Social Status The Useful Guide

People differ from one another in status, in all human societies. Men with more money, access to interested to mates and more power, do have a higher status. Having the higher status, the drive for high status, the emotions, the traits and behaviors that work for that drive are within us all.

The very basics

If you’re not familiar with the term of “social status” think about your standing in society, based on your prestige and you get your social status. There are plenty of factors that have a say on social status: education, wealth, occupation and family background.

People are divided into social classes in stratified societies that present a hierarchical social structure. The social classes have different values in the society. The world gives us societies with rigid social class system with minimal to none social mobility, which is one nobody has the change one’s social status.

We also notice societies that are stratified and are open to change, people having the chance to change their social status through marriage, talent, hard work and education.

We have to thank globalization for the increase of opportunities that help people all over the world change their social status.

As for the truly equitable society in which all members are equally values, no matter their income level, family background or occupation, we can only dream of at the moment.

You only need to take a look at grade school to see that dominance is essential for the social status. Bullies use coercion, intimidation and various fear inducing tactics which seems to help them get a higher social status. On the other hand, those who get good grades in school get the chance for further education and better job opportunities, later on. So, who’s going to have a higher social status in the end?

School teaches many things but it’s not only knowledge that counts for your social status as people with prestige do have various skills, success and knowledge, altogether.

Gil-White and Joe Henrich took a very close look at ethology, ethnography, sociology and sociolinguistics only to come to the conclusion that each rout to social status (prestige and dominance) come in evolutionary history for specific purposes and at different times.

Many studies show that dominance and prestige are two different tracks to status. It seems that self-report measures of dominance and prestige presents different associations to basal testosterone levels, agreeableness, aggression, openness to experience, conscientiousness and Machiavellianism. It also appears that peer-ranked dominance relates positively to physical size, whereas peer-ranked prestige is positively connected with generosity, ability and number of allies.

What drives social status?

For starter, the necessity for employing a dominant or prestigious strategy relates to one’s set of mental and physical dispositions, but also to the situation one is in. some that have the ability to intimidate peers or to use threats, may live in cultures that encourage the use of coercive techniques (prison is a very good example) and are likely to use dominance.

On the other hand, there’s people that have mental skills to accomplish culturally values info and abilities to put themselves in social situations that don’t create dominance hierarchies are likely to be orientated toward prestige.

Our ancestors didn’t have the time nor the energy to realize every time which social status energy they need to employ. This process would have been ineffective, with high risk for errors and could have also cause self-doubt.

Evolution managed to build in psychological mechanisms that would automatically understand the relative spending and advantages of including a given strategy, giving us the result of this sophisticated estimation in the form of “powerful emotions”.

One of these powerful emotions that count for the social status is pride.


There’s plenty of evidence that pinpoints that pride motivates people to get a higher social status, showing traits and behaviors that relate to high social status. As there are many ways to social status, pride also takes many forms and each may have developed along various paths.

  • Authentic pride

This type of pride gets its energy from the emotional charge of confidence, accomplishment and success. Authentic pride is connected with prosocial and achievement-oriented behaviors, agreeableness, extraversion, conscientiousness, positive mental health and efficient interpersonal relationships.

Authentic pride relates also with a genuine self-esteem. All its related subjective feelings of accomplishments and confidence are going to sustain behaviors that attract reaching prestige.

People that are likeable, energetic, confident, hard-working, kind, non-dogmatic and high in genuine self-esteem are going to get inspiration from others and are likely to influence positively others too.

  • Hubristic pride

Arrogance and conceit are the engines of this type of pride, which is why it’s linked to anti-social behaviors, rocky relationships, low levels of conscientiousness, but high levels of neuroticism, disagreeableness and poor mental outcomes.

It seems that hubristic pride isn’t just linked to subjective feelings of superiority and arrogance, but it’s also easing dominance by motivating behaviors such as manipulation, hostility and aggression.

A recent set of studies on varsity-level athletes and undergraduates (Joey T. Chen and colleagues) did tests on the notion that the two sides of pride evolved in time to highlight various forms of status.

It seems that the self-reported prestige is related to lower levels of neuroticism and aggression, but higher levels of genuine self-esteem, extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, conscientiousness, GPA and is poorly linked to self-aggrandizing narcissism. Ones with higher levels of self-reported prestige are seen by their peers as more able advisors and leaders, but also more athletic, intellectual, socially skilled, cooperative, ethical, altruistic and moral.

As for the self-reported dominance relates to lower levels of genuine self-esteem, agreeableness, and social acceptance, and higher levels of self-aggrandizing narcissism, extraversion, aggression, conscientiousness, and agency. People with higher levels of self-reported dominance are perceived by peers as higher in leadership and athleticism, but lower in helpfulness, altruism, ethicality, helpfulness and morality.

The two routs

What the study of Cheng and colleagues highlights is that dominance and prestige and the specific sets of traits and emotions that are linked to each one of them is that they are, in fact, two different paths to achieving and keeping social status.

Identifying the different tracks to social status is important on so many levels. One of the reasons is purely methodical.

An earlier study on the matter showed that agreeableness is negatively linked to dominance, but relates positively to prestige. The results pointed that simply being warm, kind and nice isn’t going to automatically get you a higher status.

The results from the Cheng and colleagues study noted, on the other hand, that you need to also identify the influence of traits on status, looking at both dominance-based and prestige-based contexts at the same time.

Making the difference between the two paths to social status finds the solution, in a way, to the longstanding discussion about the connection between self-esteem and narcissism in achieving high status. There are studies that came to the conclusion that narcissists are inclined to get higher levels of leaderships, but there are also studies that show that narcissists are inclined to have poor leadership abilities, being disliked by their peers as well.

What the study of Cheng and colleagues shows us is that the specific type of pride linked to narcissism (the hubristic pride) eases up the status through the dominance path, a path that doesn’t need nor respect or social acceptance. By contrary, genuine self-esteem, which is linked to authentic pride, is also related to lower display of anti-social and aggressive behaviors that are common for dominant leaders. As Cheng and colleagues also pinpoint, leaders come in all shapes and sizes, so we need to take it cautiously.

Notions related to social status

We do wear, at times, wear status symbols that are signs or symbols of our current social status. For instance, successful business people are going to drive expensive cars or wear high-end clothing or jewelry to pinpoint their high financial status among their peers. Likewise, a professor may wear his academic regalia to recognize their status within the collegiate institution.

Let’s not forget about the wedding ring that is a very efficient status symbol in our culture, letting everyone around know that the one wearing it is married.

Not all status symbols are positive, though. Some states do oblige everyone that has been convicted of driving a car while intoxicated to put a bumper sticker that says “DUI” (Driving Under Influence) or “Convicted DUI” on their car. For obvious reasons, this type of status symbol is looked down on in our society.

Don’t think that we only have one social status throughout our entire life. As a matter of fact, we are inclined to have more than just one status at some point in our life and most of the time the various statuses are pretty related. This doesn’t mean that status inconsistency isn’t real and this situation appears when one has one or more statuses that don’t coincide in that person.

We’ve all heard about the special situations where a 65 year old grandfather became a college freshman or a cab driver was classically trained Shakespearean actor. These exceptions show, in fact, status inconsistency.

The first status that everyone knows us for and surpasses all the other statuses is in fact the master status. For many of us, our job gives us our master status as it relates to our income, skills, education and interests too.

There are also different people that may have different master status. Even though it’s not a positive situation, people known for their sexual orientation become recognized through their sexual orientation as master status. Their statuses as family members, community leaders, professionals come secondary to their status as sexually different.

There are many countries all over the world where women don’t get the same opportunities as men and this causes for the gender to become their master status. A person’s race or ethnicity may become, as well, a master status, even though this isn’t something to wish for. Wealth, celebrity, a physical disfigurement may also become master statuses.

No matter all the statuses that one may have, the status that is automatically apparent to peers, causing the biggest impression, while influencing other’s perception of that man/woman is the master status.

It’s not rare for our traits to become stigmas. Goffman says that stigma refers to a trait or a characteristic that we all have, causing us to lose prestige in other’s eyes. A disfigured face may become a stigma and can make one lose his/her prestige within community or among his/her peers. Homosexuality may also become a stigmatizing characteristic. Homophobia is real and quite common all over the world, many people looking down on someone that is homosexual.

Goffman thought that stigma isn’t something that you may change and has permanent and fundamental effects on one’s life. Someone that is stigmatizes is always going to be perceived by peers in a negative light, making the stigmatized have a “spoiled identity”.

To get a clearer image on the concept, let’s take a look at the convicted felons that have a spoiled identity. Their master status is, for sure, their status as felons and the stigma is highly negative, causing the society to always see them as convicted felons. Being a convicted felon is highly stigmatizing and people are always going to be perceived as criminals, even though their efforts and actions (rehabilitation and serving time) should have eliminated the stigma.

When someone’s identity has been spoiled beyond redemption, the groups that he/she is part of has to decide how to manage his/her new identity. A degradation ceremony is one method to handle the individuals with spoiled identities. Harold Garfinkel pinpoints that a degradation ceremony is a ritual created to eliminate a person from a group and to simply take away one’s identity as a group member.

What about the social classes?

We can’t have the social status discussion without the social classes concept. Social class relates to a group of people that present similar levels of influence, wealth and status.

Sociologists use three methods to identify social class:

  • The objective method that quantifies and analyzes the facts
  • The subjective method that collects the opinions of people on what they think of themselves
  • The reputational method that gets the opinion of people on others

Here are the social classes that most societies out there present at the moment:

  • The lower class

Poverty, homelessness, and unemployment is what’s specific for lower class. Many of the people in this class didn’t finish high school, don’t have proper housing and food, nor safety, clothing and also lack medical care and vocational training.

Media does stigmatize a lot the lower class with terms as “the underclass” and making a generalization of the people forming the lower class.

  • The working class

This class includes the people with minimal education and develop “manual labor”, with little to none prestige. The category includes the unskilled workers: dishwashers, maids, waitresses, cashiers that are often underpaid and have little to none chance for career advancement. They’re also known as the “working poor”. The skilled workers though (carpenters, electricians and plumbers) are named “blue collar workers” and get more money than some workers from the middle class (teachers, secretaries and some computer technicians).

  • The middle class

This is the “sandwich” class, sort to speak. The “white collar workers” have more money than those below, but less than those in the upper class. The class includes the lower middle class that is made up of people less educated and with lower incomes (small business owners, teachers, managers) and the upper middle class that include the highly educated business and professional people with higher incomes (lawyers, doctors, stockbrokers).

  • The upper class

The upper class divides also into two groups: lower-upper and upper-upper. The lower-upper consists of the aristocratic and “high-society” families that have been rich for many generations, having the “old money”.

The upper-upper class is more prestigious than the first category and includes very wealthy people.

Both of these categories have more money than they could ever spend and have tremendous influence and power on both national and global level.


The bullying aspect

We all know about the bullying phenome in adolescence, but the good news is that the bullied ones are going to improve their social status later in life.

Some recent studies highlight that when women were given the chance to choose between a prestigious and a dominant man, they are inclined to choose a prestigious man, especially for a long-term relationship.

Studies also show that male dominance is attractive to females on the male-male competition picture (athletics) in short and long-term romantic relationships, but women don’t find men attractive when they use dominance (force or threat of force) in a competition for leadership.

All of these conclusions highlight that women are attentive to clues that pinpoint that the male is going to use his aggression toward her. At the same time, dominance toward competitors is perceived to be more attractive than dominance toward friends/coalition members.

This conclusion is opposed to the famous “girls like jerks” stereotype, but it is in fact just adding more nuance to the stereotype. Girls don’t go for “jerks”, but for men that are confident and powerful. The mentioned study does observe that men with displays of dominance while competing are seen as less attractive, but it’s the flat-our jerks that seemed to be inclined to use aggression and dominance toward peers in situation where co-working was essential, that were in fact perceived as unattractive.

A prestigious man is, on so many levels, every girl’s dream. Even though there’s a gap between dominant and prestigious men (prestigious men are also achievement-oriented, confident and extraverted), it’s the prestigious men that are caring, self-assured and helpful people, with a genuine high self-esteem. This gives the nice, smart kid that dreams to do some good in the world the hope that today’s bullying is going to help him achiever high level of social status later in life.