Social structure (also referred to as a social system) is a system in which people forming the society are organized by a patterns of prelationships.
Social structure presents an idea that society is grouped into structures with different functions, meanings or purposes. Family, religion, law, economy and class are all social structures. This is related to the idea of "social stratification," which refers to the idea that society is separated into different strata, according to social distinctions such as a race, class and gender. Social treatment of persons within various social structures can be understood as related to their placement within the various social strata.
For example, some argue that men and women who have otherwise equal qualifications receive different treatment in the workplace because of their gender. Others note that individuals are sometimes viewed as having different essential qualities based on their race and ethnicity, regardless of their individual qualities. When examined, these social distinctions are often considered stereotypes based on prejudice. However, these social distinctions often go unexamined because they appear to be the result of social structures rather than prejudice.
Some believe that social structure is naturally developed. It may be caused by larger system needs, such as the need for labor, management, professional and military classes, or by conflicts between groups, such as competition among political parties or among elites and masses. Others believe that this structuring is not a result of natural processes, but is socially constructed. It may be created by the power of elites who seek to retain their power, or by economic systems that place emphasis upon competition or cooperation.
A social system can be viewed as composed of the economic system, law system, political system, cultural system, etc.