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Open vs. Closed Stratification Systems

Open vs. Closed Stratification Systems
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  • 0:03 Open & Closed…
  • 1:00 Comparing These Systems
  • 1:15 Open Stratification System
  • 3:32 Closed Stratification System
  • 5:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

In an open stratification system, your choices help determine your social status. In a closed stratification system, your social status is defined at birth. In this lesson, we will compare open and closed stratification systems.

Open & Closed Stratification Systems

If you look at a cut of stratified rock, you'll find layers of different materials, colors, densities, and thicknesses. A stratified social system is similar in that there are layers of people who differ in freedoms, opportunities, beliefs, colors, genders, etc. These layers define the level of society you can move within and determine how you will be viewed by other members of the society.

In a closed stratification system, there is little or no chance for you to move to another level in society. You tend to stay in the class where you were born. There is generally very little you can do to change your social status.

In an open stratification system, you can achieve a change in status through your choices. Work hard enough, search long enough, make enough stupid mistakes, and you can find yourself in a completely different class than the one you had been born into.

Comparing These Systems

Any stratification system, whether it is open or closed, can have a wide separation between the most privileged and the least privileged. The difference appears when you consider the opportunities that are available to change the class where you were born.

Open Stratification System

In the United States, you tend to be initially classified by your income and wealth, then by things like your education, social status, and how you obtain your livelihood. These classes are not controlled by the government or other social entity, but they're heavily influenced by your family and the conditions surrounding your birth.

For example, the super-rich in America will have an income in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. If you're one of these people, then you're probably a top-level executive, a celebrity, or an heir to your family's fortune. You're called the upper class, and are in a group that makes up about 1% of the people in the nation. Many people at your level will have the best education money can buy and will have considerable wealth accumulated.

At the other end of the spectrum, if you're among the poor, you may rely heavily on money from the government or a low-paying job. You don't really own much of anything and probably have little education.

In America, even with the limited opportunities of being born extremely poor, you are still free to seek your fortune. If you finish high school and learn some effective skills, you can get a decent job and move up to the working class. You've joined a larger portion of the nation's people who work hard, have a reasonable place to live, and are generally able to pay their bills. Surging your way into the ranks of the rich and super-rich is more difficult because only a small percentage of the people are there, and the competition for positions and situations that provide that level of wealth is very fierce.

The chance for you to move between social levels indicates that the social stratification in America is an open system. You are not required by your country or society to stay at the level where you were born, and it will be your actions and choices that will determine whether you move up or down the social ladder.

The effects of an open stratification system are numerous. Opportunities create a sense of hope and self-actualization. When you realize that you can make your own fortune, you are then inspired to try to do exactly that. Societies that are based upon opportunities tend to have productive, effective societal structures and prosperous people.

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