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Critically assess the view that social stratification benefits the powerful groups in society

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Introduction

Social stratification may be defined as the hierarchical arrangement of social classes, castes and strata within a society (Wikipedia, 2006). Social stratification is regarded quite differently by the functionalist and Marxist perspectives of sociology. This paper will critically review both these perspectives on social stratification with reference to contemporary empirical evidence. A synopsis of both Marxist theory and the functionalist approach to social stratification will be provided while the remainder of the paper will compare and contrast both perspectives and introduce key research on the social divisions in society. Finally, for the purposes of this paper, social stratification may be considered primarily as an economic concept. Space does not permit consideration of other important social divisions based on gender, racial identity, disability, age, or ethic identity. From a Marxist perspective, in all stratified societies there are two major social groups: a ruling class (Bourgeoisie) and a subject class (Proletariat). Marx argued that the ruling class gained its power from the ownership and control of the 'means of production' i.e. land, capital, labour power, buildings and machinery, in which the subject, or 'working' class owned only their labour which they sold to the Bourgeoisie in return for wages (Livesy, 2006). ...read more.

Middle

Conflict therefore arises as it is in the interests of capitalists to exploit the workforce to ensure higher profit margins. From a Marxist perspective, systems of stratification derive from the relationships between these two social groups in respect to the means of production (Haralambos & Holborn, 1995). Therefore, in a capitalist society this relationship can lead to inequality, poverty and an unequal distribution of power, income, wealth, and rewards such as salary. However, some groups are much more likely to end up in poverty than others (Haralambos & Holborn, 1995). For example, the working class, and in particular those within that class who are unskilled, are more likely to become unemployed due to changes in the economy; particularly within the manufacturing industry where there has been a reduction in the number of unskilled jobs available (Haralambos and Holborn, 1995). These groups are also at risk of becoming long term unemployed which can lead to poor living standards (Haralambos & Holborn, 1995). Also, living standards of the long term unemployed have been undermined by changes in government policy, when in 1982 the unemployed lost the right to earnings related supplements which was superseded by unemployment benefit, which in itself was restricted to the first twelve months after becoming unemployed. ...read more.

Conclusion

Poverty provides employment for fast growing sections of society, whereby jobs are created for those professions who deal with the poor such as the police, probation officers, social workers, and administration staff who oversee the poverty industry (Haralambos & Holborn 1995). In 1976 Britain's health and social care sector employed almost 80,000 staff to deal with the poor (Haralambos & Holborn 1995). In conclusion functionalists would argue that social stratification benefits everyone, even the poorest members of society, as this group would strive to get out of poverty and if this was to be achieved they would then be motivated further to maintain this status. Nevertheless, Marxists believe that social stratification benefits only the powerful groups in society. The widening gap between the rich and the poor within Britain provides support to the Marxist argument. Income inequality rose in 2001/2 to reach its highest ever level and in 2004/5 almost two thirds of the population had incomes below the national average equivalised income of �427 per week, suggesting that only a small number of people (the powerful group), are on relatively high incomes (Brewer et al 2006). It would seem that from these statistics, and the analysis provided in this paper, that indeed social stratification does benefit the powerful groups in society. ...read more.

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