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Social Stratification in Caribbean Social Structure

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Table of contents

  1. Caribbean social structure
  2. Hierarchies and power, conflict theory
  3. Social mobility, class distinctions, functionalist theory
  4. Gender still an aspect to consider
  5. Feminization of the teaching profession
  6. References

“To what extent do you agree with the view that class rather than race/ethnicity or gender provides the best explanation for the system of social stratification in the modern Caribbean. “

Social stratification is a phrase well known by the world and in retrospect the entire Caribbean region. We may not know the exact definition of this phrase but we know the context in which it is utilized as its presence continues to form the basis of what we know as ‘life’ in our Modern Caribbean. According to Openstax (2016) “Social stratification refers to a society’s categorization of its people into rankings of socioeconomic tiers based on factors like wealth, income, race, education, and power.” Mustapha N. states as a result of social inequality becoming patterned and institutionalized, it forms part of the social structure and therefore social stratification is said to exist.(2013, p215). Within the present Caribbean education is seen as the main equalizer in society for social mobility. The moot also poses the view of whether class, race/ethnicity or gender would do more justice in understanding the contemporary Caribbean. To frivolously understand the meaning in context I will define the terminology utilized. Giddens N. (2013) describes class “a large-scale grouping of people who share common economic resources, which strongly influence the type of lifestyle they are able to lead. Ownership of wealth, together with the occupation are the chief bases of class differences.” Mustapha goes on to state that “A race is a human group that is believed to be distinct in some way from other humans, based on real or imagined physical differences. Racial classifications are rooted in the idea of a biological. Classification of humans according to morphological features such as skin color or facial characteristics. The social construction of race is dependent upon the social meanings that have been accorded by people to particular physical traits. Ethnicity, while sometimes related to race, refers to the social and cultural traits that are shared by a human group. Gender refers to the social, cultural, emotional and psychological construction of masculinity and femininity.” This essay will serve the purpose to validate my view that social stratification in our modern Caribbean is best explained using class as a forefront. To corroborate my stance I will outline the various factors that further substantiate the view in I have taken (2013).

Caribbean social structure

In order to identify which concept of either race/ethnicity, gender or class can be used to identify social stratification within the Caribbean it is salient to first interpret the social structure of our modern Caribbean. Sociological thinkers have identified three theoretical perspectives to describe the Caribbean. They include the plantation society, the plural society and creole society explained by George Beckford (1972), M. G Smith and Edward Kamau Brathwaite respectively. The plantation model is seen as being predominantly socioeconomic whilst the creole and plural society is sociocultural. “George Beckford (1972) saw the plantation system as a total economic institution, where ‘the internal and external dimensions of the plantation system dominate the countries’ economic, social and political structure and their relation with the rest of the world.’” “In his model, Smith explains that a common system of basic institutions is shared in homogeneous societies. However, in plural societies, there are alternative and exclusive institutions that exist and, as a result, the basic institutions are not shared. Smith does not see such plural societies as being stratified by class, but there may be internal classification among the various races.” “In the Caribbean, the mixture of languages, religious rituals, musical expressions, cuisine and people, represent the Creolization of Caribbean culture and society. Creolization involves both acculturation and inculturation”. It is clear that from the definitions every theory provides a definition for our contemporary Caribbean as each aspect are interlaid and contributes to the modern Caribbean. There is an undeniable presence of economics playing a role within society. The Cambridge dictionary describes socio-economic as relating to the differences between groups of people due to their financial situations. This generally relates back to an individual’s class within society and how they are perceived. The Caribbean has emerged out of plantation society.

Reddock. The economy of Jamaica experienced a dramatic upturn in the post-World War II period. The m system of the post-emancipation plantation society. It created a modern enclave and mainly urban3 sector within the traditional plantation economy and forged the growth of new social classes and a modified stratification system. The growth of a manufacturing sector, accompanied by an expansion of the service and public sectors created the basis for a more diverse and fragmented class structure and opened up opportunities for social mobility within the urban enclave. The dualistic nature of this modernization meant, however, that the changes were primarily concentrated in the urban enclave although some effects were also manifested in the rural sector.

As in the case ofthe manual classes, sharp income differentials have arisen within this stratum. Increasingly, status within this stratum is based on income-earning capacity rather than on middle-class acculturation. This stratum has therefore fragmented into a high prestige and high-income professional class and a lower income and lower prestige white-collar class.

The clear advantage in stratifying the urban population in terms of the occupational categories outlined earlier is that occupational strata reflect both differences in material affluence as well as non-material status distinctions such as that between manual and non-manual labor.

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Hierarchies and power, conflict theory

The study of social stratification has focused on three conceptually distinct but intended areas of social relationships. These include economic relationships, status hierarchies and power. These areas are all determined by what class an individual holds within society. Reddock et al determined that a central thesis of this study is that Jamaica the material or economic role relationships are the principal determinants of both status and power and in the case of urban Jamaica social stratification is best measured in terms of occupational strata. A number of factors have been responsible for the basis of the social structure of the Caribbean changing from being predominantly ‘closed’ to becoming ‘open’. Most of the factors responsible for these changes coincide with self-governance and making social mobility accessible to everyone. These factors include political independence, the transformation of the economy, and the availability of education. Reddock Marxist and non-Marxistscholars alike (Stone 1973) sought to challenge this showing that class was alive and well in this region even if it was mediated by culture and ethnicity.

Social mobility, class distinctions, functionalist theory

Mcleod states that Social stratification implies social inequality; if some groups have access to more resources than others, the distribution of those resources is inherently unequal.(1999). Mustapha states that according to Popenoe, 2000 modern society is stratified by a relatively open class system with the ability to be prosperous in society through upward mobility even when an individual is borne into a relatively lower-class society. Social mobility can be defined as the movement of individuals or groups from one position to the next within a socially stratified society. The Caribbean social structure was shaped by its history especially colonialism and post-colonialism. During colonialism ascribed factors such as race and sex contributed to significantly to ones life chances of society. Now within contemporary society, it depends on your socioeconomic status (achieved status) that individuals would attain by furthering their education and also a ‘high class’ occupation. Many critics argue that education has been the main equalizer in society and as a result has accounted for social mobility across race and ethnic boundary lines. The rise of the local intelligentsia comprising members of both Africans and Indians in countries such as Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana is testimony to the rapid spread of education to all in these territories. Most of the factors responsible for these changes coincide with self-governance and making social mobility accessible to everyone. These factors include political independence, the transformation of the economy, and the availability of education.Self-governance resulted in policies and measures being adopted to ensure that the majority of the population was presented with opportunities to experience social mobility and by extension enjoy a higher standard of living than they were experiencing. As discussed in the functionalist model of society, education was seen as the main vehicle for the achievement of social mobility

Gender still an aspect to consider

However, despite the advances that women have made in education and in achieving social mobility, the patterns of employment reflect gender inequality. Women in the middle class tend to dominate the lower-status (teaching) and lower-paid jobs, and within the teaching professions, the better-paid positions of authority and decision-making remain in the domain of males. Furthermore, although there have been increases in the number of employed women, especially in the lower strata, their jobs (as maids, babysitters, fast-food attendants, sales clerks, and typists) tend to reflect an extension of the role in the home – that of nurturer and food provider. Therefore, although the ‘glass ceiling’ may reflect some superficial cracks, it seems to be quite intact in terms of maintaining a legacy of patriarchy. It is evident, therefore, that although there have been some advances towards achieving gender equality, there is a long road to travel before the gender-based stratification system is corrected

According to Parry (2000), the recent trend in gender enrolment and achievement reflects a reversal of historical trends whereby females were largely absent at the higher levels of the school system. This change in gender enrolment reflects socio-economic changes in the Caribbean, in which greater educational opportunities have been made available to females, and also the debunking of the social and cultural myth that education was not desirable for females.At the tertiary level, Miller (1991) notes that gender enrolment of Jamaican students at the University of the West Indies has also shown increased female enrolment. However, closer examination shows that the enrolment is stratified between the faculties. Males are dominant in the science-oriented faculties and females are dominant in the faculties that offer subjects in the humanities. A similar trend is also seen at the St Augustine campus in Trinidad and Tobago

Feminization of the teaching profession

Gender changes have been taking place in the Caribbean where the traditional gender stratification system has been challenged, but the gender system is intact, in a modified form.

Occupation reflects academic achievement as opposed to ascribed factors.


  1. OpenStax. (2016). Introduction to Sociology 2e. OpenStax CNX. May 18, 2016. Sections 9.1-9. Available at khgk9@4/Introduction-to-Social-Stratif
  2. Mustapha, N. (2013). Sociology for Caribbean Students (2nd edition). Module 3, pp. 211-241. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers. Retrieved via UWIlinC.
  3. Giddens, A. 2001. Class, stratification and inequality. In Sociology (4th ed.). Reprint, with the assistance of Karen Birdsall. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press. pp. 282–283. Supplementary reading
  4. SOCIOECONOMIC: meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  5. McLeod, J. D., & Nonnemaker, J. M. (1999, January 1). Social Stratification and Inequality. Retrieved from
  6. Barrow, C., & Reddock, R. (2001). Caribbean Sociology: Introductory Readings. Section 2, Chapter 12-17 Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers. Available via UWIlinC.

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Social Stratification in Caribbean Social Structure. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
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