Social stratification is the socioeconomic layering of society's members according to property, power, and prestige. Property is all the wealth, investments, deeded and titled properties, and other tangible sources of income. Power is the ability to get one's way even in the face of opposition to one's goals. Prestige is the degree of social honor attached with your position in society. Typically, those with lots of property tend to also have lots of power and social prestige. Structural mobility is mobility in social class that is attributable to changes in the social structure of a society at the larger social, not personal level. Sociologists who study stratification have identified open class systems and compared them to closed class systems.
An open class system is an economic system that has upward mobility, is achievement based, and allows social relations between the classes. The hierarchical social status of a person is achieved through their effort. Any status that is based on family background, ethnicity, gender, and religion, which is also known as "ascribed status," is less important. In an open class system, there is no distinct line between the classes, and there is a wide range of positions within each status level. Core industrial nations seem to have more of an ideal open class system than less industrialized countries, in which there are fewer opportunities for economic advancement. Figure 2
Compared with industrialized open systems, pre-industrial societies have mostly been found to be closed class systems where there is low social mobility. People in such societies may be confined to their ancestral occupations, and their social status is largely prescribed by status at birth. A society in which traditional or religious caste systems dominate, opportunity for social mobility is unlikely.
Achieved status is a position gained based on merit or achievement (used in an open system). An open system describes a society with mobility between different social classes. Individuals can move up or down in the social rankings; this is unlike closed systems, where individuals are set in one social position for life despite their achievements. Ascribed status is based on who a person is, not what they can do. In closed class systems, people tend to be ranked by ascribed status. When ascribed status is used to determine social position, fixed roles develop, such as those of lord and serf in feudal Europe. Roles are assigned at birth, and there is little change over one's lifetime. Social mobility is much more frequent in countries that use achievement as the basis for status.