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Social Stratification and Inequality

Modern Stratification Systems

Historical Stratification Systems

Modern Stratification Systems, page 2

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In today’s world, three main systems of stratification remain: slavery, a caste system, and a class system.


Slavery still exists today. As many as 400 million people live under conditions that qualify as slavery, despite laws prohibiting it. In Mauritania, the Sudan, Ghana, and Benin, slavery exists much as it did 800 years ago. In other parts of the world, including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, debt slavery is common. Sex slavery, the forcing of girls into prostitution, is prevalent in Asia.

Caste System

A caste system is a social system based on ascribed statuses, which are traits or characteristics that people possess as a result of their birth. Ascribed statuses can include race, gender, nationality, body type, and age. A caste system ranks people rigidly. No matter what a person does, he or she cannot change castes.

People often try to compensate for ascribed statuses by changing their nationality, lying about their age, or undergoing plastic surgery to alter their body type. In some societies, this strategy works; in others, it does not.

Example: Religion is an ascribed status in some societies. Americans may convert to other religions, but in other countries, people may not change out of the particular religion into which they were born.

India’s Caste System

The Indian government officially outlawed the caste system in 1949, but vestiges of it remain today. The system originated with the Hindu religion, which subscribes to the concept of reincarnation, the belief that while the physical body dies, the soul of a person is immortal and goes on to be reborn into another body. People who are good in their current life will come back to improved circumstances in the next life, but if they are evil, they will be punished in the next one. Therefore, those who are poor or ill are suffering punishment for having done something wrong in a past life. One should not interfere in the life of another person because that individual’s circumstances are the result of what he or she has done in a previous incarnation.

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