All societies have some system of social stratification. They may be categorized as:
- Open Societies
- Closed Societies
In open society, certain inequalities may exist, but individuals have the opportunity to move up to a higher social class or down to a lower social class. (A truly open society, however, is an ideal type, one that exists in theory only.) Within this system, individuals can move from one class to another through hard work, demonstrated unit, luck, or marriage, their status is thus said to be achieved. The United States has an open society system, not without barriers to be overcome.
Several disadvantages and liabilities accompany with open societies which is the reason to increase mobility.
- Some individuals who compete for high social status simply do not possess sufficient ability and may experience a feeling of loss and frustration.
- Those who can compete may feel they are giving up their principles, reducing the time spent with their families, or surrendering other values in order to devote more energy to achieving higher status.
- Once a person reaches a goal, he/she may experience downward mobility:
- Persons who move from a lower to a higher social class may change their interests and behavioral patterns, thereby losing some of their friends
In closed societies, a person's social status is assigned at birth and set for life with no possibility of moving either up or down. This condition is referred to as ascribed status. A caste stratification system, where individuals cannot freely move from one level to another, is an example of a closed stratification system. A person born into a particular caste must remain in it for life. Intermarriages between members of castes are forbidden. The caste system of India which was officially abolished by the government in 1949, was basic part of life for 2500 years.
Of the four main castes, the highest was Brahmin (consisting of the scholars and the priests), and the lowest, the Harijan. The Harijans were the outcasts of society, and they are still often referred to as the untouchables. So low were they one the social ladder that even to be touched by their shadow required purification.