Hierarchy in society is associated with the process of stratification. According to one group of sociologist hierarchy prevailed in societies based on castes or estates and social –inequalities were legitimized as naturally given. Stratification on the other hand is a feature of modern industrial societies in which inequalities do exist but are not considered as part of natural or divine order.
Inequalities lead to stratification and stratification leads to hierarchy. When inequalities are arranged in an order, hierarchy is formed. Hierarchy denotes presence of multiple strata in society placed one above the other. Hierarchies can be present in many forms like caste hierarchy, class hierarchy, gender hierarchy and political hierarchy. More extensive the hierarchy, higher is the differentiation in the society. According to the functionalist scholars hierarchy is also a symbol of rising specialization and differentiation in the society. Post modernists say that western societies have a continuum of individualized inequalities and hence infinite strata and numerous hierarchies.
Hierarchy can be interpreted as the opposite of equality. Most modern democratic societies provide for equality of opportunity and hierarchy based on status is disapproved off. Rule of law and equality of law have given equal status to everyone. Modern democracies have facilitated equality in the political sphere but inequalities in social and economic sphere still exist. Hierarchy also results into unequal opportunities and unequal rewards. Unequal rewards further reinforce hierarchy. According to Marxist scholars this hierarchy is a design of the dominant classes. Hierarchy promotes conflict whereas functionalists argue that hierarchy is a symbol of division of labor in the society and is necessary for working of the social system.