The functionalist theory of social stratification is a sociological perspective that aims to explain the existence of social inequality in society. According to this theory, social stratification is necessary for the functioning and stability of society.

What is Social Stratification?

Social stratification refers to the way in which society is organized into different layers or strata. These layers are based on factors such as income, occupation, education, and social status. Individuals are ranked within these layers based on their position or status in relation to others.

The Basic Tenets of the Functionalist Theory

The functionalist theory of social stratification is based on several key tenets. Firstly, it argues that inequality is a natural and necessary feature of society. This means that some individuals will inevitably occupy higher positions than others.

Secondly, functionalists believe that social stratification is based on meritocracy. This means that individuals are rewarded based on their talents and abilities. Those who work hard and possess valuable skills are more likely to attain high-paying jobs and elevate their social status.

Finally, functionalists argue that social stratification serves a positive function in society. It helps to ensure that the most qualified individuals occupy the most important positions in society. This ensures that important tasks are carried out efficiently and effectively.

The Role of Education

Education plays a crucial role in the functionalist theory of social stratification. According to this perspective, education provides individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary to attain high-paying jobs and elevate their social status.

In addition, education also serves as a sorting mechanism for society. It helps to identify those individuals who possess the necessary skills and abilities to occupy important positions in society.

Critiques of Functionalist Theory

Despite its strengths, the functionalist theory has been subject to several critiques over time. One major critique is that it fails to account for the role of power in social stratification. Critics argue that those in positions of power are able to use their influence to maintain their status and prevent others from rising up the social ladder.

In addition, the functionalist theory has also been criticized for its emphasis on meritocracy. Critics argue that social mobility is not always based on merit, and that factors such as race, gender, and class can limit an individual’s ability to move up the social ladder.


In conclusion, the functionalist theory of social stratification provides a valuable perspective on the role of inequality in society. While it has its strengths, it is important to recognize its limitations and critiques. By understanding these limitations, we can work towards creating a more just and equitable society for all individuals.