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Class System

Class System

Author: Paul Hannan

Identify components associated with the class system, such as meritocracy, status consistency, and structural social mobility.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Cash Public Domain Trophy Public Domain Woman Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology-- Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on class system. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

Today, I'm going to be explaining to you what a class system is and a couple of the things that tie into a class system. So what is a class system? Well, a class system, really at its core is just a way to divide society based on material wealth. So the image there, you have the stack of dollar bills. It's dividing people based on how much money they have, how much wealth they have.

Now, here in America we support that class system in a lot of ways through the way our system-- the way we allocate rewards. And we use what's called a meritocracy. So meritocracy is this idea that we reward individual efforts and achievements.

So you in America are supposed to get what you deserve. You work hard. You're smart. You plan things out well. Then you should be rewarded.

Now, there's some argument amongst sociologists and just people in society about exactly how much of a meritocracy we have. And that's because even though we do reward people based on individual efforts and achievements, there is still some things that are passed on. So I have that last bullet point there, achieved versus ascribed status. Remember that when you're looking at statuses, you can achieve a status by earning it or it can be ascribed to you. It can be given to you by not doing anything. Normally, that's by birth.

And we still have many things in our society that are passed on to you that you didn't really earn to get, that your parents gave you or for some reason-- other reason it was handed to you. And you didn't have to actually earn it.

In a class system, we're ranking people based on their wealth. But there's other ways we can rank people in societies. We can think about how respectable someone is, how respectful someone's profession maybe is. And the idea of status consistently sees just there is some variability between one's rank across different aspects of social hierarchies. Well, how much is that variability?

A great example to look at status consistency is teachers. Teachers in the class system don't make a lot of money. They're towards the bottom end of that structure there. But we as a society still rank them high on respectability and importance. And we value them as individuals. So the status consistency is how much variability is there between those two different aspects?

Now, another thing that we can look at when we're looking at a class system is we can look at structural social mobility. So just a reminder, social mobility is when someone can move up or down in a class. So structural social mobility though is you take that idea and you add it to the whole structure of society.

And so when structural social mobility is happening, you're having many, many different people move up or down the different categories inside a system. And that's because of a change in society. I'll give you two quick examples to help this stick with you.

The first one is the feminism movement and women's suffrage movement. Those were examples of structural social mobility. You had a large segment of people, in this case females, really increase their status. And that could be their earning status, if you're looking at a class system, or they also became more respected. But either way, it was a big structural change in this mobility.

The other example is a little bit more current. And this was at the end of the USSR. When the USSR fell and Russia decided to let the different satellite states go free, there was a real decentralization of power. So the power is not held just with this small group of elites in Moscow. And instead, a lot more people in society had access to the wealth, to political power, all these different things. And so there's a structural mobility that all of a sudden increased for the members of the former USSR.

So today's take-away message, we looked at a class system, which is a system that's socially stratifies people based on wealth. And then a meritocracy, which is the idea that we reward people based on individual efforts and achievements. We also looked at status consistency, which is the amount of variability between one's rank across different aspects of social hierarchies. And we looked at structural social mobility. And that's when social mobility happens to a lot of people because of a change in society.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work. And hopefully you'll be seeing me on the screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Class System

A system of social stratification based primarily on economic achievements over the lifecourse.


A system of social rewards based on individual efforts and achievements (i.e. on merit).

Status Consistency

Consistency across various measures of inequality (i.e. wealth, prestige, and power).

Structural Social Mobility

Social mobility that occurs when structural changes, rather than individual efforts, cause groups of people to move up or down in society.