The Important Distinctions between Class and Caste Stratifications in societies are:
(1) Caste Stratification is Inherited and Class Stratification is Mostly Achieved:
Caste is inherited, a child at birth takes the status of his parents and as such the latter attributed of his life cannot change what birth has given to him. Membership of a class does not depend on hereditary factors; rather depends on the worldly achievement of an individual.
(2) Caste Stratification is Static whereas Class Stratification is Dynamic:
Membership of caste cannot be left by an individual. Class on the other hand, is a flexible system of social division. The child at birth belongs to the caste to which his or her parents belong. In case of class also, a child belongs to the class of his parents. However, in latter life his own attributes which are mostly the results of his worldly achievements determine the status and class of an individual.
He may climb to a higher class, he may slip into a lower one or he may remain stationary in the same class, he may slip into a lower one or he may remain stationary in the same class, in which he was born. Caste, on the other hand, remains unaffected by any of those things.
(3) Caste Stratification is Endogamous whereas Class Stratification is not Endogamous:
The choice of marriage partners in caste system is strictly endogamous. Members have to marry within their own groups. If an individual marries outside his own group or caste boundaries, he is treated as outcaste.
No such restrictions exist in class system at least in their rigid form. A wealthy person may generally prefer to marry in a wealthy family but he may without being out-casted from the wealthy class can marry with a poor partner.
(4) Caste Stratification is rigid while Class Stratification is Flexible:
Caste system of social stratification, in order to preserve its closed characteristic and rigidity placed many secondary restrictions in the conducts of its members.
These restrictions are meant to keep the solidarity of a particular class and at the same time the nature of the restrictions act as distinguishing features of that caste. Free association of different castes is checked. A class does not place restrictions on the conduct of its individual members.
(5) Caste Occupations are Traditional whereas Class Occupations are Optional:
The caste, in the past, was generally associated with common traditional mode of occupation and hence the occupational opportunities in caste system are limited. Class allows its members to adopt the occupation of their likings.
(6) Caste is Religious, while Class is Secular:
Caste is frequently religious in its sanctions. “The rigid demarcation of caste could scarcely be maintained were it not for strong religious persuasions. The hold of religious belief, with its supernatural explanation of caste itself, its doctrine of elect and the ‘pale’, its attribution of a mystic cleanness and uncleanness, its installation of reverence and awe, and its overruling conception of the sacred and the profane, is essential to the continuance of the caste system.
The Hindu caste structure may have arisen out of the subjection or enslavement incidental to conquest and perhaps also out of the subordination of one endogamous community to another. But the power, prestige and pride of race thus engendered could rise to a caste system, with its social separation of groups that are not in fact set apart by any clear racial signs, only as the resulting situation was rationalised and made “eternal by religious myth”.
No religion is basically required for the class system itself. There is no restriction to the choice of any religion by individual members and each member is free to discard the religion at all.
While relative prestige of castes is fixed, that of classes is dynamic and mobile relative prestige of the different castes is well established and is jealously guarded. But in caste system despite the feeling superiority and inferiority, there is no intensely relative order of prestige.
People of different class may eat, drink and associate with each other. The money matter may come in the way, but there are no class orders to guide such association.
Caste stratification involves inherited superiority or inferiority. Against it, various classes get positions on the basis of acquired wealth and power in society. In the caste system, it is the hereditary equality or inequality that counts in social status but in the class system, it is the accumulation of money wealth and power that counts.
A Brahmin, for example, may be poor and under the employment of a person of a lower caste, it yet remains superior to him. Thus it follows that personal attributes, other than purely hereditary ones, do not count in the determination of caste system, whereas personal attributes determine the class belongings of a person.
The above points clearly bring out the difference between class stratification and caste stratification.