Social Stratification

Course Provider:  Colin Mills


The paper introduces students to contemporary research on social stratification, so that they are able to apply advanced concepts and techniques to their own research problems.

Rubric: The major forms of social stratification; their relation to economic and political institutions. The course will concentrate mainly on industrial societies; the structure of social inequality; prestige hierarchies and status structures; class formation; social mobility; processes of ‘social selection’ and status attainment; social stratification and sub-cultural variations. Social stratification in relation to social integration, conflict and change, with special reference to industry and politics.

This course examines the central debates about stratification and social mobility in contemporary societies. For example, what explains the sharp rise in income inequality in recent decades? Why has the gender gap in educational attainment disappeared? How much inequality is there between countries, and is global income inequality growing or shrinking? Are social classes becoming less relevant in modern societies? How do class advantages and disadvantages get passed from parents to children? In what sense can Britain be said to be a meritocracy? How does cultural inequality map onto social inequality? Students are introduced to the central concepts and theories, the key methodological issues in stratification research, and the main empirical results.


On completing this course satisfactorily, students should:

  • have a thorough understanding of the empirical results in contemporary stratification research;
  • understand how methodological issues in stratification research are related to theoretical concepts and substantive questions;
  • be able to relate sociological stratification research with that done by economists and psychologists.


Eight classes in Hilary Term. Students are expected to write four short essays (of no more than 1500 words each).


One three-hour unseen examination in Trinity Term.


  • Arrow, K., S. Bowles and S. Darlauf, eds. (2000) Meritocracy and Economic Inequality, Princeton University Press.
  • Bowles, S., H. Ginits and M. Osborne Groves, eds. (2005) Unequal Chances: Family Background and Economic Success, Princeton University Press.
  • Wright, E.O. ed. (2005) Approaches to Class Analysis, Cambridge University Press.
  • Devlin, B. et al. eds. (1997) Intelligence, Genes and Success, Copernicus.
  • Grusky, D.B. ed. (2008) Social Stratification, 3nd ed, Westview Press.
  • Goldthorpe, J.H. (1987) Social Mobility and Class Structure in Modern Britain, 2nd ed, Clarendon Press.
  • Marshall, G., A. Swift and S. Roberts (1997) Against the Odds? Oxford University Press.
  • Firebaugh, G. (2003) The New Geography of Global Income Inequality, Harvard University Press.