Social status

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Social status is a measurement of a social value. [1] [2] 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" (e.g., gender, social class, ethnicity, having a criminal conviction, having a mental illness, 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]

Contents

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]

Determination

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]

In different societies

Whether formal or informal, status hierarchies are present in all societies. [2] In a society, the relative honor and prestige accorded to individuals depends on how well an individual is perceived to match a society's goals and ideals (e.g., being pious in a religious society). Status sometimes comes with attendant rights, duties, and lifestyle practices.

In modern societies, occupation is usually thought of as the main determinant of status, but other memberships or affiliations (such as ethnic group, religion, gender, voluntary associations, fandom, hobby) can have an influence. [20] [21] Achieved status, when people are placed in the stratification structure based on their individual merits or achievements, is thought to be reflective of modern developed societies. This image status can be achieved, for instance, through education, occupation, and marital status. Their place within the stratification structure is determined by society's standards, which often judges them on success in matching important values, like political power, academic acumen, and financial wealth.

In pre-modern societies, status differentiation is widely varied. In some cases it can be quite rigid, such as with the Indian caste system. In other cases, status exists without class and/or informally, as is true with some Hunter-Gatherer societies such as the Khoisan, and some Indigenous Australian societies. In these cases, status is limited to specific personal relationships. For example, a Khoisan man is expected to take his wife's mother quite seriously (a non-joking relationship), although the mother-in-law has no special "status" over anyone except her son-in-law—and only then in specific contexts.

Status maintains and stabilizes social stratification. Mere inequality in resources and privileges is likely to be perceived as unfair and thus prompt retaliation and resistance from those of lower status, but if some individuals are seen as better than others (i.e., have higher status), then it seems natural and fair that high-status people receive more resources and privileges. [22] Historically, Max Weber distinguished status from social class, [23] though some contemporary empirical sociologists combine the two ideas to create socioeconomic status or SES, usually operationalized as a simple index of income, education and occupational prestige.

In nonhuman animals

Social status hierarchies have been documented in a wide range of animals: apes, [24] baboons, [25] wolves, [26] cows/bulls, [27] hens, [28] even fish, [29] and ants. [30] Natural selection produces status-seeking behavior because animals tend to have more surviving offspring when they raise their status in their social group. [31] Such behaviors vary widely because they are adaptations to a wide range of environmental niches. Some social dominance behaviors tend to increase reproductive opportunity, [32] while others tend to raise the survival rates of an individual’s offspring. [33] Neurochemicals, particularly serotonin, [34] prompt social dominance behaviors without need for an organism to have abstract conceptualizations of status as a means to an end. Social dominance hierarchy emerges from individual survival-seeking behaviors.

Status inconsistency

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 (respect, prestige) which increases their status but may earn little money, which simultaneously decreases their status.

Inborn and acquired

Social status is often associated with clothing and possessions. Compare the foreman with a horse and high hat with the inquilino in picture. Image from 19th century rural Chile. Inquilinos.gif
Social status is often associated with clothing and possessions. Compare the foreman with a horse and high hat with the inquilino in picture. Image from 19th century rural Chile.

Statuses such as those based on inborn characteristics, such as ethnicity or royal heritage, are called ascribed statuses. A stigma (such as a physical deformity or mental illness) can also be an attribute a person has possessed since birth, but stigmas can also be acquired later in life. [3] Either way, stigmas generally result in lower status if known to others. [13]

Social mobility

Status can be changed through a process of social mobility wherein a person changes position within the stratification system. A move in social standing can be upward (upward mobility), or downward (downward mobility). Social mobility is more frequent in societies where achievement rather than ascription is valued.

Social stratification

Social stratification describes the way people are placed or "stratified" in society. It is associated with the ability of individuals to live up to some set of ideals or principles regarded as important by the society or a subculture within it. The members of a social group interact mainly within their own group and to a lesser degree with those of higher or lower status in a recognized system of social stratification. [35] Some of the more common bases for such stratification include:

Groups:

Max Weber's three dimensions of stratification

The German sociologist Max Weber developed a theory proposing that stratification is based on three factors that have become known as "the three p's of stratification": property, prestige and power. He claimed that social stratification is a result of the interaction of wealth (class), prestige status (or in German Stand) and power (party). [36]

Max Weber developed various ways that societies are organized in hierarchical systems of power. These ways are social status, class power and political power.

There has been discussion about how Weber's three dimensions of stratification are more useful for specifying social inequality than more traditional terms like Socioeconomic Status. [37]

Status group

Max Weber developed the idea of "status group" which is a translation of the German Stand (pl. Stände). Status groups are communities that are based on ideas of lifestyles and the honor the status group both asserts, and is given by others. Status groups exist in the context of beliefs about relative prestige, privilege, and honor and can be of both a positive and negative sort. People in status groups are only supposed to engage with people of like status, and in particular, marriage inside or outside the group is discouraged. Status groups can include professions, club-like organizations, ethnicity, race, and other groups for which pattern association. [38]

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 in which people are grouped into a set of hierarchical social categories, the most common being the upper, middle and lower classes.

Prejudice is an affective feeling towards a person based on their perceived group membership. The word is often used to refer to a preconceived, usually unfavourable, evaluation of another person based on that person's political affiliation, sex, gender, beliefs, values, social class, age, disability, religion, sexuality, race/ethnicity, language, nationality, beauty, occupation, education, criminality, sport team affiliation or other personal characteristics.

The term social order can be used in two senses. In the first sense, it refers to a particular set or system of linked social structures, institutions, relations, customs, and enforce certain patterns of relating and behaving. 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.

Status group group of people who, within a society, can be differentiated on the basis of non-economic qualities such as honour, prestige, ethnicity, race and religion

The German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) formulated a three-component theory of stratification that defines a status group as a group of people who, within a society, can be differentiated on the basis of non-economic qualities such as honour, prestige, ethnicity, race and religion.

Three-component theory of stratification

The three-component theory of stratification, more widely known as Weberian stratification or the three class system, was developed by German sociologist Max Weber with class, status and power as distinct ideal types. Weber developed a multidimensional approach to social stratification that reflects the interplay among wealth, prestige and power.

Ascribed status is 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 society's categorization of its people into groups based on socioeconomic factors like wealth, income, race, education, gender, occupation, and 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.

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.

Social dominance orientation (SDO) is a personality trait which predicts social and political attitudes, and is a widely used social psychological scale. SDO is conceptualized under social dominance theory as a measure of individual differences in levels of group-based discrimination; that is, it is a measure of an individual's preference for hierarchy within any social system and the domination over lower-status groups. It is a predisposition toward anti-egalitarianism within and between groups. The concept of SDO as a measurable individual difference is a product of social dominance theory.

Social stigma is the disapproval of, or discrimination against, a person based on perceivable social characteristics that serve to distinguish them from other members of a society. Social stigmas are commonly related to culture, gender, race, intelligence, and health.

Social psychology (sociology) area of sociology focused on social actions

In sociology, social psychology, also known as sociological social psychology or microsociology, is an area of sociology that focuses on social actions and on interrelations of personality, values, and mind with social structure and culture. Some of the major topics in this field are social status, structural power, sociocultural change, social inequality and prejudice, leadership and intra-group behavior, social exchange, group conflict, impression formation and management, conversation structures, socialization, social constructionism, social norms and deviance, identity and roles, and emotional labor. The primary methods of data collection are sample surveys, field observations, vignette studies, field experiments, and controlled experiments.

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.

Sexual capital or erotic capital is the social value an individual or group accrues as a result of their sexual attractiveness. As with other forms of capital, sexual capital is convertible, and may be useful in acquiring other forms of capital, including social capital and economic capital.

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.

Social dominance theory (SDT) is a theory of intergroup relations that focuses on the maintenance and stability of group-based social hierarchies. According to the theory, group-based inequalities are maintained through three primary intergroup behaviors: institutional discrimination, aggregated individual discrimination, and behavioral asymmetry. The theory proposes that widely shared cultural ideologies provide the moral and intellectual justification for these intergroup behaviors.

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.

Religious stratification is the division of a society into hierarchical layers on the basis of religious beliefs, affiliation, or faith practices.

Sociology Scientific study of human society and its origins, development, organizations, and institutions

Sociology is a study of society, patterns of social relationships, social interaction and culture of everyday life. It is a social science that uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about social order, acceptance, and change or social evolution. Sociology is also defined as the general science of society. While some sociologists conduct research that may be applied directly to social policy and welfare, others focus primarily on refining the theoretical understanding of social processes. Subject matter ranges from the micro-sociology level of individual agency and interaction to the macro level of systems and the social structure.

Expectation states theory

Expectation states theory is a social psychological theory first proposed by Joseph Berger and his colleagues that explains how expected competence forms the basis for status hierarchies in small groups. The theory's best known branch, status characteristics theory, deals with the role that certain pieces of social information play in organizing these hierarchies. More recently, sociologist Cecilia Ridgeway has utilized the theory to explain how beliefs about status become attached to different social groups and the implications this has for social inequality.

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Further reading