top of page

Describe the functionalist theory of social stratification.


Social Stratification

 A Level/AS Level/O Level

Free Essay Outline

Functionalist Theory of Social Stratification
This essay will explore the functionalist theory of social stratification, a perspective that views social inequality as necessary and beneficial for society.

Key Concepts

Functionalism: A theoretical perspective that emphasizes the interconnectedness and interdependence of social institutions.
Social Stratification: The hierarchical arrangement of individuals and groups in a society based on factors like wealth, power, and prestige.

Main Arguments

⭐Differential Functional Importance: Some jobs and roles are more important than others for society's functioning.
⭐Scarcity of Talent: Not everyone possesses the necessary skills and talents for the most important roles.
⭐Incentives: Higher rewards (e.g., money, status) are necessary to motivate individuals to acquire the skills needed for crucial roles.
⭐Social Harmony: Inequality helps maintain social order by ensuring that individuals are motivated to work and contribute to society.

Criticism of Functionalism

Inequality and Meritocracy: Critics argue that social stratification is often based on factors other than merit, such as inherited wealth or social networks.
Social Conflict: High levels of inequality can lead to resentment, conflict, and social instability, which contradicts the functionalist argument of social harmony.
Opportunity and Mobility: The functionalist perspective overlooks how social structures can limit opportunities and social mobility for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.

This essay has outlined the core principles of the functionalist theory of social stratification, highlighting its view of inequality as functional for society. However, it has also acknowledged the criticisms that challenge this perspective, particularly regarding its focus on meritocracy and its neglect of social conflict and inequality's impact on social mobility.

Free Essay 

The Functionalist Perspective on Social Stratification: A System of Rewards and Benefits

Social stratification, the hierarchical arrangement of individuals and groups within a society based on factors like wealth, power, and prestige, is a complex and ubiquitous phenomenon. Understanding how societies stratify their members requires exploring the various theoretical perspectives. One such perspective is ⭐⭐functionalism⭐⭐, which views social stratification as a necessary and beneficial element for the smooth functioning of society.

Functionalists, like ⭐⭐Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore⭐⭐, argue that social stratification serves several crucial functions:

⭐⭐1. Motivating Individuals:⭐⭐ They posit that unequal rewards, in the form of wealth, power, and prestige, are necessary to motivate individuals to strive for higher positions and contribute their talents to society. This "meritocratic" perspective suggests that those with the most valuable skills and knowledge should be rewarded accordingly.

⭐⭐2. Distributing Talent and Skills:⭐⭐ By placing individuals in positions commensurate with their abilities, stratification ensures that the most qualified people are allocated to the most important roles. This allocation leads to a more efficient and effective society.

⭐⭐3. Maintaining Social Order and Stability:⭐⭐ Functionalists believe that social stratification creates social order by recognizing and rewarding individuals based on their contributions. This system fosters a shared understanding of social hierarchy and reduces social conflict.

⭐⭐4. Maintaining Social Solidarity:⭐⭐ By acknowledging the importance of different social roles, social stratification promotes solidarity and a sense of community. It reinforces the idea that everyone plays a vital role in the cohesive functioning of society.

⭐⭐Critiques of Functionalism:⭐⭐

Despite its seemingly logical framework, functionalist theory has been criticized for several reasons:

⭐Ignoring Inequality and Exploitation:⭐⭐ Critics argue that the theory overlooks the inherent power imbalances and inequalities inherent in social stratification. It fails to address how social stratification can perpetuate power structures that benefit the elite and disadvantage marginalized groups.

⭐Lack of Empirical Support:⭐⭐ The assumption that social stratification is solely based on meritocracy is not supported by empirical evidence. Factors like inherited wealth, social networks, and systemic biases often play a larger role in determining social position than individual talent or effort.

⭐Justifying Inequality:⭐⭐ The theory can be used to justify existing inequalities, arguing that they are necessary for societal functioning. This can be seen as legitimizing systems that perpetuate injustice and marginalization.


While the functionalist perspective offers a framework for understanding social stratification, it is crucial to acknowledge its limitations. Its focus on the positive societal functions of such systems overlooks the potential for exploitation, injustice, and the negative consequences of inequality. A comprehensive understanding of social stratification requires considering other theoretical perspectives, such as conflict theory and symbolic interactionism, which offer alternative explanations for the existence and perpetuation of social hierarchy.

bottom of page