Social stratification refers to the categorization of members of society into different groups based on their social position or status. These groups are often arranged in a hierarchical order, with some individuals or groups enjoying higher status, power, and privileges than others. One theoretical perspective that seeks to explain the existence of social stratification is the functional theory.

What is Functional Theory of Social Stratification?

Functional theory of social stratification posits that social inequality exists because it serves a function in society. According to this theory, all societies have certain roles that need to be filled for the efficient functioning of the society as a whole. These roles require different levels of skills and knowledge, and some are more important and difficult than others.

To motivate individuals to fill these important roles, societies must offer incentives such as wealth, power, prestige, and other forms of status. This is where social stratification comes into play. The functional theory argues that by offering these rewards to those who occupy the most important positions in society and those who have worked hard to acquire valuable skills and knowledge, societies can ensure that these positions are filled by competent individuals who are motivated to perform their duties effectively.

Key Ideas in Functional Theory

Criticism of Functional Theory

While functional theory offers a compelling explanation for the existence of social stratification, it has been criticized for several reasons. Firstly, it assumes that all members of society have equal opportunities to acquire valuable skills and knowledge. However, in reality, some individuals may face barriers such as discrimination or lack of access to education or other resources that prevent them from achieving their full potential.

Secondly, functional theory assumes that the rewards offered by society are based solely on merit and achievement. However, in reality, there may be other factors such as family background or connections that influence an individual’s ability to acquire wealth, power, and prestige.

Finally, functional theory overlooks the negative consequences of social stratification such as poverty, crime, and social unrest. While offering incentives to fill important roles may be necessary for society’s efficient functioning, it is also important to consider how social inequality affects those who occupy lower positions in society.


In conclusion, functional theory provides a compelling explanation for why social stratification exists in societies around the world. However, it is important to recognize its limitations and consider alternative perspectives that take into account the negative consequences of social inequality. By understanding the various theoretical perspectives on social stratification, we can gain a deeper insight into how societies function and how we can work towards creating more equitable societies in which every individual has an equal opportunity to succeed.