Social Stratification: The Davis-Moore Thesis

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There are several functional consequences of inequality in society as a whole. Social inequalities in society are often based off of uncontrollable factors, such as race, gender, inheritance, and resources available to the individual. Because these factors are uncontrollable but are still dictated by society to have a certain value, society may lose the benefit of highly skilled individuals (Barber, 1957). Furthermore, creating an artificial caste system ensures that certain groups of people will not succeed in the society, so long as the creators of the caste system remain in power. Finally, this value decreases motivation to strive for success on an individual level (Huaco 1966). Natural competition drives society, and with artificial limits dictated by uncontrollable factors as the determining quality by which we judge value, the society in question will not grow or develop.

For example, the Davis-Moore Thesis determines that all individuals have some knowledge or capability to learn a topic such as medicine. Those who practice medicine are paid high salaries depending on scarcity of specialists in their chosen field. This theory dictates that the reward, such as high pay, should be because the job is highly functional in the society, and because there are few who can do this job (Hauhart, 2003). Thus, nurses who receive less education and who are less specialized than a doctor make less money. In contrast, teachers are highly valuable at all levels in society, but are paid significantly less than professional athletes (Jonathan, 2016). Though every individual has some knowledge of a given topic or field, those jobs the society deems most important are to be the most highly rewarded.

The theory has many fallacies. Determining that an individual is qualified based on the rewards chosen by society that they have, such as money or a position of power, assumes that their abilities are inherent rather than merited. Furthermore, the theory does not clarify which positions are worth more in society, yet states that all societies must have these positions in order to function. These positions are merely assumed that they are more valuable based on their level of the rewards society gives them. Structural inequalities, such as family wealth or power, are contributing factors to an individual’s success or failure (Tumin, 1953). Other societal factors, such as cultural practices or social networking, also are determining factors in an individual’s ability to succeed in society.

The Davis-Moore Thesis has received many criticisms for its view on social stratification and functional inequality. It does not take into consideration uncontrollable factors, such as race or monetary ability. Instead, it views those in power as being the most qualified to be there, based the values placed on artificially important valuables such as money or ancestry. Ultimately, determining what positions are more valuable and ensuring that the rewards are great for those positions, does not occur in society today. Functional inequality, particularly due to an artificial value and rewards system, is detrimental to our society as a whole. 



Barber, B. (1957). Social stratification: A comparative analysis of structure and process. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

Jonathan, J. B. (2016), The unfulfillable promise of meritocracy: Three lessons and their implications for justice in education, Social Justice Research. (29) 1, pp 14–34. Retrieved from

Hauhart, R. (2003). The Davis-Moore Theory of Stratification: the life course of a socially constructed classic. The American Sociologist, 34.

Huaco, G. A. (1966). The Functionalist Theory of Stratification: Two decades of controversy. Retrieved from

Tumin, M. M. (1953). Some principles of stratification: A critical analysis. American Sociological Review.