What Is Occupational Stratification?

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In sociology, occupational stratification refers to an area of research within the larger field of social stratification. In essence, occupational stratification refers to how factors such as gender, race and social class play a role in the kinds of work people perform and how occupations reflect class, race or gender.

Race and Class

A number of factors cause, or at least facilitate, occupational stratification. Structural factors in a society, such as slavery in the United States, can lead to stratification. Slavery cut African-Americans off from the education system and wealth accumulation for centuries. Wealth accumulation functions as a substitute for formal social classes in the U.S. by providing the means to acquire better education and more valuable social networks. Better education and social networks provide access to more-prestigious and lucrative occupations. People with minimal education typically work as manual or semi-skilled labor, which pays less and offers little prestige, but African-Americans and Hispanics with college educations earn significantly less than whites.


Gender inequality also creates occupational stratifications, such as the difficulty qualified women face in securing executive positions. Some occupations also break along gender lines. Men hold the majority of jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Women hold the majority of jobs in areas such as teaching elementary school and nursing. It should be noted that career fields dominated by women typically pay less and receive less respect. Men who enter these fields also tend to enjoy better pay and more rapid advancement than women, a trend called “the glass escalator.”