One broad way of distinguishing between caste and class is to consider that a person might be able to change their class, while a caste cannot change their caste. In other words, class is most often determined by opportunity to get education, to make income and to move in different social, job related and housing circles. Caste is something that is physically or socially inherent to the person at birth and is expected to determine their opportunities for their lifetime, often with generations of people being permanently assigned to a caste.
In a caste, there are four major ways in which caste systems control a person’s options in life: type of occupation or work that the person may do; that they must marry within their own caste only, that they may socialize only within their caste, that they buy into the religious dogma or social ideology that establishes and reinforces the caste system.
With class, there are four major ways in which class can be limited or be changed to affect a person’s options in life:
The type, quality and level of education that a person can obtain, which determines their work opportunities in life. Beyond having a technical or academic education, there is the type of work the a person can do, considering their physical abilities, location, overt and covert discrimination, regulation and types of competition.
When the law and regulations, hiring opportunities and freedom to choose work are carried out in ways that are not unequally or unfairly restrictive, then class is not such an issue. In class systems, there may or may not be rewards for merit and performance that allow people to move from class to class based on their performance.
One new determinant is the ability to hype or to publicize oneself. With a celebrity culture, talent, skill or other qualities may not matter when a good set of circumstances, notoriety good publicity can launch an otherwise undeserving or unaccomplished person into opportunities that were once reserved for the best of artisans, crafts persons, public leaders, performers and so on.
There is also the freedom to move and the ability to make personal choices in life, lifestyle and occupation.
The complexity of true caste systems, such as the Indian caste system are enough to warrant a lifetime of study. But few want to consider the Catholic and other religions that restrict the roles of women and girls as caste systems. Some form of caste system is the bitter reality for many who live in even the most developed and democratic of countries, especially when they are trying to move into the next class level, to advance in their employment opportunities or to exercise their individual political or legal powers and rights.
Although caste systems have been officially outlawed in most of the world, there are plenty of people who live under them. There are also other ways in which governments and societies have used skin color, race, gender, religion, nationality and even the type of illegal cocaine that a person ingests in order to give legally and socially sanctioned, separate and unequal opportunity and treatment in life that has extended through generations of people.