Gorean society has a firmly established Caste System and almost all Free Persons belong to a Caste. The Caste system is a vital component of civilized Gorean society. In its most basic form, a Caste is your profession though there is much more involved than that.
Your Caste defines your codes of conduct, generally limits those you interact with, sets your place within the Gorean hierarchy, and so much more. Your Caste defines much of who you are on Gor, far more than any job on Earth ever would.
Caste is primarily governed by birth. Children take on the caste of their father. If the mother does not share the caste of the father, there might be a problem if their Free Companionship ended. In this case, it makes sense that the children would remain with the father as the children belong to his caste. Caste is far too important a matter to let the children go off with someone not of their caste. If mother and father shared caste, then the children could go with either parent. The books though do not make clear what happens to children when a Free Companionship ends.
The Caste system has little upward mobility though the opportunity does exist. Changing your Caste is generally not an easy task. Free Companionship is one method for free women to change their caste. Normally, relationships remain within the same caste. But, if of mixed caste, the woman can keep her own caste or take her partner's caste. This can serve to raise her caste. Generally, a woman would not change her Caste to a lower one. Though her Caste changed, the woman could not fully practice her new Caste until she had been properly trained and met all other prerequisites. Another way for man or woman to change is their caste is through a showing or lack of ability. This can serve to either raise or lower your caste. To lower your Caste through a lack of ability, the High Council of the Caste would have to make that decision. To raise your caste or willingly change caste, the High Council of the city must approve the change, based on your qualifications for the new Caste and the willingness of the new Caste to accept you.
Women are promoted and demoted by the same criteria as men though it varies from city to city. To most Goreans though, it is unthinkable to alter their caste. Most Goreans are proud of their caste, even peasants and laborers. It is recognized that all, or at least most, castes perform necessary, useful or commendable tasks. Their skills are appreciated by others and not generally looked down on. Each caste views itself as special in some way. Each Caste has its place and worth in Gorean society. Metal Workers state: "Where would the dwellers of cities be without us?" (Dancer of Gor, p.293) This is a way of saying that their skills are essential for civilization. Even the lowest Caste, the Peasants, consider themselves the "Ox on which the Home Stone Rests." They are the ones that provide the food for all other Castes.
Castes are divided into High Castes and Low Castes. There are only five High Castes and include Initiates, Scribes, Builders, Physicians and Warriors. Each has its own color, respectively white, blue, yellow, green, red, which is also their ranking of order of importance. The High Castes elect the Administrator and Council of a city for stated terms.
There are subcastes of some of these castes. For example, cartographers and lawyers belong to the Caste of Scribes. The Lower Castes includes all the other established castes. These includes such castes as assassins, bakers, bleachers, carriers of wood (woodsmen), charcoal makers, cloth worker, cosmeticians, dyers, goat-keepers, growers of rence, leather workers, metal workers, musicians, peasants, potters, saddle makers, singers (poets), smiths, tarn keepers, vintners, and weavers. There are many more castes and some subcastes. These castes are also ranked in order of their importance with peasants at the bottom of the ranking order.
Belonging to a Caste also gives you certain privileges. Charity is administered through the caste structure. Goreans do not favor begging and some even view it as an insult. When charity is in order, the caste or clan comes to the rescue. Caste Sanctuary, the protection of caste members in times of need, is another privilege. A Caste protects its own members and they form a cohesive unity. Caste rights are a matter of birth and you are entitled to them automatically, even if you never practice your caste work.
The caste system is vital to the proper functioning of Gorean society. The caste system contributes considerably to the stability of society. It reduces competitive chaos, social and economic, and prevents the draining of intelligence and ambition into a small number of envied, prestigious occupations. By making each Caste important and instilling an attitude that the good of the Caste outweighs individual ambitions, people tend to remain in their Caste. Gorean society is not a battle over climbing a social ladder.