According to Bernard Barber,

“Social stratification in its most general sense, is a sociological concept that refers to the fact that both individuals and groups of individuals are conceived of as constituting higher or lower differentiated strata or classes in terms of some specific or generalized characteristic or set of characteristics.”

It refers to the practice of segregating social groups based on prestige, wealth, and power possessed by the members of the social group.

Main Forms of Social Stratification

Sociologists have distinguished four main forms of social stratification which are as follows:


Slavery is a social stratification system in which a person is owned by another as property and makes the slave work hard for personal economic gain. Slaves are considered to occupy the lowest on the social hierarchy as they do have any personal power and wealth.


Social stratification based on the estate is a practice that existed in middle-age Europe. It is also referred to as feudalism. This stratification system had three main social groups categorized as the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. Peasants had to work under nobles in exchange for facilities.


Caste in social stratification is based on the transmission of lifestyle, hereditary, and endogamy that involves a hierarchy status, occupation, and customary social practice of exclusion that revolves around purity.

Social class and status

Social stratification based on social class and status is the ranking of individuals and groups on a social hierarchy. This ranking depends on the honor, prestige, wealth, and property held by an individual or group in society.

In social stratification, inequality is based entirely on social factors and not on biological factors. Biological traits such as intelligence, skin color, gender, and the like do not cause social stratification. Social stratification is different in every society. For instance, the Aryan society was segregated into the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and the Sudras. Social stratification leads to many consequences such as the unequal treatment of rich and poor.