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 ascribed status as a status assigned to an individual based on their birth. This status has no correlation with special abilities or individual achievements. A person’s own actions, efforts, and performance have very little implications for this type of status. Ascribed status is more or less static in nature. An individual will experience little to no change in his or her status through life circumstances and their own choices and actions.
Thus, ascribed status in society refers to a status that is not achieved on the basis of merit or skills. It is something you are assigned by birth. In many cultures, the majority of such statuses are based on age, sex, caste, family, etc.
Ascribed Status: Examples
- The age of a person is determined by the date on which he/she is born.
- Sex, i.e., the biological anatomical makeup of an individual, is determined at birth.
- An individual’s genetic (DNA) makeup.
- The race of an individual is determined by his line of ancestors.
- Family and Lineage.
- Inheritance (titles and property) is determined by birth and social norms.
- Sexual orientation of an individual.
- Membership in a particular community (tribe) by birth.
- Ethnicity (culture) in which an individual is born
- Caste and Class in which one is born.
- Religious orientation into which an individual is born. For example, a person born into a Hindu family will have an inclination towards Hindu religious traditions.
- Physical appearance (face and body) that an individual is born with.
Ascribed Status: An Evaluation
- Suppose an actor’s child has ascribed a status of being an upcoming superstar. He or she does not need to work hard, just like their parents. This kind of status lessens the amount of hard work sometimes. But, as it is said, every aspect has its own pros and cons. From the above example, it can only be understood that an actor’s child always gets to hear that whatever you are today is because of your parents. Their hard work in acting, or even if they have tried living like a commoner in the film industry, will never get appreciated by other people. It could be one of the reasons for demotivation among star kids.
- Some countries, like India, are driven by caste factors. Due to the assigned position of being a Brahmin boy or girl, you are forced to marry someone of that caste only. The struggle to marry someone of their own choice can be seen as a rebellious act in India, whereas in other countries it is a normal thing.
- Sex is also a factor that influences most of the set standards anywhere. No matter whatever the situation, two dialogues can be heard every now and then, you are not allowed to roam outside after 8 o’clock because you are a girl. Listen, you cannot cry, after all, you are a boy. This kind of messages which is feed into a child’s brain, slowly become their thoughts until acculturation process is done for being able to see the world differently.
- Many dreams and abilities have failed even before they could flourish due to the rigid ascribed status of society. Also, ascribed status does not change according to a situation, like achieved status. For example, a king’s first son will be the next heir no matter what. It is neither done on merit level nor is the choice made by the prince whether he truly wants to be king or not.
- Ascribed status even though looks static on the surface. However, there have been instances where it is difficult to say whether an individual’s status is assigned or achieved. For example, A person who suffers from a disability in later stages of life. Even though at birth his ascribed status is normal but in adulthood he gets another status of “disabled/specially able” which completely alters his life chances and the perceptions of people towards him. Similarly, a person who is born and brought up in the Hindu religion has free choice once he reaches adulthood to keep or lose his ascribed religion.
To conclude, ascribed 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 the recognition of ascribed status, the more we can draw conclusions that this society has a closed social system, low social mobility, and a value for customs, traditions, and community living.
Also Read: Achieved 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