Stratification refers to a division of society into groups which are ranked as superior or inferior. Inequality is a more general term which refers to the ranking of the individuals as well as of groups. Thus stratification is a particular form of inequality.
Both stratification and inequality refer to social and not natural difference between people. People are different in terms of natural endowments such as physical strength, mental ability, beauty, etc. But these do not form the basis of social ranking.
Ranking in society is always in terms of the differences of wealth, power and prestige. Another way of saying this is that stratification in society refers to economic, political status differences. It is with reference to an individual’s position in these aspects that the rest of his life will be determined.
Stratification is a study, how social position determines other aspect of life such as the organization of the family adherence to religion, political participation, style of life, extent of education, etc., the study of stratification is therefore the basis of Sociology because it is very important in the study of all aspects of individual and social life.
It Infect Sociology received its importance for growth from the study of stratification by the founding fathers of the discipline Marx and Weber in the 19th century. The term stratification is derived from a Geological Analogy i.e., on the basis of similarity between division in society and division in the earth’s crust. Society consists of layers or strata which are similar to strata in the earth’s crust but for these basic differences:
1. The strata in the earth’s crust are fixed but strata of the group in society are subject to change over a period of time.
2. Strata in the earth’s crust can be directly observed and described but social stratification is more complex since these strata cannot be easily observed and distributed.
3. Geological stratification is concrete and does not require any-theory for stratification but social stratification is abstract and intangible and requires different theories and purposes for the proper understanding of its various dimensions such as political or economic status.
It is because of these differences between the geological and the social stratification that some sociologists use the word inequality for it but it is more useful to distinguish between inequality and stratification. Stratification is the ranking of groups that have a sense of belonging, a common identity and common interests.
Each status shares a particular style of life which makes it possible to distinguish it from other strata-caste and classes are the examples of stratification because both have ranking of groups that are conscious of their belonging together with common interests.
Inequality on the other hand refers to the ranking of individuals in advanced industrial societies, where stratification by classes has been replaced by a continuous ranking of individuals occupying different occupations. In place of classes with a consciousness of common interest and common way of life there is a series of occupational statuses which command varying degrees of respect.