Social stratification performs several functions which are useful and essential for the society. Moreover, it is not a classification of individuals based on their attributes but an established system of classifying groups.
Functionalists are primarily concerned with the function of social stratification and its contribution to the maintenance and well being of the society.
1. Matches ability with higher positions:
According to Davis Moore, a major function of the stratification is to match the most able people with the most important position in the society.
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2. Encourages hard work:
The main function of social stratification is to make the people of upper strata to work hard and to live up to their positions and status. Pearson argues that American society values the achievements and efficiency of individual and puts emphasis on hard work and productive activity within the economy.
Thus a successful business executive who has achieved the position through his own hard work ability gets encouraged to keep up the hard work and maintain his position in society. His example encourages others to work hard.
Social Stratification provides motivation for different positions, particularly those which carry higher statuses and rewards.
3. Helps the process of pursuit of different professions:
Society needs both manual and non-manual workers. Some professions and jobs are not attractive to the trained or ‘refined’ people because they are socialised to aspire for certain jobs. The socialization, values, and attitudes of the people act as reasons behind the pursuit of different professions and jobs. The people belonging to various classes and groups of people come forward to join different professions and jobs.
4. Social Stratification provides motivation to acquire a position:
Different social positions offer different opportunities and emolument. Those positions which are higher also offer better conditions and positions. People always try to get higher position in society. In the absence of stratification, individuals cannot be expected to get motivated for occupying certain positions.
5. Social Stratification is natural and justified:
Social stratification is also justified on the ground that all positions do not involve same responsibilities. Those positions which have higher and more responsibilities should be given higher statuses and only then they can attract suitable individuals to occupy them.
We cannot justify an equal status to the prime minister and a secretary. Each position, therefore, has its own importance for society and according to this importance; it requires certain type of recognition.
6. Recognises merit and ability:
Different positions require different talents, abilities and capabilities from the persons who occupy them. It would be unjustified to introduce equality among these statuses because a person with more ability or intelligence has to be given higher status to an individual who has a lesser ability.
7. All Positions are not equal and hence need stratification:
All positions cannot be regarded as equal since some of these require more qualifications, experience and training. On the other hand certain positions do not require any training at all. Therefore, we cannot give equal status to an engineer and a manual labourer.
If we do so, nobody would like to bother to undergo expensive and lengthy engineering degree and training. In case society wants individuals to undergo such qualifications and trainings, it has to offer certain awards and incentives in the form of higher statuses.
8. Source of much needed incentives in society:
Social stratification provides a system of earning some incentives which individuals can earn by performing some roles. If we give higher status to an individual, we can expect him to perform his role with more devotion and sincerity.
9. Social Stratification introduces competition in society:
Competition is a functional necessity of society because a society without competition cannot progress. Absence of competition always makes people lethargic and stagnant. The element of competition puts life among them and makes them work hard for achieving higher and higher statuses. Social stratification creates a situation of competition and encourages the people for improvement and progress.
10. Ensures circulation among Elites:
Social Stratification means the emergence/birth of various social classes and groups of people. Some groups get the status of being elite groups. People try to get entry into elite groups which means higher positions in society.
To some extent there is in existence the process of circulation of elites. This encourages the emergence of social competition. In the process more and more hard working and efficient persons come forward in society and they are able to rise to the top posisitions in due course of time.
11. Social Stratification acts as a source of integration of the people of all social classes:
Pearson rightly points out that Social stratification is functional because it serves to integrate various groups of the society. Members of each class recognize the roles and necessity of members of other classes.
12. Less rigid stratification ensures both social integration and differentiation:
Less rigid stratification always helps in improving the status of people by providing opportunities for entry into higher classes. It influences all classes of people to realize their collective importance in society and at same time encourages them to work for securing entries into higher and higher classes. It acts as a source of social differentiation as well as integration.
All these point clearly bring out the functional necessity of Social Stratification. Social stratification is a natural and functional necessity of each society. However, an excessively rigid and fundamentalist stratification is always harmful and even dangerous. It must not be made a system of social segregation on the basis of race or religion or caste.