Status refers to any of the full range of socially defined
positions within a large group or society. A number of statuses can be held at
the same time. Examples of social status:
U.S. President, father, dental technician, business partner, neighbor.
There are two types of status that sociologists acknowledge:
ascribed and achieved. An achieved status is one that is acquired on the basis
of merit; it is a position that is earned or chosen and reflects a person’s
skills, abilities, and efforts (Crossman, 2017). Achieved status can be as
simple as a career someone has chosen. You can be a doctor or a lawyer or even
a drug addict and this is “achieved.” Achieved statuses are things like having
a college degree or being a doctor, statuses that we have achieved through our
own effort and hard work.
An ascribed status, on the other hand, is not earned. It is something over which a
person has no control over. Ascribed status is generally assigned at birth
without regard to an individual’s preferences, talents or skills. Examples of ascribed status can be
characteristics like gender, ethnicity, race, etc. Parts or who we are that we
are born with. Ascribed status can also help us automatically relate to a given
group or fit into a social group. It can also be used against us in a form of
inequality or discrimination (Basirico et.al, 2014).
Learning Material Section
Status and Status Set
There are a few things we should keep in mind regarding
status. First, our ascribed statuses, and in particular our sex, race and
ethnicity, and social class, often affect our ability to acquire and maintain
many achieved statuses (such as college graduate) (Crossman, 2017). Second,
achieved statuses can be viewed positively or negatively. Our society usually
views achieved statuses such as physician, professor, or college student
positively, but it certainly views achieved statuses such as burglar,
prostitute, and pimp negatively (Crossman, 2017).
There is a
third type of status called a master status. For
some, this status is the most important and will overtake any other status that
a person holds.. In terms of people’s reactions, master statuses can be either
positive or negative for an individual (Basirico et al, 2014). For example,
think about current and past Presidents of the United Status. While they are
president, this master (and achieved status) will outweigh and outrank any
other status they hold.
some ways and times that a master status can negatively affect a person’s life.
For example, a person with a physical or mental disability may find that this
status overrides other status for which they would prefer to be known.
can occupy several different statuses at the same time. You can simultaneously
be a mother, partner and PTA member. Sociologists would call all the positions
a person holds that person’s status set. Whatever status a person occupies,
there are objects or symbols that represent that status. These are called
status symbols. It could be something like a BMW that shows a person’s wealth
or a wheelchair that shows a disability. Even a stroller could be a status
NOT equal prestige, influence, wealth, or fame.
terms, status simply refers to a socially defined position that a person
statuses, such as bank president, judge or doctor certainly imply wealth and
prestige just as others, such as janitor or ex-prisoner, imply less wealth and prestige.
However, all of these positions exist independent of the person who occupies
How do we acquire status and our statuses?
Achieved status is chosen voluntarily (Basirico et al, 2014). This
status is attained through individual effort or ability or behavior. In short,
a person does something to acquire an
achieved status, such as go to school, learn a skill or establish a
Ascribed status is obtained involuntarily or without effort on the
part of the individual. Usually this status is acquired at birth such as age,
race or sex. As people age, we go from
“child” to “teenager” to “adult” and in the end, to “elderly.” All of these
terms are because people are members of a certain social group at given points
in their lives.
Statuses are commonly attained through a
combination of ascription and achievement (Basirico et al, 2014). For example, the child of two incarcerated
parents is more likely to be deviant than is the child of two prominent
lawyers. Thus the accident of the child’s birth to poor parents makes it likely
that he will achieve the status of being a criminal offender, while the
accident of the child’s birth to wealthy, affluent parents makes it more likely
that he will go on to attend college and become wealthy in his own right.
Ascribed statuses heavily influence our achieved statuses. Consider how being born
female—an ascribed status—in the middle of the 20th century made it
more likely that a person would become a housewife, a nurse, or a secretary,
while being born male still makes it less likely that an individual will
consider child care or even elementary education as a career path. We elected
43 Presidents before someone with the ascribed status of being black took
office in 2008, and we still have yet to elect a female to the Presidency.
example, consider the case of Malcom X, who was in 8th grade when a
white teacher told him his dream of becoming a lawyer was not realistic for a
black person (the actual word used was less charitable). Thus, Malcolm X’s
position as a black man (ascribed status) made it difficult to achieve his goal
of becoming a lawyer (achieved status)
Ascribed status can influence
achieved status: what do you see?
cases, however, individuals hold a position in society that is more important
than others in their status set. In cases like this, the status is referred to
as a master status. As an example, consider Stephen Hawking, who is
probably one of the smartest people on this planet. He suffers from Lou
Gehrig’s disease, which is something he was born with. As a result, he is
confined to a wheelchair and speaks with the aid of a speech synthesizer. He is
also a world renowned physicist, which is something he achieved. Thus, his
status set contains two statuses that are master statuses, one of which (victim
of Lou Gehrig’s disease) is ascribed and the other of which (famous physicist)
is achieved. This reality was underscored by a former student of mine, who once
described Hawking as “that physicist in the wheelchair.” He has a very
complicated status set.
Barrack Obama was the 44th man to be elected to the nation’s highest
office—a position that he was elected to twice—in addition to being black. Like
Stephen Hawking, he achieved his occupational position through his own efforts,
but his being black is an ascribed status. Like Hawking, he has a complicated
A master status takes priority over others in
your social identity. Being a
famous athlete (Peyton Manning or Tom Brady) or the child of a famous person
(Liv Tyler or Chelsea Clinton) will likely result in doors being opened that
are not open to the rest of us. However, being an ex-prisoner, homosexual, or
carrier of HIV will likely become a master status that can result in people
avoiding, criticizing, or disliking you should you hold any of these statuses.
Other statuses such as husband, father, and employee could be ignored in favor
of the master status. Societies commonly determine which status becomes your
master status. Being disabled is a common example of a master status, as people
often see the disability (missing limb, wheelchair, or what have you) instead
of the person’s ability to perform meaningful work.
between ascribed and achieved status isn’t always obvious (Identities and
Inequalities). A person may attend a certain college or go into a certain
career because of their parent’s influence, not their own wants or wishes. In
theory, a person can choose their religion, but it may not be the one in which
they were born. Sex, race, ethnicity and age are ascribed status but they have
a direct effect on access to achieved status.