What Is Class Stratification? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 Class Stratification
  • 1:35 Examples of Class…
  • 3:22 Explaining Class…
  • 4:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emily Cummins
This lesson covers the concept of class stratification, or the divisions within our society based on one's position in the social hierarchy. A system of stratification means people have different and unequal access to important resources.

Class Stratification

In the United States, opportunity is not really created equally. People don't have access to the same resources, such as the best school or neighborhoods, and life chances are not the same for everyone. Social stratification is a process by which a society is divided into different layers, or strata, based on factors like level of education, occupation, income, and wealth.

People who live within the same strata are members of the same social class. Class refers to the level of financial resources, education, and power people have. In the U.S., we generally talk about three classes: working class, middle class, and upper class. People in the same class have similar levels of access to resources, education, and power. For example, those in the same social class tend to have the same types of jobs and similar levels of income.

Here's a useful metaphor for thinking about stratification. Think about a sedimentary rock. You know, the rocks with different layers of color that look like someone poured slightly different-colored layers on top of one another? That's sort of how stratification works.

In the United States, it's very difficult to experience social mobility between strata, particularly moving upwards, also called 'upward mobility. In other words, the strata you are born into is likely the one you'll stay in. It's difficult to access the opportunities you would need in order to experience upward social mobility. Let's look at some examples of class stratification.

Examples of Class Stratification

Wesley's parents are both highly educated and have high-paying jobs. Wesley's father is a cardiologist and his mother is a lawyer. They enroll Wesley in extracurricular activities, like soccer and piano lessons. Wesley's parents pay tuition at a private school to ensure that he receives the highest quality education possible. Twice a week, he meets a private tutor who helps him study and get the best grades possible. Wesley lives in an affluent suburban community in a nice house with plenty of room.

Sarah is the daughter of a single mom who works two jobs to pay the bills, one at a local diner and the other at a local supermarket. Sarah's school is in a district that's underfunded and does not have many resources to help students succeed. Sarah spends most of her time alone after school, since her mom cannot afford to enroll her in extracurricular activities. She lives in a poor neighborhood with high crime rates in a cramped one-bedroom apartment.

These scenarios highlight a number of important things about people who occupy different strata in our society. First, Wesley and Sarah have very different educational opportunities. Wesley will have a higher quality education because his parents can afford a private school and private tutoring. Wesley's and Sarah's parents also have different levels of economic privilege as well as prestige. In our society, Wesley's parents' jobs are considered more prestigious than Sarah's mom's jobs.

Technically, social class in the U.S. is an open system, meaning anyone can move through different strata. However, in practice this doesn't happen all that often. It's likely that Sarah and Wesley will end up in the same social strata as their parents. Your parents' strata is the best predictor of where you'll end up. However, if Sarah is able to climb to a higher strata, this would be considered intergenerational mobility.

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