Sociology Index


Social status is the position of a person or group, within the society. Social status can be earned by own achievement, known as achieved status or achieved social status. One can also be placed in the stratification system by their inherited position, known as ascribed status or ascribed social status. In North America, achieved statuses outside of the family are reinforced while ascribed ones are generally rejected. 'Social Status' is a position in a social structure regulated by norms and usually ranked according to power and prestige. Social status differs from class in that it is a measure of a person's social standing or social honour in a community. Social status is the honor or prestige attached to one's position in society. Social status also refers to a rank or position that one holds in a group, for example son or daughter.

Alternatively, one can be placed in the stratification system by their inherited position, which is called ascribed status. Ascribed statuses can also be defined as those that are fixed for an individual at birth. Individuals who share the same social class may have very divergent social status. For example, people's status is affected by ethnic origin, gender and age as well as their level of recognition in the community. Specific behaviors associated with social stigma can also affect social status. The most important status for an individual is known as master status.

How Is Social Status Determined?

Social status is our relative social position within a group, while a role is the part our society expects us to play in a given status. A person may have the social status of father or mother in his or her family. Because of this status, he or she is expected to fulfill a role for his or her children that in most societies requires him or her to nurture, educate, guide, and also protect them.

Some perspectives on social status emphasize its fixed and fluid aspects. Ascribed status is 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 his or her ability and perseverance.

Examples of ascribed status include caste, race, and beauty among others. Meanwhile, achieved statuses are akin to one's educational credentials or occupation. The term Master Status has been used to describe the status most important for determining a person's position in a given context. Statuses based on inborn characteristics, such as ethnicity, are called ascribed statuses, while statuses that individuals gained through their own efforts are called achieved statuses.

Nobel Laureate economist, John Harsanyi, said that “apart from economic payoffs, social status seems to be the most important incentive and motivating force of social behavior.” Most sociologists use both the concepts of class and status to describe the systems of social stratification (the way individuals are ranked in various hierarchies of income, wealth, authority and power) found in societies.

Social status is evolutionary as opposed to formed out of culture. The higher someone’s social status the greater access to people and resources they have. Social status hierarchy depends on the environment people are in, the groups they are a part of and the game being played.

Social mobility is more frequent in societies where achievement rather than ascription is the primary basis for social status. A role has been described as the active component of status. The individual, placed within a social status in a social structure, performs their role in a way shaped by normative expectations. While social status is statistically related to class it is common for individuals to have inconsistent class and status locations.

The Concept of Social Status
Much writing and research, both in social psychology and in sociology, has been concerned in recent years with relating other variables to social status. Raymond B. Cattell, Department of Psychology, Harvard University.