Topic: Elements Of Social Interaction

Social status refers to one’s standing in the community and his position in the social hierarchy.

Social status refers to the honor or prestige attached to one’s position in society. It may also refer to a rank or position that one holds in a group, such as a son or daughter, playmate, pupil, etc. One’s social status is determined in different ways. One can earn his or her social status by his or her own achievements; this is known as achieved status. Alternatively, one can inherit his or her position on the social hierarchy; this is known as ascribed status. An ascribed status can also be defined as one that is fixed for an individual at birth, like sex, race, and socioeconomic background.

Social status is most often understood as a melding of the two types of status, with ascribed status influencing achieved status. For example, a baby born into a high-income household has his family’s high socioeconomic status as an achieved status and is more likely to be exposed to resources like a familial emphasis on education that will make it more likely for him or her to get into an elite university. Admission, therefore, is an achieved status that was heavily influenced by resources made available by the person’s ascribed status.

It is easy to see how achieved and ascribed statuses accumulate into the social status of an individual. Pulling back into a larger perspective, these same factors accumulate into a system of social stratification. Social stratification is a conceptual social hierarchy in which individuals are ranked in terms of their perceived value to society. In capitalist countries, this hierarchy is largely socioeconomic, in that high-income individuals are ranked at the top of the social hierarchy with low-income individuals at the bottom. However, social stratification is not limited to economics; perceived moral value is also integrated into the stratification so that a poor member of the clergy is in a higher social rank than a rich criminal.

Key Points

• Social status may be achieved (earned) or ascribed (assigned at birth).

• Both achieved and ascribed statuses influence one another.

• Social mobility allows an individual to move between social levels in the general social hierarchy.

Key Terms

hierarchy: any group of objects ranked so that everyone but the topmost is subordinate to a specified group above at

prestige: a measure of how good the reputation of something or someone is, or how favorably something or someone is regarded

achieved status: when one earns their social status through their own achievements

ascribed status: when one inherits their position on the social hierarchy

social stratification: a system by which a society ranks categories of people in a hierarchy

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