Comparison between Karl Marx and Max Weber’s Social Stratification Theories

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Introduction

Social Stratification can be defined as the division of people into ranks in the society. Stratification in the society exists because the importance of positions in the society differs and because it is essential that competent people fill the most important positions. Karl Marx and Max Weber have been considered as influential theorists who analyzed society construction in regard to its economic conditions, especially on the issue of division of labor. They approached the problems of inequality and social class in different unique ways. Their theories impacted greatly on the development of sociological thought (Jackson, 2010). This paper presents Karl Marx and Max Weber’s theories of social stratification and compares the two theories in terms of their similarities and differences.

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Max Weber’s concept

According to Max Weber, class (economic situation), status (social honor and esteem) and party (social power) make up the society’s structure. He points out that the society falls into the three categories and that the three structures make up the society. Though he believes in the role that capital plays in power distribution, he also includes the shaping of class by economic inequality. Weber used three principles to determine class: when (1) several people have something in common, a casual component chances in their life, as long as (2) the component is solely represented by the economic interests in opportunities for income as well as possession of goods, and (3) is represented under labor markets or commodity conditions. Through the above principles, Weber shows that the choices an individual or community has in order to achieve a comfortable lifestyle determine a person’s class. Also, Weber believes that “property” or “lack of property” defines a class as a whole and property possession defines the class difference.

Property owners form the upper class, control the market and have privileged access to resources, while those who lack property form the lower-middle classes which provide labor in the market and have to follow societal rules that are made by the ruling class (Jackson, 2010). Weber believes in the relationship between power and wealth, and prestige and wealth.

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Power and Wealth

According to Weber, power (ability to get your way despite opposition) determines a person’s social class. Wealthy people are considered more powerful than poor people, and a person’s prestige can lead to power.

Prestige and Property

Weber argued that property can result in prestige, as people value wealth. Prestige can as well arise from the intellectual ability or athletic ability. If people are ready to pay for access to prestige, then the source of prestige can lead to wealth.

Karl Marx’s concept

Karl Marx based his argument on two classes of people in the modern society: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie is the people who own the means of production like equipment for producing wealth, factories and businesses. The proletariats are people who provide labor in the enterprises. Marx argues that the bourgeoisie in a capitalist society exploit workers. They pay them just enough to cater for their basic needs, and the workers without realizing that they are being exploited, have a false belief that they are well off. They think that they can trust their best to hold their best interests at heart.

Mark foresaw a worker’s revolution. Therefore, as the bourgeoisie grew richer, the proletariats would develop a sense of shared identity considering their similar experience of exploitation. They would then rise up in a global revolution and own the means of production, turning the world into a communist (Heller, 1987). No one would then control access to wealth as everything would be owned equally by everyone. Marx’s vision did not, however, become a reality. With increased modernization, the proletariats became more educated and acquired specific job skills that enabled them to achieve financial well-being. Instead of increased exploitation, they joined unions and were protected by labor laws. Tradespeople and skilled factory workers started earning salaries that were equivalent or higher than their middle-class counterparts.

Similarities

Both economics and labor create a force on the shaping of the society, and due to that, the two theorists developed unique theories on the formation of societies and reaction of individuals. Most people say that Weber and Marx both analyzed same ideas, but had different perspectives concerning them. The difference between the two of them is not the issue of division of labor but how the society acknowledges it and reacts to it. Max Weber perceives the capitalist system to be key to the progression of individuals and the society, while Karl Marx sees the division of labor as the beginning of all social conflict.

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Differences

Social Stratification

Both of them presented theories of social stratification that differ from each other

Class

Marx’s philosophy relays that the yardstick to eliminate a class is the means of production, while Weber bases a class on three important factors, which are, prestige, power and wealth.

Number of Classes

Karl Marx considers only two classes, while Max Weber bases a person’s class on their wealth, prestige and power

Revolutions

Marx’s philosophy foresaw communist revolutions, which was not the case with Weber’s philosophy.

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Improving Social Class

According to Marx, a person can only improve their social class by acquiring wealth, while Weber believes that prestige and power contribute to a person’s social class.

Conclusion

Max Weber presents three distinct dimensions that determine a person’s social class, which cannot be classified into a single concept of class. It is almost impossible to specify boundaries between various groups hence a highly fragmented stratification system. For instance, women are a status group with so much in common, but given their life chances and experiences, they are very different from one another (Heller, 1987). Therefore, neither of the two theories has adequately reflected the distinction of social class.

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Did you like this sample?
  1. Heller, C. (1987). Structured social inequality. New York: Macmillan.
  2. Jackson, J. (2010). Social stratification. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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