Ascribed status is the social status a person is given from birth or assumes involuntarily later in life. For example, a person born into a wealthy family has a high ascribed status; similarly a person who marries into a wealthy family may also assume a high status.
Social status also consists of role-taking. A person has many roles along different social strata and usually occupies several at once. For example, a person can be a parent, a teacher, a friend, and a spouse. Some roles are considered by society to be more important than others, and so roles affect social status.
Social position involves the ranking of roles of an individual in any given society and culture. Any position (for example, being a parent, or the occupation of priest) may belong to many individuals. A person can have many social positions involving their profession, family, or hobbies. For instance, the priest can be a son of his parents, an active member in volunteering at community centers, and an expert at putting together jigsaw puzzles. These are different social positions for the same individual, the priest. The social positions depend on the rank of importance to the individual. If this individual ranks occupation as most important, the other roles (such as brother, son, volunteer) may take a backseat to being a priest. These social positions influence the perceived social status of the individual.
'Status inconsistency describes the situation where an individual's social positions have both positive and negative influences on his social status. For example, the social position of teacher has a positive societal image (respect, prestige) which increases his or her status, but the position may earn a relatively low salary, which simultaneously decreases his or her status. The social position of criminal, on the other hand, could ensure a low social status but could also involve high income, which is usually only seen with those of higher social status.
Stigma can decrease social status. Stigma is usually attached to a person who is labeled as criminal, deviant, or member of an unpopular minority group. If a person violates a social norm, then their identity is stigmatized, which in turn can decrease their social status.
Cultural bonds, family ties, religion, race, gender, and occupation are all factors when examining social status. For example, many societies place higher esteem on some races or religions than on others. Different occupations bring different forms of respect, but occupation is not the only indicator of social status. A physician doctor will have higher status than a factory worker, but an immigrant doctor from a minority religion may have a lower social status.
In stratified societies, social status endows different value to individual members of the society. If education and wealth are considered main indicators of social status, then education will become more valued, and more expensive. American society in the twentieth century witnessed inflation in the cost of higher education and an emphasis on educational success. Globalization, however, has also shown people that their social status is not forever fixed. Witnessing the possibility for people in other cultures to move up and down in social standing may inspire them to question how their own society works. People desire to move up in their social status and many have different ideas on how to go about this, some of which result in creative new ideas. This may create progress for a culture.
Historically, hierarchical social structures have been successful in advancing civilization and culture. Nevertheless, a truly equitable society would be one in which social status does not result in different value for individuals. Recognition of the value of each person, as a unique individual fulfilling their own potential and as a member of society fulfilling their role in service to the whole community, is necessary for the establishment of a peaceful, just world.
- Marmot, Michael. 2005. The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity. Reprint. Owl Books. ISBN 0805078541
- Botton, Alain De. 2005. Status Anxiety. Reprint. Vintage. ISBN 0375725350
- Weber, Max. 1987. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1st ed. Routledge. ISBN 0415084342