Stratification – the differentiation of people according to property, power and prestige – exists in all societies throughout the world. Indeed functionalism theorists argue that stratification is necessary and inevitable to ensure people with special skills, knowledge and attitudes take up the most important jobs (Rose, 2015). On the other hand, conflict theorists argue that stratification is unnecessary and evitable because it is the result of a lack of opportunity and discrimination against the poor, people of color and women. But is it possible to have a society without stratification based on class?
According to functionalists, stratification serves important functions in the stability and continuity of a society. The assumptions of Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore show why stratification is necessary and inevitable. For example, they point out that some jobs are more important than others e.g. a doctor compared to a porter. The doctor requires more knowledge and skills than a porter. Further, they argue that relatively few people have the ability to acquire the skills, knowledge and attitudes that are a requisite for important jobs e.g. most people can be decent porters but very few people can become doctors (Rose, 2015). Hence, to encourage people with the knowledge and skills to take up the important jobs, they have to be rewarded more than those doing jobs that require less knowledge and skills, leading to societal stratification.
Yet some sociologists have pointed out flaws in this argument. They point out that it is difficult to compare the importance of different jobs e.g. a porter is just as important as a doctor since hospitals can hardly function without porters. They also noted that the most important jobs do not necessarily attract the highest rewards e.g. many elite athletes earn more than the president. Moreover, people do not always move up the economic ladder based on merit. Race and gender often play a role. Moreover functionalism does not explain the huge gaps between the rich and poor evident in our society (Rose, 2015). In rewarding highly skilled and knowledgeable people, do we need to condemn those with little skills and knowledge to poverty? Social conflict theorists, who draw on the views of Karl Marx and Max Weber, offer the above criticisms to point out that stratification is a result of fundamental conflict between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, with the former exploiting their positions to maintain the status quo. They do this by influencing law-making, media and the ideological beliefs of the ‘have-nots’.
The American Dream promises everyone a successful life if they work hard and have willpower. Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama epitomize this dream. Some people may lack opportunities, but may lift themselves up by their bootstraps to break into the higher classes of society. Yet others may have all the opportunities but not utilize them sinking into the mire of poverty (Rose, 2015). Hence because of human nature, ego, environmental factors and the other reasons advanced by functionalism theory, it is not practically possible for a society to be without class stratification.