Theories of Social Stratification

A. The structural-functional approach

This approach points to ways of social stratification that helps society to operate. The Davis-Moore thesis states that social stratification is universal because of its functional consequences. In caste system, people are rewarded for performing the duties of their position at birth. In class system, unequal rewards attract the ablest people to the most important jobs and encourage effort.

B. The social conflict approach

This approach claims that stratification divides societies in classes, benefiting some categories of people at the expense of others and causing social conflict. Karl Marx claimed that capitalism places economic production under the ownership of capitalists, who exploit the proletarians who sell their labor for wages. Max Weber identified three distinct dimensions of social stratification: economic, social, and political. Conflict exists between people at various positions and a multidimensional hierarchy of socioeconomic status.

C. The symbolic-Interaction approach

It is a micro-level analysis, explains that we size up people by looking for clues to their social standing. Stratification is a factor that guides people’s interaction in everyday life.

Forms of social Stratification

  1. Class system
  2. Caste system
  3. Ethnicity
  4. Gender

Class system

Social class is a main form of social stratification. It refers to the division of people on the basis of economic resources, political power, and social prestige. Class refers to the socio-economic standing in terms of distribution of economic resources. A social class is the aggregate of person having essentially the same social position in a given community. Social class is a segment of society with all the members of all ages and both the sexes who share the same general status.

According to Max Weber, Social Classes are aggregates of individuals who have the same opportunities of acquiring goods, the same exhibited standard of living.

Karl Marx defined a social class as all those people who share a common relationship to the means of economic production. Those who own and control the means of production are the dominant class. According to him, historical formation of mode of productions and class division:

  1. Primitive Mode of Production: Classless
  2. Slavery Mode of production: Master and slave
  3. Feudalist Mode of production: Feudal and tenants
  4. Capitalist Mode of production: Bourgeois’ and Proletariats
  5. Socialist Mode of production: Classless

Nature and Characteristics of Social Class

  • Class-A status group.
  • The class system is universal.
  • Achieved social status
  • Mode of feeling.
  • Elements of prestige.
  • Social Class- an open group
  • Class is a dynamic concept
  • Class consciousness.

Criterion of Class

  1. Subjective Criteria: It includes the class consciousness, class solidarity and class identification, the subjective criteria are essentially psychological. Members who have common interests and attributes have a sense of in-group solidarity.
  2. Objective Criteria: It includes those factors with the help of which one’s status may be determined. They may include: Wealth, income, occupation, level of education etc.

Class Division

  1. Upper Class (Economic capital: Major economic resources holders, capitalist, investor etc.)
  2. Middle Class (Social and human capital: skill, education, social relation)
  3. Lower Class ( Physical Capital, labor forces, working class)

Class division in Nepal

  • Economic Class (Upper, Middle, and Lower)
  • Social Class (Upper, Middle, and Lower)
  • Political Class (Upper, Middle, and Lower)                                        

Caste System

Caste system is the main forms of social stratification system. Which is mostly found in south Asian society (India and Nepal)?

Caste may be defined as a system of hierarchical division of society into different types of ranked group under the conception of relative level of purity and pollution (Pure and Impure). Caste is closely connected with the Hindu philosophy and religion, custom, and tradition, marriage and family, morals and manners, food and dress habits, occupations and hobbies. The term caste derived from the Spanish word caste meaning breed or lineage. French Sociologist Louise Dumont, known as the founding father of the caste system. The Hindu society has had its origin in the Varna system. According to the Varna, the Hindu society was divided into four main Varna’s namely, the Brahmins, the Kashtriyas, the Vaishya, and the Shudras. The varna system which was prevalent during the Vedic period was mainly based on the division of labor and occupation.

According to A.W. Green” Caste is a system of stratification in which mobility up and down the status ladder, at least ideally may not occur”

Characteristics of Caste System

The caste system is highly complex in nature. As, G.S. Ghurye says, any attempt to define caste is bound to fail because of the complexity of the phenomenon. He has describes the characteristics of the caste in his famous book” caste and class in India, 1950).

  1. Caste-as a hierarchical division of society (Pure and impure).
  2. Caste-as a segmental division of society.
  3. Restrictions on food habits and social relation.
  4. Social and religious disabilities of certain castes.
  5. The civil and religious privileges of certain castes.
  6. Restrictions on occupational choice.
  7. Restriction on marriage( Endogamy)
  8. Hindu Varna based division of labor.

Caste System in Nepal

Caste hierarchy of the Muluki Ain, 1854:

  • Muluki Ain,1910 B.S (Old Legal Code, 1854): Legal Caste Hierarchy
  • Muluki Ain,2020 B.S. (New Legal Code, 1963): Elimination of Legal Caste Hierarchy)      
  1. Tagadhari: Caste group of the wearers of the holy card. (Upadhyaya Brahmin, Jaisi, Rajput, Thakuri, Chhetri,VariousNewari caste).
  2. NamasinyaMatawali: Caste group of the Non-enslavable Alcohol-drinkers.( Magar, Gurung, Sunuwar)
  3. MasinyaMatawali: Caste group of the Enslavable alcohol –drinkers. ( Bhote, Chepang, Kumal, Hayu, Tharu , Gharti)
  4. Impure, but touchable caste groups.( Kasai, Kusule, Hindu Dhobi,Kulu, Musalman)
  5. Untouchable Caste groups.( Kami, Sharki, Damai, Badi, Gine, Pode, Chyame)

Changing Factors of Caste System in Nepal

  1. Uniform legal system
  2. Change in mode of production
  3. Impact of modern education and technology
  4. Political movement and successive democracy
  5. Role of Mass Media
  6. Changes in traditional occupation
  7. Importance of class
  8. Impact of Globalization, Modernization, Westernization, and Industrialization
  9. Rise of new social movement

Differences Between Caste and Class System

  Caste System                                                                        Class System

  • Particular (India and Nepal)                                                - Universal
  • Ascribed Social status                                                          - Achieved Social status
  • Closed System                                                                     - Open system
  • Purity an Impurity                                                               - Feelings of disparities
  • Conservative                                                                       - Progressive
  • Complexity                                                                         - Simplicity
  • Caste Consciousness                                                          - Class Consciousness                                       


Ethnic group is an organized group of related people with distinctive cultural identity in a national population. An ethnic group is a category of people who, as a result of their shared cultural heritage are regarded as socially distinct. Ethnicity is a shared cultural identity, people define themselves or other members of an ethnic category based on having common ancestor, food, dress up, rituals, cultural norms and values etc.

According to David Raisemen (1993), Ethnicity means condition of belonging to a particular ethnic group and ethnic people. Ethnicity is not based on biology but on people’s shared cultural heritage.

An ethnic group is a segment of a larger society whose members are thought by themselves is seen by others to differ in one or more of the following ways: 1. Language, religion, race, and country of origin; 2. The people in the group also see themselves to differ from the society at large; 3. The members of an ethnic group join in activities centered on their shared traits and backgrounds.

Basic elements of ethnicity

  • Language ( Mother tongue)
  • Having own territory
  • Having own cultural norms , values, rituals and customs
  • Community Sentiments ( We Feeling)
  • Physical Features

Ethnic Groups in Nepal

Nepal is a multi-ethnic country. According to National census (2011), 59 types of ethnic groups are existing in Nepal.

Ethnic division in Nepal

  • Endangered ethnic group: Raute, Kishan,
  • Highly marginalized ethnic group: Chepange, Satar
  • Marginalized ethnic group:  Tharu, Majhi
  • Disadvantage ethnic group: Rai , Limbu
  • Advanced ethnic group: Newar and Thakali
  • Ethnic Group by Region:
  • Mountain Region: Bara Gaunle,Dolpo, Larke, Lhopa, Thakali, Sherpa, Siyar,Lhomi, Mugali.
  • Hill Region: Bankaria, Hayu, Chepange, Dura, Gurung, Hyolmo, Jirel, Kusunda, Lepcha, Limbu, Magar, Tamang, Newar,Pahari, Rai.
  • Inner-TeraiRegion:Bote, Danuwar, Darai, Kumal, Majhi, Raji, Raute.
  • Terai Region: Rajbanshi, dhimal, Gangai, Jhangad, Kisan, Meche,Satar, Tajpuria, Tharu.


Gender refers to the personal traits and social positions that members of a society attached to being female or male. Gender is a dimension of social organization, shaping how we interact with others and how we think about ourselves. Stratification refers to a system in which group of people experience unequal access to basic social resources. Gender stratification is the unequal distribution of wealth, power, and privilege between men and women. ( Masculinity: Maleness and Femininity: Femaleness). Sex refers to physical or physiological differences between males and females. Sex is a biological distinction that develops prior to birth. Gender is the meaning that society attaches to being female or male. Gender differences are a matter of power. It generally refers to the patterns of social relationship between women and men.

Gender socialization occurs through four major agents of socialization:

  1. Family,
  2. Education,
  3. Peer groups, and
  4. Mass Media

Gender analysis at different level:

  1. Household/Family level,
  2. Society/ Community level,
  3. Market level,
  4. State level and Global level.

Gender and social stratification:

  • Gender stratification shapes the workplace.
  • Gender stratification shapes family life.
  • Gender stratification shape education.
  • Gender stratification shapes politics.


It is support of social equality for women and men, in opposition to patriarchy and sexism. Feminist most support five general principles:

  • Working to increase equality.
  • Expanding human choice.
  • Eliminating gender stratification.
  • Ending sexual violence.
  • Promoting sexual freedom.

Types of feminism

  1. Liberal Feminism
  2. Socialist feminism
  3. Radical feminism


A patriarchy is a social system in which family systems or entire societies are organized around the idea of father-rule, where males are primary authority figures. Male power in a patriarchy can be found at family, society, community and governmental level. The structure of the patriarchy is always considered the power status of male, authority, control of the male and oppression, humiliation, sub-ordination and subjugation of the women.

Social Inequality

Social inequality is the existence of unequal opportunities and rewards for different social positions or statuses within a group or society. Social inequality results from a society organized by hierarchies of class, race, and gender that broker access to resources and rights in ways that make their distribution unequal. Social inequality is characterized by the existence of unequal opportunities and reward for different social position within a group or society.

Sociologically, we can study social inequality as a social problem that encompasses three dimensions: Structural conditions, Ideological supports, and Social reforms.

Social inequalities in Nepal: Class inequality, caste inequality, Gender inequality, Religious inequality, Regional inequality, Language inequality etc