Discuss and evaluate the different ways that social class has been defined and measured.
The term social stratification refers to the grouping of social classes within a society. This is a specific form of inequality, and the effect of this is that certain groups in society are seen as having a higher status or rank than others based on power and wealth. Social stratification works by society ranking which is based in four sections. Social stratification can be passed from one generation to the next, i.e. royalty, it is universal but varies over time and place, it is a trait of society not individual differences and lastly social stratification also goes on beliefs and not just inequality (Wikipedia, 2014). Sociologists argue that some form of social stratification occurs in every society in the world despite that everyone claims to want an equal society (Burton, 2013). Sociologists consider there to be three main systems of stratification in today’s societies. These are slavery, the caste system and the class system.
Slavery has legally been abolished in many countries but there is still evidence of at least 400 million people living under conditions that amount to slavery. For those living in Sudan, Ghana, India, Pakistan, and many other countries with similar ideals, slavery is a common thing to happen and in certain parts of Asia sex slavery is also common. A caste system is a social system built on ascribed status. This is a status based on characteristics a person is born with, such as race, gender, religion, age etc. In a caste system there is no chance to change from one caste to another and marriage outside of a person’s caste is not generally permitted. Often in a caste system the marriages are pre-arranged between parents rather than a choice of the individual. A class system is a social system built on achieved status. This is status that a person either earns or chooses so is not dependent on where a person was born or a person’s parentage. Those born in a class system can choose their education, career and partner. A person in a class system may also start off in one class but can move between classes (Spark Notes, n.d). For many sociologists the focus is on the caste and class systems of stratification and the amount of social mobility within that system. This social mobility is the ease of which a person can move up or down the class system and will be based on a person’s wealth or power.
In modern western societies, stratification is organised by class and divided into three main layers, upper class, middle class and lower class. Each of these classes can then be broken down into further categories determined by things such as housing locations (Wikipedia, 2014). A person’s social class will depend on where they are from, what they do for a living, where they achieved their education, who they are connected to and how powerful them people may be, how much wealth they have and their position in society. When a person’s social class is being considered their education will not generally be considered, unless of course they attended a high ranking education facility. This person will also need to have some high connections to be considered for upper class status. If a person is lacking any of these factors they will be considered as middle or even lower class, depending on their postcode or bank balance, within a western society. In modern western societies there are different categories for social stratification such as age, race, gender, class, race or disability and in some places there will be even more categories (Wikipedia, 2014).
Social classification has taken place long before the modern form of classifying people began. Social stratification has been measured in different forms; from asking people which class they feel they belong in to using a person’s postcode. The two most used measures are both based on occupation. The Registrar General’s Standard Occupation Classification (SC) and the Socio-Economic Groups (SEG). The SC began in has been in the census since 1901 and is based on a person’s occupation which will fall into one of six categories: Professional, Intermediate, Skilled (Non-Manual/Manual), Partly Skilled and Unskilled. This is an ordinal measure that ranks occupation, by skill and social standing. The SEG is made up of 17 different categories and would in fact cover all eventualities of employment, house worker, student etc. This is a nominal measure that ranks occupation by employment status (Anon, n.d).
The SC has strengths as well as weaknesses with its use. It is a simple system with easily generalizable categories. This system is also useful when wanting to compare the changes in occupations held over a period of time. However, this system does not appear to group people it focuses more on the occupation. Another problem with this system is that the categories do not consider the differences in income between certain occupations. The SEC also has some strengths and weaknesses to its reliability in measuring class. Its main strength is that it does have a wider range of categories for people to consider, however its biggest weakness is that is still fails to acknowledge certain people, such as women, students and the unemployed (Sociology Org, 2013).
Having more than one way of measuring social class has caused many problems. As occupations have changed dramatically over the years there are many problems with the way the SC and the SEG measures class. The biggest of the problems is that they are not designed to measure the occupations of women, housewives, students or even the unemployed adequately. Although this will generally be the most reliable as people will accept what is told to them by a government body such as the Registrar General. In 1994 a government review of social classifications took place with the aim to review the reliability of using occupation to measure social class, to review the social class categories and to assess the effectiveness of the changes made. These changes took place in 1998 and a new classification system, NS-SEC, was introduced beginning in the 2001 census (Anon, n.d).
This change made to the way occupation is measured comes in eight categories to include the differences in set locations. The categories of the NS-SEC are: higher managerial and professionals, lower managerial and professionals, intermediate occupations (clerical, sales and services), small employers and own account workers, lower supervisory and technical occupations, semi-routine occupations, routine occupations and never worked or long term unemployed (Wikipedia, 2013).
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