Social Stratification is a system of social relationships that determines how a person is valued in society—or undervalued respectively; it is the term that we use to explain traits of society that are not purely individual differences, but apparent in society. Stratification can be seen in the classification of groups through shared socio-economic conditions. Stratification is compounded by differentiation, and inequality.
When we take the idea of stratification and amplify it with differentiation through social role, occupation, or even ascribed traits that are apparent at birth, then throw inequality into the mix, we get an entrenched and disheveled system. What I claim is that with inequality, differentiation, and stratification we arrive at a ladder without rungs; yes, an individual can still pole vault up and fall down, but the climb is close to impossible. Those ideas can all be compounded by such things as class, race, and sex or gender; through such ascribed traits individuals are given a starting point on the socio-economic ladder. All of these aforementioned ideas have been institutionalized and learned over course of each individual’s life creating a socialization of inequality—internalized to the point where members of society must unlearn it.
Stratification works to place and motivate members of society in social structure using competition to give the individual a desire to perform of fulfill the position given. To give an example: imagine a group interview with twenty people—the interviewers are only hiring two. Now, each of those twenty people has to out-perform nineteen people. Pesky differentiation and inequality compound that so you can look around the room and know your real competition is—it’s plausible that maybe after looking around the room that number goes down some—maybe to 15.
That inference makes up a micro unit of analysis, but here’s the wrench. The four people he immediately felt better than knew their social position and out-performed the member of the interview in question, using the rules and regulations to their advantage. Where those individuals over-sold themselves because they had to, the first interviewee never felt the need. The problem here is that the first member of the interview still got the job, but one of those four over-achievers did as well.
That happened, because just as the first individual discounted those four members of the interview, so did the interviewers. The reward comes as a part of the social order. Up to this point There has been no race, class, or gender mentioned, but I don’t have to for the readers to infer for themselves what they are, who they are, and probably even what they look like—and each readers idea of that will be different. That’s what stratification is and how it functions in society.
Social mobility is the idea that an individual or group can move within the given class system whether it be economic, vertical, or horizontal. Economic mobility is the lowering or raising in income. Vertical implies a rise or fall in socio-economic status. Horizontal mobility is a movement from one social position to another maintaining the same status. Mobility here implies that movement can happen through merit. Where an individual begins on the economic ladder may inhibit or improve that ability to move on the economic ladder.
Those twenty people involved in the earlier anecdote where all attempting to be socially mobile. The group interview was meant to grant them work in a manufacturing plant as a machine operator. Let us just assume that twelve out of twenty were coming from other manufacturing jobs; those twelve were looking to move horizontally, but also economically: horizontally, because the social position is the same; economically, because the pay was an extra five dollars on the hour.
The two individuals who were hired achieved social mobility; the first, the one who discounted four of the interviewees, was moving vertically. The individual moved vertically, because the interviewee was coming from a fast-food background and a machine operator lives considerably better than a service worker. While the second was able to out-perform the first in the interview, because of a background in manufacturing—the interviewee had a knowledge of machine, equipment, and safety procedure.
Status can be described as both to mark a position in social structure and to place an individual or group in the hierarchy. The two terms in league with status are achieved and ascribed. Using the same scenario, the one successful candidate who discounted four of the interviewees did so because of their ascribed status and obtained success, whereas the other candidate was successful because of his achieved status. The achieved status says that the individual’s background and knowledge accomplished the perception needed to the employer, whereas the ascribed status in the other candidate showed that the individual’s network, being an uncle already employed in the company, and that privilege landed the job for the interviewee—there was nothing about the candidate that stood out to speak of.
Meritocracy represents the ideology that power should vested in the individuals or groups who display merit. With that out of the way the process of meritocracy should judge and reward people who achieve the feat worthy of the reward. What meritocracy really looks like is the perception of achievement. Merit throughout an individual’s life is measured through competency, ability and achievement. It begins with the incentive; the reward is dangled over the people motivating them to perform, and impacting their decisions. Going back to the former situation there was motivation to perform better than the other nineteen people in the group interview. The reward was employment and a higher pay rate. The incentive comes after proving action propriety. Action propriety says that an individual is to be rewarded for the quality of actions that they perform which is judged by the acceptability of the action.
Meritocracy through those processes then must have an impact on the possibility of social mobility. If we are to believe the myth of meritocracy, then through every achievement an individual has they would be able to create social mobility. The ideology assumes that only the highest achievement can gain the highest position. Merit is obtained through compliance, acceptable behavior, and accomplishment. Those who do not have access to the resources to achieve are prohibited from certain forms of social mobility like economic mobility, while those who do have access to those resources may only be able to move horizontally. Meritocracy can both inhibit mobility and promote it based on an individual’s ascribed status.
What then, does stratification and meritocracy have in common? Meritocracy is incidentally a vehicle for stratification. The logical fallacy of meritocracy is that the people who perform within the system have internalized biases and see not only the accomplished potential employee, but the ascribed characteristics of the individual in the interview. Action propriety only goes as far as to say that the action is acceptable. In fact, some may be seen as having more merit based on ascribed attributes rather than real achievement. The ascribed, being readily distinguishable characteristics, makes merit an inequality to which merit can be perceived more readily on the lesser achievement within the meritocracy and at times it could even come to be that objectives inherently own bias favoring the more fortunate.
I have gone through the trouble of detailing what all of those things mean and how they work, because of a portion of my life that I was thrust into what I call contemporary slave labor. I was one of the two people hired in that group interview peppered throughout the beginning of this narrative. I will refrain from mentioning more on that instance.
Here’s where I will move into the why of post high school education. When I began working in the manufacturing plant, it was great I was making 13 dollars on the hour and 40 hours a week with benefits. The tasks were physically exhausting, but I was bringing home $600, give or take, a week. They were 8 hour shifts with required stay-late or come-in-early days twice a week both late and early were 4 hours late or early making those days 12 hour shifts. To be fair, those 12 hour shifts would only exist as needed and when I worked those shifts my weekly earning went from $600 to 700 or $800.
A few months into the job after I had shown a valuable work ethic and competence for mindless physical labor they gave me a position at $18 hourly and that position was guaranteed overtime every week which is when I also began to make use of the sixteen hour work day, which was allowed by state law twice a week but not back-to-back.
This all sounded wonderful and probably makes you want to know who the employer is, but that information I will not discuss, because here is where the irreparable damage to the human body comes in. Let me put this in perspective, I am a 135 pound man on a good day and soaking wet, the exhausting physical labor required me to lift film that weighed half of that several times a day. Now, we can tack on the 12 or 16 hour shifts and the regular shift begins at 11 PM.
Here’s how a sixteen hour shift will work, remember that’s two 8 hour shifts: If I were to come in for the shift before, then I show up at 3 PM. Each shift has an unpaid lunch shift that lasts for a half an hour so now I am at work for 17 hours—not 16. Now that we know that we don’t get paid for the lunch break, we can make the leap to realize the actual work day does not end until 7:30 AM for that night shift. As with any job, people tend to show up late to the manufacturing floor. There were many days wherein I would work my position, be on site for a total of 17 hours—remember this is twice a week—and my relief would be an hour late moseying out to take my place, now we have arrived at an 18 hour work day, getting paid for 17.
The $1000 or so a week is not worth it. There are only 24 hours in a day and all of this is legal in any “right to work state” like Virginia.