The observation of Malthus that “The histories of mankind which we possess are in general only of the higher classes” has a wider implication than he himself imagined. To some sociologists the above statement posses primarily the task of assessing the role of class of conflict of determining the significance of the upper an the lower classes in shaping the form and content of a culture. There is no doubt that ‘social stratification’ is a characteristic of all known societies past and present.

Communities are socially stratified in various ways. But the principle type of social stratification is seen in the phenomenon of the class. Social classes are formations expressive of social attitudes. They are not like other associations or like ‘political class’. The class system emanates from and profoundly influences the whole mode of life and thought within the community.

A ‘class’ may mean an category or type within which individuals or units fall We may speak of bachelors cine- goers, or social reformers as constituting a ‘class’ we may think of artisans, physicians, lawyers engineers as classes. But these are occupational categories related to one another in a social structure. What we mean by ‘class’ as a principle of ‘social Stratification’ is quite different.

Wherever social intercourse is limited by considerations of status by distinctions between class is defined as any portion of community marked off from the rest by social status. Thus a system, of social classes involves hierarchy of status groups the recognition of higher-lower of superior-inferior stratification and finally, some degree of permanency of the structure.


On the subjective side, the ‘class’ manifests group attitudes, which are related to the objective side of the ‘class’ arising out of differences in income levels occupational distinctions, distinctions of birth, race, education and so on. But these objective differences in society when coupled with order of superiority alone give birth to the “class”. It is a sense of status stratifying the whole society.

The ‘class’ however should not be identified with economic division because such identification is inadequate. For instance, there status-class difference that do not correspond to economic differences. Secondly, the concept of class looses is sociological significance if it is identified purely with economic division does not unite people and separate them from other unless they fell their unity and separation. We do not have social classes unless class consciousness is present.

Again, social class and occupation, though intimately connected should not be identified with each other. The reason being that the class distinction basically rests not on function but on status.

In modern society however occupation is particularly useful general index of social class especially in countries like America.


This brings us to question of criteria to determine the social classes. The oldest type of classification seems to be dichotomous. Thus we used to distinguished between the few and the many the elite an the masses, free and servile, the rich and the poor, the rulers and the ruled, the educated and uneducated and finally as Marxist described, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

In modern times we also hear of a tripartite classification such as, upper class, middle class and the lower class. We many therefore be interested to know the grounds on which such classification rest. It should be noted at the very outset that the ‘grounds of status’ vary from society to society, and from time to time in any given society.

Thus status may be based upon differences of birth, wealth intellectual attainments. Frequently, status is determined by a combination two of these factors. The ‘class’ exhibits any single controlling factor round which others cohere.

When a status is wholly predetermined so that men, are born to their lot in life without any hope of changing it, the class takes the extreme form of caste. By and large, the most significant exposition of the caste system is found in the Hindu society.


Every Hindu necessarily belongs to the caste of his parents and in that caste he inevitably remains. No accumulation of wealth and no exercise of talents can alter his caste status, and marriage outside his caste is prohibited. It resembles more of less a fixed order of occupation for a Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra.

When the class is determined and permanently fixed according to birth it becomes a caste. A caste is close-class system which does not allow any kind of mobility. As in India for instance, a son of Brahmin remains a Brahmin, even though he is poor, uneducated and serving a person who the open-class system is which birth is no hindrance to a change of class. Here it is the status one acquires by virtue of his wealth that gives him a status.

The close class system was mostly a legacy of the feudal system of society. We may add here that lineage, national origin, religion and colour are criteria which compete at times quite effectively wealth. But wealth does remains a powerful criterion of the common standard for social distinctions.