What Is an Example of Social Stratification?

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Social stratification is a termed used to describe the separation of classes of people within a particular society. Stratification can be based on multiple factors.

Common Differentiators in Social Stratification Defining social stratification in the USA is difficult. Sociologists disagree on the number of US social classes (up to seven in some studies) and what defines them, as related in a published report from the University of Minnesota. The most common differences used in social stratification are wealth, income, race, religion, occupation, education and power, according to the University of Minnesota. Within each society there is a ranking or hierarchy of classes. In the United States, there are at least four distinct and accepted classes: lower class, working poor, middle class and upper class, as reported by the University of Minnesota. However, stratification evolves, similar to technology and economies. Dependent upon where a person resides in the USA, there are different levels of stratification, according to the Pew Research Center.

An Example of US Social Stratification Although there is disagreement among sociologists regarding classes, it is not impossible to create a generalized example of US social stratification. Through its taxation policies, the United States Internal Revenue Service poses objective data about stratification. Those at the top of the income scale pay an alternative minimum tax to ensure equalized taxation, while those at the bottom may receive an earned income credit higher than what they paid, according to the IRS tax tables.

In the United States, the lower class consists of the poor (those that live below the federal poverty level, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics). A 2012 Brookings Institute report identified that up to 5 percent of Americans live on less than $2.00 per day. The next class layer is the working poor. This strata is working (often two jobs), but lacks the education or skill set to earn a living wage. They may have assets such as a car or home, and they live just above the federal poverty level, as reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the United States, the federal poverty level creates an objective measure of stratification.

The next layer above the working poor is the middle class, often college educated but earning under $200,000 per year, as defined by the Pew Research Center. Those earning over $200,000 per year individually are in the top 8 percent, as of 2017, creating the upper class, according to The Balance. Those earning $465,000 or more per year individually are considered to be in the top 1 percent of income earners in the United States, and are the upper crust of the upper class of the United States, as defined by Investopedia.

Other factors also contribute to social stratification in the United States, such as access to equal opportunity. Race and religion can also factor into this stratification, as can minority access to education, as related by the University of Minnesota. Blacks born into poverty in the USA are more likely to remain there. One half of black American males born into poverty never rise above their social strata, whereas a Caucasian male born into poverty is much more likely to rise above poverty and into a higher social strata, according to the Brookings Institute.