Global Stratification



Global stratification—inequality between nations, based on wealth and power—can have an enormous impact on people's chances for work, political representation, health and life expectancy, and quality of life. Sociologists are interested in the structural causes of stratification, particularly persistent stratification and poverty. There are several competing theories of global stratification that propose causes and consequences of these the issues. Most sociologists think about global stratification in terms of the relationships between core nations, semiperiphery nations, and periphery nations. High-income core nations control global markets and wield power over periphery (low-income) nations and semiperiphery nations. These terms and concepts come from dependency theory and world-systems theory, two closely related approaches to analyzing global stratification. World-systems theory expanded on dependency theory. Both of these theories reject many of the premises of modernization theory, which focuses on how culture influences a nation’s economy. State-centered theory proposes strong government intervention and regulation as key methods to help poor countries change their political and economic position. All of these theories consider questions of global poverty, including factors that create and maintain poverty within countries and inequality between nations.

At A Glance

  • Global stratification refers to the inequalities of countries around the world.
  • The terms first world, second world, and third world were proposed in the context of the Cold War.
  • Core nations control global markets and use the resources and labor of periphery and semiperiphery nations.
  • Dependency theory argues that high-income nations exploit the cheap labor and natural resources of poorer nations to maintain their wealth.
  • Modernization theory suggests that cultural values impact a nation's economy.
  • Market-oriented theories assume that the best possible economic consequences will result if individuals are free to make their own economic decisions, uninhibited by governmental constraint.
  • State-centered theory argues that government can and should intervene to shape approaches to ending global poverty and stratification.
  • Global poverty is influenced by factors including technology, population growth, cultural patterns, social stratification, gender inequality, and global power relationships.