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Author: Zach Lamb
Recognize the sociological concept of status and how it's related to social structure.
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Video Transcription

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. Welcome to Sociological Studies. Thanks for joining me.

In this lesson, we're going to talk about a really important sociological concept, status. Status is any social position that a person occupies. When you hear status in everyday speak, you have a tendency to think of high status, low status, I have higher status than you, you have higher status than me.

But in sociology, we don't look at it that way. We just simply say that statuses are positions in society that a person occupies. You can think of the social structure as blank, and we fill in those blanks.

So we fill in the blank, professor. We fill in the blank, doctor. We fill in the blank, mother.

These are statuses that we occupy. They're built into the social structure and we occupy them. And we hold many statuses at the same time. So this is called a status set.

Before coming up here, then I took a quick five minutes and jot it down these statuses that I occupy that immediately came to my mind, and I've got them on the board here. Teacher, I have to stand here in front of you and teach, son, boyfriend, brother, retail employee at my other job, writer, and I'm also an American. So I challenge you to do this same thing for yourself. Write down the statuses that you think you occupy, and think about what they mean for your life.

You might confuse status with this idea of role that we're going to cover in another tutorial, but statuses and roles are not the same thing. A clear way to keep them separate in your mind is statuses are positions that we occupy, those blank spots in the social structure, and roles we perform. We perform roles because we occupy status.

But these are only a snapshot of the statuses that I occupy today. This could change tomorrow. I could be dumped tonight. Then, all of a sudden, I don't have the boyfriend status anymore. Or later in life I might hope hope to add husband, father, grandfather, uncle, university professor, no longer a retail employee, et cetera.

Statuses we gain and lose constantly in our lives. We're always negotiating and changing our statuses. So don't think of your statuses as hard line set for life.

But not all statuses are the same. We differentiate between those statuses that just kind of come to us involuntarily, situations we're born into, or life circumstances that just happen, or things that we actively do in life and achieve. Now, achieve typically has a positive connotation.

Achievement is good. But in sociology, here we're talking about achievement in terms of it's just something that happens. You can achieve being a drug addict, or you can achieve being in prison, just as you can achieve being a doctor or a lawyer.

So to differentiate these two types of statuses, then we have ascribed status, which is a social position that a person achieves involuntarily by virtue of their birth or life circumstances. So let's look at my list here. Son, brother, and American are statuses that I had no choice over. I occupy them involuntarily.

Whereas an achieved status, on the other hand, which is a social position that a person occupies voluntarily by virtue of their hard work, talent, or effort, on my list then, teacher, boyfriend, writer, and retail employee are achieved statuses. But, again, recall that achievement doesn't necessarily have to be achievement in the way that you think of that word.

We can achieve negative statuses too. And we would be bad sociologists if we didn't recognize that ascribed status strongly influences our achieved status. I've been beating over the head with this concept in the course that what you're born into, the circumstances of your life, your family, things like that, will strongly influence what you achieve in life. That's what sociology teaches us.

So if you have the ascribed status of being born into a wealthy family, you're much more likely to have achieved statuses of doctor, lawyer, et cetera. Whereas if you're born of the ascribed status of say you're in poverty, you're much more likely then to have a life of conflict. You may end up in prison, et cetera.

We also have one overriding dominant status, and that's what we call a master status. A master status is the most important status for shaping our identities and our position in the social world. And these, how we define master status, is constructed socially.

In this country, for example, jobs, me as teacher, jobs tend to be our master status. This is why when you go to a bar or you meet somebody for the first time, they'll ask you this really annoying question, well, what do you do? Well, that's because they're trying to pin down and define your master status so they can make all these other inferences about you like, how much education you have, what you like to do, what kind of person you are, whether you're liberal or conservative? All these other little things tend to flow from master status, which is why you get that annoying question, at least in this country, what do you do?

But master status doesn't necessarily have to be positive. It can be negative, like an aids sufferer, or a disabled person. In these cases, people will often fight against this master status label and say, look, don't define me by my condition. I'm more than this master status you're trying to give me.

This doesn't define me. This doesn't define my identity. This is not my master status. They want to push back against that.

And even in this country historically, race has served as a master status, where people have been defined-- their identities have been defined by what race they are. So you see that master status isn't always the same for everyone, and that it's a historical and social construct.

I hope you enjoyed this lesson on statuses. I did. Have a great rest of your day.

Terms to Know
Achieved Status

A social position that a person achieves voluntarily by virtue of their work, talent, or effort.

Ascribed Status

A social position that a person occupies involuntarily by virtue of their birth or life circumstances.

Master Status

The most important status for shaping a person's identity and position in the social world.


Any social position that a person occupies.

Status Set

The group of statuses that an individual occupies at any one time.