Social status

Social status definition means a measurement of a social value.[1][2] Some writers have also referred to a socially valued role or category a person occupies as a "status" (e.g., gender, race, having a criminal conviction, etc.).[3] Status is based in beliefs about who members of a society believe holds comparatively more or less social value.[4] By definition, these beliefs are broadly shared among members of a society. As such, people use status hierarchies to allocate resources, leadership positions, and other forms of power. In doing so, these shared cultural beliefs make unequal distributions of resources and power appear natural and fair, supporting systems of social stratification.[5] Status hierarchies appear to be universal across human societies, affording valued benefits to those who occupy the higher rungs, such as better health, social approval, resources, influence, and freedom.[2]

Status hierarchies depend primarily on the possession and use of status symbols. These are cues people use to determine how much status a person holds and how they should be treated.[6] Such symbols can include the possession of socially valuable attributes, like being conventionally beautiful or having a prestigious degree. Other status symbols include wealth and its display through conspicuous consumption.[7] Status in face-to-face interaction can also be conveyed through certain controllable behaviors, such as assertive speech, posture,[8] and emotional displays.[9]


Some perspectives on status emphasize its relatively fixed and fluid aspects. Ascribed statuses are fixed for an individual at birth, while achieved status is determined by social rewards an individual acquires during his or her lifetime as a result of the exercise of ability and/or perseverance.[10] Examples of ascribed status include castes, race, and beauty among others. Meanwhile, achieved statuses are akin to one's educational credentials or occupation: these things require a person to exercise effort and often undergo years of training. The term master status has been used to describe the status most important for determining a person's position in a given context.[11][12]

Other perspectives, like status characteristics theory, eschew the idea of a master status (in the sense of a social attribute that has an out-sized effect on one's position across contexts).[13] Broadly, theoretical research finds that status arising from membership in social categories is attenuated by having oppositely valued task ability or group memberships (e.g., a black woman with a law degree).[14] For instance, with respect to gender, experimental tests in this theoretical tradition have repeatedly found experimental evidence that women exhibit highly gendered deference behaviors only in the presence of men.[15][16][17] Other research finds that even the interactional disadvantages suffered by possessing a mental illness are attenuated when such people are also highly skilled on whatever task faces a group of people.[13] Although for disadvantaged groups, status disadvantage is not completely negated by positively valued information, their social status does not depend predominantly on any particular group membership. As such, research in this program has yet to identify a social characteristic that operates like a robust trans-situational master status.

Researchers in social network analysis have shown that one's affiliations can also be a source of status. Several studies document that being popular [18] or demonstrating dominance over peers [19] increases a person's status. Network studies of firms also find that organizations derive their own status in market contexts from the status of their affiliates, like corporate partners and investors.[1]