The concept of status figured in Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism” for the first time. He defined the social status of an individual as the social honor or social esteem bestowed upon him by society. This social honor/social esteem, is intertwined with an individual’s place in the social structure, which can either be decided by birth or by his or her own efforts. Weber’s work inspired Ralph Linton to give two types of statuses: ascribed status and achieved status, in his 1936 book “The Study of Man.” Later thinkers like Robert K. Merton (Social Structure and Anomie) and Talcott Parsons (Pattern Variables) have also utilized these concepts in their theories.
Ralph Linton defined achieved status as a status assigned to an individual based on special abilities and individual achievements. A person’s own actions, efforts, and performance have direct and substantial implications for this type of status. Achieved status has a dynamic aspect to it. An individual is prone to experiencing changes in his or her status through life circumstances and their own choices and actions.
To get a complete understanding of ‘status’ it is important that we discuss the concept of ‘role’ as well. The concept of ‘role’ is complementary to status. Status is the position, and expectations of how we should behave in that position are called roles.
Achieved Status: Examples
- An athlete winning medals in national and international sports events like Olympics, Commonwealth, etc.
- A professional swimmer improves his lap time with consistent practice and by changing his swimming technique.
- A professional singer’s newly released song charts at the top of Bill Board Hot 100.
- A writer becomes “Best selling author of all times.”
- Administrative Positions, Military Titles, Gallantry Awards, Civilian Awards etc.
- Skills obtained by an employee through his/her On-the-Job Training.
- Clearing entrance examinations of highly prestigious educational institutions.
- Getting Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral Degrees.
- A student becoming proficient in Mathematics with consistent practice.
- A foreigner learning languages other than his mother tongue.
- Being friends who are in position of power and influence.
- Professional achievements like becoming a doctor, lawyer, engineer, scientists etc.
- Becoming member of any association like IEEE, Trade Unions, SHGs etc.
- Buying a house and car as symbols of affluence.
- Marriage and Parenthood also lead to change in status of person.
- Getting “ideal” body and face by working out, dietary preferences or cosmetic surgery.
- Getting certain perks, privileges, monetary benefits for being a regular customer on online shopping apps like Amazon, Nykaa etc.
Achieved Status: An Evaluation
- The concept of achieved statuses can underplay the role of contextuality in people achieving any status at all. For example, to achieve the degree, one needs to have access to the funds to pay for university, a supportive family, and a good high school education. These are privileges that a person should humbly acknowledge. However, the more we think about it, it becomes quite evident that achieving status is not entirely the outcome of individual effort. We can understand it from the case of two students who gave the same examination but had different performances. On a surface level, one can attribute their different performances to their hard work and intelligence quotient. But a deeper look will reveal additional factors that significantly affected their performance, like access to educational resources, home environment, active participation of parents in their studies, etc. Similarly, poor economic conditions cannot just be attributed to a lack of hard work or laziness. Many factors, like educational qualifications, the economic condition of their ancestors, inheritance, etc., influence their financial situation. Thus, we can conclude that an individual’s ascribed status—their social standing in society at birth—has a significant impact on their attained status.
- A person who has passed his army exam has achieved a designation. But his child comes under ascribed status because if something bad happens to their father, he can directly join the army without passing an exam. There are special provisions (based on principles of positive discrimination) implemented for people belonging to marginalized sections with the aim of making society more inclusive. Here again, the status they achieve in education and employment is the result of the amalgamation of their efforts and their ascribed status. In other words, achieved statuses are not acquired equally, so we should be careful not to hastily draw conclusions but to remember that we are in large part a product of our social circumstances.
- Achievement of status also follows a pattern, i.e., it involves going through a process or multiple steps. For example, if an individual wants to be an engineer, he will have to take physics, chemistry, and mathematics as core subjects in classes XI and XII. After that, he is eligible to compete in the engineering entrance examination. Next, he will need to clear the examination and then take admission. After that, he will be required to get a certain CGPA to sit for placements. Only after clearing the hiring process and joining the position in the company does he finally become an engineer.
- Sometimes we confuse status with character. Status is holding a position in society and behaving according to the given set of rules. It is not his or her basic nature. But the character is a different phenomenon. The character of a person is a function of his actions and behavior based on his personal ideas of self-respect, principles, and ideals, not about the social position he occupies. Having a strong character can definitely increase someone’s social stature, but vice versa is not true. Suppose, in a group meeting, a boss or any employee sits with manners on a chair. But the same person at home or in a cafe may sit with a relaxed posture, i.e., altogether different from a formal setup. In the office, that person was abiding by the rules due to his or her status. But in the home, he might be impulsive and bitter and have questionable morals; it’s his or her true character that is witnessed by some of the people only.
- As achieved status is more about the performance of a social actor. Thus, there is a very real possibility that he might lose his social status later on. For example, an officer will lose his position and honour if he gets caught in act of corruption. In addition to this, we also need to keep in mind that every achieved status is not positive. For example, a person achieving the status of disabled person due to a life threatening accident or disease.
To conclude, achieved status is an important conceptual tool to understand the nature of society, social structure, cultural system, and core values of social institutions. The more a society is based on recognition of achieved status, the more we can draw conclusions that this society has an open social system, high social mobility, and a value for individual autonomy, individual talent, and individual achievement.
Also Read: Ascribed Status and Examples
Foladare, I. S. (1969). A Clarification of “Ascribed Status” and “Achieved Status.” The Sociological Quarterly, 10(1), 53–61. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4105001