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Steven Durlauf defined stratification as “a term used to characterize a structure of inequality where (a) individuals occupy differentiated structural positions and (b) the positions are situated in layers (or strata) that are ranked hierarchically according to broadly recognized standards”.¹

As an academic field of research, sociologists tend to focus on the sources that generate this hierarchy, the potential for mobility between strata and the social structures that allow societies to even cope with the existence of strata inequalities.

Talcott Parsons, an extremely influential American sociologist, is often credited with being the first social scientist to research, investigate and write extensively about social stratification. Since then, the scholarship of stratification has gained popularity as an interdisciplinary field studied by sociologists, economists, historians, anthrolopolists and those who study policy and governance.

Stratification is studied on both micro levels (within families, schools and neighborhoods) and macro levels (cities, states, countries, internationally). For example, sociologists like Durlauf and Benabou studied stratification in reference to "persistent neighbourhood differences in average levels of family income and well-being".¹

The most dominant field of inquiry within social stratification, the most important legacy has been the study of the potential for mobility. There have been two approaches to mobility that have dominated within sociology¹:

  1. Mobility modelled by accounting for movement between aggregated occupations, labelled social classes. There is analyzation of intergenerational mobility via "inspection of cross-classifications of parents' and children's occupations".¹

To learn more about the methodology behind social research intro stratification, please explore this section of the website. 




1. Durlauf, Steven and Lawrence Blume. Stratification. Retrieved May 8, 2014, from

Image source: Wikimedia


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