Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.
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.
Closed Stratification System
For comparison, let's now imagine that you are born into the most rigid years of India's caste system. If you were born a Dalit ('untouchable') in India, then you are ostracized and are not considered part of their society. You will not be permitted to hold any except the lowest jobs, such as sweeping streets or cleaning bathrooms. You may not enter their temples or schools, and you must live outside the village. The uncleanness from your required occupation is considered contagious, so people from other castes will avoid contact with you. You're stuck, as once you're unclean you will always be unclean. There are few opportunities for you to ever move up from your disadvantaged status.
On the other hand, if you're born into a privileged class, you will always have that status to fall back on. People treat you carefully and courteously. Economic opportunities are plentiful, and your family has a store of wealth that you may rely on. Universities, governments, and other important institutions reserve special positions, just for you. The key to a closed stratification system is that you normally will never be able to change the level you're born into, no matter what you do. Your opportunities and lifestyle are largely tied to the heritage you received at birth.
Closed stratification societies offer an advantage to those who are born into the better classes, but they tend to create a sense of oppression and hopelessness for the disadvantaged groups. Since there is little chance to better your situation, why try?
In addition, international groups tend to heavily criticize any system where any group of people are forced to remain in a disadvantaged status. Productivity tends to be lower, and societies where stratification is closed tend to become stagnant since there is little incentive to offer extra effort or ingenuity.
In a stratified social system, there are definable classes of people separated by their income, social status, education, etc. These classes determine your level of freedom and how people around you will view you. In a closed stratification system, you are defined by what you were born with. There are few opportunities or chances for you to move to a different level in society. In an open system, you have the opportunity to change your level by making the right choices. Your opportunities are largely based upon what you make of yourself.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack