Discuss the differences between ascribed and achieved statuses.

 Discuss the differences between ascribed and achieved statuses.

  Sociologists understand status as having two types:  achieved and ascribed.

Objective  5.3

Discuss the differences between ascribed and achieved statuses.


Status We need to go beyond the definition of social status and understand that our standing in society is determined by the statuses we hold. These have a real effect on how we see ourselves as well as how others see and treat us. Status means standing.  It has to do with the rights and privileges that society permits us to access and is largely based on the amount of respect, prestige and esteem that society gives to the position we hold.

Childhood is a status.  Children have different rights and privileges than adults, that is obvious.  While we respect and value our children we seldom hold them in high enough esteem to defer to their judgments and ideas.  The status of child means that we most likely don’t turn to them for advice or solutions and often we don’t take the advice the offer or even take it seriously.

Esteem has to do with the degree of personal respect we give to the person.  The more we esteem a person the more likely we are to defer to them on matters large and small. 

One of the types of status is based on the occupation we pursue.  In every society some types of work are more valued than others.  In sociology we call this occupational prestige.  Prestige has to do with the perceived importance of the work and very often it has to do with the degree of difficulty involved in getting into a line of work.  Surgeons have high prestige because the work they do is viewed as both difficult to get into and very important.  Garbage collectors do important work too but it doesn’t require years of training and expense to become a garbage collector; furthermore we don’t value garbage the way we value human life, so the prestige associated with this occupation is almost always viewed as less than that of surgeons.  Interestingly, garbage collectors save millions of lives a year by taking away potentially disease producing materials, while surgeons save far fewer lives in their work, even so the surgeon receives more standing in society. 

Not all statuses have specific credentials associated with them but most statuses are associated with symbols that let us know about the standing of the person in the position.  It might be a big desk, or the length of a white hospital coat, or a minivan or the quality of a man’s suit or a judge’s robes or an expensive car and on and on.  These clues tell us something about the respect that society expects to be given to the person wielding the symbols or wearing the clothes. The presence of the symbol is as important to the bearer as it is to the viewer, as we see in this clip:


Read “The Importance of Status”: http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/social_status/

Ascribed Ascribed statuses are the first that we receive.  They are a consequence of our sex, our age, the religion and social position of our parents, our race, our ethnicity and even our looks.  In the United States some of these original statuses can be changed; we can adopt a new religion, improve (or degrade) our social position and there are things we can do to meet social expectations for attractiveness; but others can’t be changed.  Age changes, but we are always given a social status associated with our age; our race and ethnicity will affect how people view us and although we may lose our parents they have given us a tie to a part of society which we may deny but which will always have more or less of an effect on our life chances depending on the culture we come from.http://www.sociologyguide.com/basic-concepts/Ascribed-Statuses.php

In our culture gender and race are arguably the most important of the ascribed statuses because they permeate every other status we are likely to hold.

Achieved Our culture determines which statuses we can achieve and which are ascribed.  Cultures differ greatly in the types of achievement which are allowed to individuals in different groups.  In our culture most of our statuses are achieved, in a very traditional culture the majority would be ascribed.Basically an achieved status is one that you have accomplished by doing something which is recognized as having value by the society (getting married, being a parent, getting a job, graduating from school, joining the military; and of course the type of job you do).



Key Terms  
  Achieved Status
  Ascribed Status
Additional resources  
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