In other words, from a perspective that considers society as something like an organism, the theory argued that this organism has needs that must be met if it is to remain healthy. Among these needs is for the most important positions or jobs in the society to be staffed by the most qualified and competent people. – Social stratification is considered a mechanism that ensures that the need is met. The following seven points provide a basic summary of the theory (Tumin 1953):

  1. Certain positions in any society are functionally more important than others, and require special skills to fill them.
  2. Only a limited number of people in any society have the talents that can be trained into the skills appropriate to these positions.
  3. The conversion of talents into skills involves a training period during which sacrifices of one kind or another are made by those undergoing the training.
  4. In order to induce the talented people to undergo these sacrifices and acquire the training, their future positions must carry an inducement value in the form of a differential-that is, privileged and disproportionate access to the scarce and desired rewards the society has to offer.
  5. These scarce and desired goods consist of the rights and prerequisites attached to, or built into, the positions, and can be classified into those things that contribute to (a) sustenance and comfort, (b) humour and diversion, and (c) self-respect and ego expansion.
  6. This differential access to the basic rewards of the society has as a consequence the differentiation of the prestige and esteem various strata acquire. It may be said to constitute, along with the rights and prerequisites, institutionalized social inequality: that is, stratification.
  7. Therefore, social inequality among different strata in the amounts of scarce and desired goods and the amounts of prestige and esteem they receive is both positively functional and inevitable in any society.

The Davis and Moore stratification theory appears at face value to be a basic, straightforward and accurate explanation of inequality and social stratification in modern, if not all, societies. In a way, it is a model of the labour market that analyzes labour supply and demand as it applies to labour incentives. In short, when the supply of skilled labour is small in relation to the amount of labour needed, the employer (in the context of Davis and Moore, society) will be required to pay more for this work. The interpretation of that labour market model by Davis and Moore is faulty. And over the years a number of social scientists have identified many reasoning and omission issues in this theory. The Davis and Moore theory need not be dismissed on every level, but in several respects it needs to be amended.

The Elements of social stratification

There is some sort of stratification in all societies, some more severe than others. Societies have some organizational type which leads to different classes. Sociologists research the particular ways of stratifying a given society and what it means to belong to the different classes of a society.

– Social Class

The social class is related to income, wealth and social status, cultural capital and social capital. Social class is a form of social stratification that has either negative or positive impact on the lives of people. It refers to a specific group of people’s income, level of education, occupation, and reputation – sex, age, race and abilities are all interconnected factors (McDowell et al., 2013). It’s believed that acquisition of knowledge and prestige via employment plays an important role in defining an individual’s lifestyle and subsequently their life chances. It should be remembered that most of Karl Marx’s work was focused on westernized capitalist societies, and this is largely because his idea of conflict theory resides in an economic domain or context (Lenski, 2008). Marx differentiated the class of people – the lower, middle or upper classes. In ‘ Communist Party Manifesto ‘ Marx refers to lower class communities as the proletariat and the upper class as the bourgeoisie.

The proletariat in Marxism, like farmers and low-skilled factory workers, is the working class of society – they do not own any means of production, a class of people who do manual labor that does not require specific skills. The bourgeoisie on the other hand are the capitalist class, the wealthy who own most of the means of production, so they hire and exploit the working class to increase their wealth (Mohandesi, 2013). It is not only attention-grabbing but very disheartening, to say the most appropriate, that the class where one is found in relation to the abovementioned groups affects their chances in life and consequently their social class.

According to Max Weber, the social class and the chances of a person’s life are interdependent (Davidson, 2009). Considering the aforementioned, it’s safe to conclude that the higher a person is placed in the social hierarchy (class) the better his or her life will be; the opposite is the case for those in a poor position in the hierarchy. The people caught in the web of the poor position in the hierarchy has consistently been striving and hoping for more from life but all the efforts towards improving their quality of life has constantly been suppressed by the oppressors who would do just about anything to keep the gap as wide as possible leaving the poor where they are in the hierarchy – and to think all of these segregation is just for class and prestige at the expense of the oppressed is very annoying.

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Racism, sexism and a divided working class are all strategies employed by the capitalist as a divided working class is used by the capitalist as a tool or tools of oppression – a divided house can’t stand to struggle effectively against the select few who own and control the wealth and resources of society. The labor movement and all progressive forces are fighting back against every act of injustice and bigotry and supporting the struggles of all oppressed groups in an effort to take away the wealth and means of production from the capitalist and create a society of prosperity and equality for all and sundry.

– Gender stratification

Gender stratification applies to the social class, where males usually have higher statuses than females. The phrase ‘gender inequality’ and ‘gender stratification’ are often used as one and the same. The study of gender stratification has various approaches. Some research in this area focuses on differences between the circumstances in men’s and women’s lives. The most important aspects of inequality and the degree at which inequalities are created and sustained (i.e., person, couple, family, community or societal level) as a focal point, has been a topical subject for debate within the academic space. Many researchers compare men and women in families, others in communities, and (West and Zimmerman 1987) make a compelling case that gender and, by extension, gender inequality are generated in everyday interactions However, (Blau, et al. 2006) points out that recognizing structural influence in organizational environments and their experiences with gender are important for a systematic understanding of gender stratification.

Gender stratification occurs when gender differences give men greater privilege and power over women, transgender, and gender-non-conforming people.

More recently, intersectionality is taken into account in the feminist perspective on gender stratification, a sociological feminist theory first articulated by the feminist-socialist Kimberlé Crenshaw. Intersectionality implies that different categories of nature, society, and culture interact and relate to the systemic social inequality, including gender, race, class, and ethnicity. More to the point, various forms of oppression, like racism or sexism, do not work independently of each other; rather, these forms of oppression are closely linked, creating a system of oppression representing the ‘intersection’ of various forms of discrimination. Therefore, in the context of this theory, women’s inequality and marginalisation is influenced not just by gender but also by other factors such as race and class. Discrimination against women is evident in various areas of society, be it political, legal, economic or personal. Nevertheless, it must be noted that the issue is pretty much as bad as men versus women. Today societies are home to a variety of different classes, ethnicities, genders, and nationalities, and some groups of women that enjoy higher status and greater power compared to select groups of men, depending on factors such as what racial and ethnic groups they are affiliated with.

There’s also the issue of occupational segregation, where men fill certain positions more, be it by preference, duty or exclusion. The challenge of isolating the role of discrimination in social segregation has made this problem more complex to understand.

A study published in Sociology in 2012, ‘The Dimensions of Occupational Gender Segregation in Industrial Countries,’ aims at addressing this issue. The investigators, Lakehead University’s Jennifer Jarman and University of Cambridge’s Robert M. Blackburn and Girts Racko, analyze the relationship between gender inequality and gender-based discrimination of jobs by class – gender. The researchers analyze the interplay of differences in pay, social stratification and occupational segregation in relation to gender stratification in 30 industrial countries.

Below is the summary of the result of their findings:

  1. However, “although men are consistently advantaged in pay, the study finds that the male advantage does not follow national differences in segregation, suggesting that inequality is not the driving factor of segregation.” In the countries studied, occupational segregation by gender was real and substantial: Men tend to be concentrated in what have come to be perceived as “male” occupations and women in “female” ones.
  2. In contrast, Japan, despite being thought of as one of the most egalitarian countries in social problems and income in the world, is the most unequal country among industrial nations in terms of gender and income.” Women tend to outperform men in the general desirability of occupations, as measured by the Cambridge Social Interaction and Stratification Scale (CAMSIS).

– Age stratification

For many parts of life, age is a major component of entry and exit-school, starting a family, retirement, etc. Age-shifting social status can contribute to ageing. Discrimination by a person’s age can have profound impacts on how a society functions— including behavioral expectations, resource distribution, and even policies and legislation. Age stratification refers to the hierarchical classification of individuals into age groups within a society. Age stratification might also be defined as an age-linked system of inequalities. For example, in western societies, both old and young are viewed and regarded as fairly not up to it and excluded from much social life. Age stratification based on the status ascribed is a major source of discrimination and thus can contribute to ageism – a social inequality resulting from age stratification. This is a sociological trend involving the study of the aging population. Population age stratification has major implications, affecting things like workplace trends, social norms, family structures, government policies, and even health outcomes. People of different ages differ in their access to the rewards, power and privileges of society as a result of social processes anchored in age stratification.

Access to Training and Education

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, a variety of professions were ‘professionalized,’ gaining regulatory bodies and requiring specific higher educational qualifications. Given that women’s access to higher education was often limited, women’s participation in these professionalizing occupations was effectively restricted.

For example, until 1868, women were completely forbidden access to Cambridge University, and were burdened with a variety of restrictions until 1987 when the university adopted a policy of equal opportunity. Over the same period, numerous other institutions in the United States and Western Europe began to open their doors to women, but access to higher education remains a significant barrier to women’s full participation in the workforce and where access to higher education is officially available, access by women to the complete range of job choices may be restricted.

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Elements of Social Stratification: The Davis and Moore Theory. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/elements-of-social-stratification-the-davis-and-moore-theory/
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