Achieved status

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Achieved status is a concept developed by the anthropologist Ralph Linton for a social position that a person can acquire on the basis of merit and is earned or chosen. It is the opposite of ascribed status and reflects personal skills, abilities, and efforts. Examples of achieved status are being an Olympic athlete, a criminal, or a college professor.


Status is important sociologically because it comes with a set of rights, obligations, behaviors, and duties that people occupying a certain position are expected or encouraged to perform. Those expectations are referred to as roles. For instance, the role of a professor includes teaching students, answering their questions, and being impartial and appropriate.[ clarification needed ]

Compared to ascribed status

Ascribed status is a position assigned to individuals or groups based on traits beyond their control, such as sex, race, or parental social status. It is usually associated with closed societies. Achieved status is distinguished from ascribed status by virtue of being earned.

Many positions are a mixture of achievement and ascription. For instance, a person who has achieved the status of being a physician is more likely to have the ascribed status of being born into a wealthy family. That is usually associated with open societies or social-class societies.

Social mobility

Social mobility refers to one's ability to move their status either up or down the social stratification system, compared with their family's status in early life. Some people with achieved status have improved their position in the social system by their own merit and achievements.

Someone may also have achieved status that decreases their position within the social system, such as by becoming a notorious criminal. A society in which people's position in that society can change by their actions, by increasing or decreasing, can be referred to as an open system. A closed system society allows less social mobility.

Cultural capital

Cultural capital is a concept, developed by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. It can refer to both achieved and ascribed characteristics, which are desirable qualities (either material or symbolic) that contribute to one's social status: any advantages that a person has and give him or her a higher status in society.

It may include high expectations, forms of knowledge, skill, or education.

Parents provide children with cultural capital, the attitudes and knowledge that make the educational system a comfortable familiar place in which they can succeed easily. There are other types of capital as well.

Social capital refers to one's membership in groups, relationships, and networks. It can also have a significant impact on achievement level.


Industrialization has led to a vast increase in the possible standard of living for the average person but also made that increase necessary. For the productivity of the average worker to rise, he or she had to receive far more education and training, which successively made the average worker much less replaceable and thus more powerful. Hence, it became necessary to satisfy workers' demands for a larger share.


According to the sociologist Rodney Stark, few Americans believe that coming from a wealthy family or having political connections is necessary to get ahead. In contrast, many people in other industrialized nations think those factors are necessary for advancement. Americans are more likely than the people in those nations to rate "hard work" as very important for getting ahead. Most nations value hard work, but Italians, for example, are hardly more likely to rate it as very important than they are to think that political connections are needed.


People with a lower income will generally be a better example of moving up in the social stratification and achieving status. That holds to be evident in most cases because those who accrue a lower income usually have the motivation to achieve a greater status through their own ambitions and hard work. Those of higher income are typically the result of achieving status.[ clarification needed ]

In other cases, the people with higher incomes may have unjustly acquired that position or were ascribed their status and income (such as monarchs, family-run businesses, etc.).

Those without the privilege of ascribing their status generally have the greater motivation of achieving their own status. The general economic well-being of the society in which they live also tends to be another factor in their status and the extent that they are able to achieve their status.

For example, Americans are less likely than people in other industrialized nations to object to current income variances. According to Rodney Stark, in 1992, only 27% of Americans strongly agreed that income disparities in their country were too large. In contrast, more than half of Russians, Italians, and Bulgarians agreed with that statement.

Stratification systems around the world

In all societies, a person's social status is the result of both ascribed and achieved characteristics. Societies differ markedly on several dimensions in that process: the attributes that are used to assign status, the relative importance of ascribed or achieved attributes, the overall potential for social mobility, the rates of mobility that actually occur, and the barriers to particular subgroups enjoying upward mobility.

Cultural differences around the world

Medieval Europe

One's status in medieval Europe was primarily based on ascription. People born into the noble class were likely to keep a high position and people born of peasants were likely to stay in a low position. This political system is known as feudalism and does not allow for much social mobility.

Feudalism in Latin America

Bolivia used to have newspaper advertisements that claimed to have land, animals and peasants for sale. The peasants were not necessarily slaves but placed in their social class and required to work because they were bound to the land on which they lived and that they farmed.[ clarification needed ] That sort of social interaction is based mainly on the people's strong belief of tradition and to uphold the actions of the past. In 1971, Ernesto Laclau addressed the argument of Latin America was feudalist or capitalist. He determined that the social system was very different from the capitalist system in Europe and the United States and so Latin America would be more closely related to having a feudalist approach to social interaction.

Caste system

The formation of a hierarchy differs from the polarities of both given and achieved status. [1] In caste systems, ascription is the overpowering basis for status. Traditional society in South Asia and other parts of the world such as Egypt, India, and Japan were composed of castes. Each group was limited to certain occupations. Low-paying occupations such as collecting garbage were reserved for one caste, whose members were excluded from holding any other occupation. Correspondingly, highly-skilled occupations, such as being a priest or a goldsmith, were reserved for another caste.

However, some people managed through talent and luck to rise above their given caste. For example, great aptitude as a soldier was often a way to reach a higher status.

See also

Related Research Articles

Social class Hierarchical social stratification

A social class is a set of concepts in the social sciences and political theory centered on models of social stratification which occurs in class society, in which people are grouped into a set of hierarchical social categories, the most common being the upper, middle and lower classes.

Ascribed characteristics, as used in the social sciences, refers to properties of an individual attained at birth, by inheritance, or through the aging process. The individual has very little, if any, control over these characteristics. Typical examples include race, ethnicity, gender, caste, height, and appearance. The term is apt for describing characteristics chiefly caused by "nature" and for those chiefly caused by "nurture", see: Nature versus nurture.

A role is a set of connected behaviors, rights, obligations, beliefs, and norms as conceptualized by people in a social situation. It is an expected or free or continuously changing behavior and may have a given individual social status or social position. It is vital to both functionalist and interactionist understandings of society. Social role posits the following about social behavior:

  1. The division of labor in society takes the form of the interaction among heterogeneous specialized positions, we call roles.
  2. Social roles included appropriate and permitted forms of behavior and actions that recur in a group, guided by social norms, which are commonly known and hence determine the expectations for appropriate behavior in these roles, which further explains the place of a person in the society.
  3. Roles are occupied by individuals, who are called actors.
  4. When individuals approve of a social role, they will incur costs to conform to role norms, and will also incur costs to punish those who violate role norms.
  5. Changed conditions can render a social role outdated or illegitimate, in which case social pressures are likely to lead to role change.
  6. The anticipation of rewards and punishments, as well as the satisfaction of behaving pro-socially, account for why agents conform to role requirements.
Social status Position within social structure

Social status is a measurement of social value. More specifically, it refers to the relative level of respect, honor, assumed competence, and deference accorded to people, groups, and organizations in a society. Some writers have also referred to a socially valued role or category a person occupies as a "status". Status is based in beliefs about who members of a society believe holds comparatively more or less social value. 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. 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.

Social class in the United States Idea of grouping Americans by some measure of social status

Social class in the United States refers to the idea of grouping Americans by some measure of social status, typically economic, however it could also refer to social status or location. The idea that American society can be divided into social classes is disputed, and there are many competing class systems.

The term social order can be used in two senses: In the first sense, it refers to a particular system of social structures and institutions. Examples are the ancient, the feudal, and the capitalist social order. In the second sense, social order is contrasted to social chaos or disorder and refers to a stable state of society in which the existing social structure is accepted and maintained by its members. The problem of order or Hobbesian problem, which is central to much of sociology, political science and political philosophy, is the question of how and why it is that social orders exist at all.

Social mobility is the movement of individuals, families, households, or other categories of people within or between social strata in a society. It is a change in social status relative to one's current social location within a given society. This movement occurs between layers or tiers in an open system of social stratification. Open stratification systems are those in which at least some value is given to achieved status characteristics in a society. The movement can be in a downward or upward direction. Markers for social mobility, such as education and class, are used to predict, discuss, and learn more about an individual or a group's mobility in society.

Class society or class-based society is an organizing principle society in which ownership of property, means of production, and wealth is the determining factor of the distribution of power, in which those with more property and wealth are stratified higher in the society and those without access to the means of production and without wealth are stratified lower in the society. In a class society, at least implicitly, people are divided into distinct social strata, commonly referred to as social classes or castes. The nature of class society is a matter of sociological research. Class societies exist all over the globe in both industrialized and developing nations. Class stratification is theorized to come directly from capitalism. In terms of public opinion, nine out of ten people in a Swedish survey considered it correct that they are living in a class society.

Ascribed status is a term used in sociology that refers to the social status a person is assigned at birth or assumed involuntarily later in life. It is a position that is neither earned nor chosen but assigned. These positions are occupied regardless of efforts or desire. These rigid social designators remain fixed throughout an individual's life and are inseparable from the positive or negative stereotypes that are linked with one's ascribed statuses.

Social stratification population with similar characteristics in a society

Social stratification refers to a society's categorization of its people into groups based on socioeconomic factors like wealth, income, race, education, ethnicity, gender, occupation, social status, or derived power. As such, stratification is the relative social position of persons within a social group, category, geographic region, or social unit.

Social position is the position of an individual in a given society and culture. A given position may belong to many individuals. Social position influences social status. Social position can help to identify a person's position within the social hierarchy in a society.

Status inconsistency is a situation where an individual's social positions have both positive and negative influences on his or her social status. For example, a teacher may have a positive societal image which increases their status but may earn little money, which simultaneously decreases their status.

Sociology of education The study of how public institutions and individual experiences affect education and its outcomes

The sociology of education is the study of how public institutions and individual experiences affect education and its outcomes. It is mostly concerned with the public schooling systems of modern industrial societies, including the expansion of higher, further, adult, and continuing education.

Life chances is a social science theory of the opportunities each individual has to improve their quality of life. The concept was introduced by German sociologist Max Weber in the 1920s. It is a probabilistic concept, describing how likely it is, given certain factors, that an individual's life will turn out a certain way. According to this theory, life chances are positively correlated with one's socioeconomic status.

In sociology, status attainment or status attainment theory deals largely with one's position in society, or class. Status attainment is affected by both achieved factors, such as educational attainment, and ascribed factors, such as family income. It is achieved by a combination of parents' status and one's own efforts and abilities. The idea behind status attainment is that one can be mobile, either upwardly or downwardly, in the form of a class system.

The social structure of the United Kingdom has historically been highly influenced by the concept of social class, which continues to affect British society today.

Social inequality Uneven distribution of resources in a society

Social inequality occurs when resources in a given society are distributed unevenly, typically through norms of allocation, that engender specific patterns along lines of socially defined categories of persons. It is the differentiation preference of access of social goods in the society brought about by power, religion, kinship, prestige, race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, and class. Social inequality usually implies to the lack of equality of outcome, but may alternatively be conceptualized in terms of the lack of equality of access to opportunity. The social rights include labor market, the source of income, health care, and freedom of speech, education, political representation, and participation. Social inequality linked to economic inequality, usually described on the basis of the unequal distribution of income or wealth, is a frequently studied type of social inequality. Although the disciplines of economics and sociology generally use different theoretical approaches to examine and explain economic inequality, both fields are actively involved in researching this inequality. However, social and natural resources other than purely economic resources are also unevenly distributed in most societies and may contribute to social status. Norms of allocation can also affect the distribution of rights and privileges, social power, access to public goods such as education or the judicial system, adequate housing, transportation, credit and financial services such as banking and other social goods and services.

Ascription occurs when social class or stratum placement is primarily hereditary. In other words, people are placed in positions in a stratification system because of qualities beyond their control. Race, sex, age, class at birth, religion, ethnicity, species, and residence are all good examples of these qualities. Ascription is one way sociologists explain why stratification occurs.

Social transformation is a somewhat ambiguous term that has two broad definitions.

Homogamy is marriage between individuals who are, in some culturally important way, similar to each other. It is a form of assortative mating. The union may be based on socioeconomic status, class, gender, ethnicity, or religion, or age in the case of the so-called age homogamy.


  1. Japan's Invisible Race: Caste in Culture and Personality, p., George A. De Vos, Hiroshi Wagatsuma


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