Sociology Gender Stratification
Claudia Geist, Kyl Myers
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0138


Gender stratification refers to the social ranking, where men typically inhabit higher statuses than women. Often the terms gender inequality and gender stratification are used interchangeably. There are a variety of approaches to the study of gender stratification. Most of the research in this area focuses on differences between men’s and women’s life circumstances, broadly defined. Scholarly debates focus on which dimensions of inequalities are most relevant and the level at which inequalities are generated and maintained (i.e., individual, couple, family, group, or societal level). Researchers have been challenged to explore gender, race, and class inequalities from an intersectional perspective, rather than treating gender as independent of race and class. There is little acknowledgment of the heteronormativity that is present in gender stratification research. Perhaps that will change once data regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression becomes more widely available. In this section, we present key areas of gender stratification research. Gender stratification can be examined at the level of individual outcomes and interactions or with a macro perspective that compares indexes of gender inequalities across countries. Although welfare states research examines many aspects within and across societies, it provides important insights in how state policies can shape patterns of gender stratification. Gender inequality in the area of education, economic resources, and family are closely linked in individuals’ lives, but distinct strands of research have emerged and will be discussed separately. Although we provide examples of research noting gendered health disparities are outcomes of gender inequalities within societies, not all health research makes this connection. Research on crime as well as migration and citizenship has traditionally focused on men. Yet a recent shift to include women more explicitly and gender more broadly has great potential to inform other areas of research on gender stratification.

General Overviews

Feminist scholars, such as Joan Acker, have criticized “traditional” stratification research, which has mostly ignored gender altogether (Acker 2006). Crompton 2003 writes that a mere cultural approach to gender inequalities ignoring class is also flawed. Blumberg 1984 argues that economic dimensions of inequality are paramount, as they precede inequalities in other domains. Keister and Southgate 2012 posits that gender is often seen as one dimension of stratification. However, Risman 2004 and McCall 2005 argue for an intersectional approach where gender is analyzed across all dimensions. In addition to questions about which dimensions of inequality are important for stratification, the level at which to examine gender stratification is also a key aspect of scholarly debate. Some scholars compare men and women within couples, others men and women within societies, and West and Zimmerman 1987 makes a compelling argument that gender and, by extension, gender inequality is created in everyday interactions. Nevertheless, Blau, et al. 2006 points out that understanding contextual factors and their interactions with gender within organizational contexts are essential for a holistic understanding of gender stratification.

  • Acker, Joan. 2006. Class questions: Feminist answers. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

    This book illustrates the importance of and difficulty with integrating class analysis in feminist research. The book makes a strong argument that it is problematic, if not impossible, to examine class properly without also examining gender and race. A foundational work on intersectionality.

  • Blau, Francine D., Mary C. Brinton, and David B. Grusky, eds. 2006. The declining significance of gender? New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    This edited volume should be required for all sociology graduate students. Macro-level mechanisms (economics, organization, politics, and culture), shape gender stratification and our perception of gender inequality. All essays show how macro-level mechanisms and individual outcomes are linked and need to be considered jointly.

  • Blumberg, Rae Lesser. 1984. A general theory of gender stratification. Sociological Theory 2:23–101.

    DOI: 10.2307/223343

    Blumberg’s essay is a challenging read. The key argument is that women’s access to economic resources is crucial to achieving other forms of power. It provides rich anthropology and debunks the idea of inevitability of women’s dependence on male breadwinners.

  • Crompton, Rosemary. 2003. Class and gender beyond the “cultural turn.” Sociologia, Problemas e Práticas 42:9–24.

    Crompton provides a summary of the conflicts between economically oriented “class” research and the “normative/cultural” approach underlying gender research. She argues that a class orientation is crucial in gender research and should not be merely replaced by a new focus on sexuality.

  • Keister, Lisa A., and Darby E. Southgate. 2012. Inequality: A contemporary approach to race, class, and gender. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This textbook’s review of basic theoretical and empirical approaches to stratification research can serve as a primer before students move to understand the other readings included in this entry. Their discussion of the persistence of gender inequality in education, paid work, and within families is very accessible.

  • McCall, Leslie. 2005. The complexity of intersectionality. Signs 30:1771–1800.

    DOI: 10.1086/426800

    This is a classic work discussing the importance and challenges of intersectionality. This is not an “easy” read; rather, it is suitable for researchers seeking an understanding of different approaches for examining intersectional gender inequality. McCall’s is an appropriate text for advanced contemporary theory seminars.

  • Risman, Barbara. 2004. Gender as social structure. Gender & Society 18:429–450.

    DOI: 10.1177/0891243204265349

    Gender is more than one aspect along that we can measure inequalities. Risman suggests that an intersectional approach to studying inequalities that takes into account that individuals’ self-perceptions are nested within interactions, which themselves are nested in institutional settings. This is a must-read for anyone who examines gender inequality at any level.

  • West, Candace, and Don H. Zimmerman. 1987. Doing gender. Gender & Society 1:125–151.

    DOI: 10.1177/0891243287001002002

    This very influential article advances a new way of understanding how gender stratification is produced in everyday social interaction. This paper can be thought-provoking even for advanced undergraduates and illuminates how actions and interactions may be at the core of the persistence of gender inequalities at all levels.

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