Those who believe in stratification believe in common values. The functionalist Talcott Parsons believes that order, stability, and coordination in society are based on ‘value consensus’ and there is a general agreement with members of society concerning what is good and worthwhile. Parsons argues that stratification systems derive from common values. If values exist, then it follows that individuals will be evaluated and placed in some form of rank order. However, different societies have different value systems. The ways of attaining a high position will vary from society to society.


Organization and Planning


Functionalists tend to see the relationships between social groups in society as one of coordination and interdependence. As no one group is self – sufficient, it must therefore exchange goods and services with other groups, and so the relationship between social groups is one of reciprocity (mutual give and take). This relationship is an extension of the strata in a stratification system. An example of this is an argument in Western society that we plan, organize and coordinate the activities of the working – class.


‘Some Principles of Stratification’: Kingsley Davis and Wilbert E Moore argued that stratification exists in all human society. They have described in functionalist terms how the system survives and operates efficiently. One such prerequisite is effective role allocation and performance. This means that:


  1. All roles must be filled


  1. They must be filled by those best able to perform them


  1. The necessary training for them must be undertaken


  1. The roles must be performed conscientiously.


Davis and Moore argued that all societies need some ‘mechanism’ for ensuring effective role allocation and performance. This mechanism is social stratification.


Functional importance


Davis and Moore realized there is a problem with their theory, in which positions are functionally more important. They suggested that the importance could be measured in two ways:


  1. Be measured by the ‘degree to which a position is functionally unique, there being no other positions that can perform the same function satisfactorily’.


  1. The second being the ‘degree to which other positions are dependent on the one in question’.


Melvin M. Tumin – A Critique of Davis and Moore:


Functional importance


Tumin questioned the adequacy of their measurement of functional importance of position. He questioned their statement that most highly rewarded positions are indeed the most important. Tumin argued that some unskilled workmen in a factory are as important and as indispensible to the factory as the engineers who also work in that factory.


Power and rewards


Tumin argued that Davis and Moore ignored the influence of power; for example, the difference between wages of farm laborers and coalminers can be interpreted as a result of the relative bargaining power of the two groups.


The pool of talent


Davis and Moore assumed that only a limited number of individuals have the talent to acquire skills for the most important positions. Tumin regarded this as very questionable for these 3 reasons:


  1. An effective method of measuring talent and ability has not been devised


  1. There is no proof that exceptional talents are required for high positions



  1. The pool of talent in society may be considerably larger than Davis and Moore assumed


Training and Motivation


Tumin also questioned their view on training – that for high and important positions should be regarded as a sacrifice. However, Tumin argued the point of students. The rewards are leisure, freedom, and the opportunity of self – development. Tumin rejected their view on individual motivation, and argued that social stratification can, and often does, act as a barrier to the motivation and recruitment of talent.


Inequality of opportunity


Tumin concluded that stratification, by its very nature, can never adequately perform the functions which Davis and Moore assigned to it. He argued that those born into lower strata can never have the same opportunities for realizing their talents as those born into the higher strata.


Social divisions


Finally, Tumin questioned the view that social stratification functions to integrate the social system. He argued that different rewards can ‘encourage hostility, suspicion and distrust among the various segments of society’. He also argued that stratification weakens a social integration by giving members of the lower strata a feeling of being excluded from participation in the larger society.


Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex