How Functionalism and Conflict Theory Applies to Social Stratification

Social stratification refers to the division of society into different hierarchical levels based on various factors such as wealth, power, and status. It is a fundamental aspect of sociology that helps us understand the structure and dynamics of society. Two prominent theories in sociology, functionalism and conflict theory, provide different perspectives on how social stratification operates.


Functionalism is a theoretical framework that views society as a system composed of interrelated parts working together to maintain social order and stability. According to functionalists, social stratification is necessary for the functioning of society. They argue that each position in the social hierarchy serves a specific function and contributes to the overall balance of society.

Functionalists believe that social inequality is inevitable and serves a purpose in maintaining social order. They argue that individuals are rewarded differently based on their contributions to society. For example, those who have higher education or possess specialized skills are often rewarded with higher-paying jobs because their expertise benefits society as a whole.


Functionalists also advocate for the idea of meritocracy, where individuals are rewarded based on their abilities and efforts rather than their social background or inherited characteristics. They argue that this ensures that the most talented individuals are placed in positions where they can contribute most effectively to society.

Conflict Theory

Conflict theory, on the other hand, views social stratification as a result of power struggles and unequal distribution of resources. According to conflict theorists, social inequality is not functional for society but rather a source of social conflict and tension.

Conflict theorists argue that social stratification benefits the dominant group in society, allowing them to maintain their power and privilege at the expense of others. They believe that those in power use their influence to shape social institutions and maintain their position at the top of the hierarchy.


Conflict theorists emphasize the concept of exploitation, where those in power exploit those with less power for their own benefit. This exploitation can take various forms, such as economic exploitation through low wages or political exploitation through discriminatory laws and policies.

In conclusion, both functionalism and conflict theory provide valuable insights into how social stratification operates. While functionalism emphasizes the role of social inequality in maintaining societal balance and order, conflict theory highlights the inherent conflicts created by unequal distribution of resources and power. Understanding these perspectives helps us analyze the complexities of social stratification and work towards creating a more equitable society.