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Study Notes

Classic Texts: Davis & Moore "Some Principles of Stratification" 1945


Last updated 23 Apr 2019

These functionalist sociologists explored how society ensures that the right people perform the right roles. They argue in favour of stratification.

Davis & Moore argue that there need to be strata - or classes - of people with different power and pay, in order to ensure the best best candidates get the most important jobs. This, they argue, is what ensures meritocracy.

They argued that, for society to function properly, all jobs and roles in society needed to be done by somebody. It was important that they were done by people most capable of doing the job or most suited to it. Where appropriate it was important that people underwent the necessary training to be able to do the job and it was important that people took the job seriously and did it properly.

To achieve this, they argue, society pays more for the jobs that are more functionally important, require more training or require more hard work/effort. As such, the rewards provide the incentive for talented and/or hardworking individuals to make the effort to do the difficult and responsible jobs. They argued that it was important that there were unequal rewards. If you could get paid just as much without undergoing the training or without the hard work and effort or exceptional talent, people may make a rational decision to perform "easier" roles. With the unequal rewards - and privileges - attached to the most important roles, ambitious individuals would compete with each other to get those rewards.

There are a lot of criticisms of Davis & Moore's conclusions. First of all, it is not clear that the most functionally-important jobs really do get the highest pay. Who determines that a merchant banker IS more important than a childcare worker or a nurse? When some industries are challenged about very high salaries (e.g. banking, broadcasting or sport) the explanation is usually that they need high pay, bonuses, etc. in order to attract the best talent. However, while it's clear that some people are really good at football, it is less clear that buying and selling shares, for instance, really requires exceptional talent. There are certain qualities people might have that will mean they are more suited to the job than others, but that is also true of jobs that command much smaller salaries.

Also, other criteria might influence people in their choice of careers, not just pay (e.g. job satisfaction, leisure time, work/life balance, etc.) Would we get better politicians (for example) if we paid them more? Or might it even be more effective to pay them less, so it was clear they were motivated by something other than just a pay cheque?

Marxists would strongly disagree with Davis & Moore over the idea that stratification is meritocratic and fair. They argue that social mechanisms, such as education, ensure that class inequality is reproduced from generation to generation, with the children of the ruling class growing up to be ruling class themselves, and the children of the working class growing up to be working class themselves.

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