Status: Meaning, Types and Concepts of Status



Status: Meaning, Types and Concepts of Status!

Since the influential writing of Ralph Linton (1936), status and role have become the key concepts of sociology. By status, Linton meant a position in a social system involving designated rights and obligation, whereas by role he meant the behaviour oriented to the patterned expectations of others. Linton went on to state the long recognised and basic fact that each person in society inevitably occupies multiple status and each of these statuses has an associated role.

In every society and every group each member has some function or activity with which he is associated and which carries with it some degree of power or prestige. What the individual does or performs, we generally call his role. The degree of prestige or power we refer to as his status. Roles are related with the statuses.

In a sense, 'status' and 'role' are two words for the same phenomenon. This is why, Linton remarked, "role is the dynamic aspect of status," or the behaviour or tasks associated with or ascribed to a status. In other words, status and role are two sides of a single coin. It simply means that both are closely related and one cannot be separated from the other.

Social status and role are analytic terms; they have a more general quality than the concrete descriptive terms to which they have reference. Sociologist prefers to choose such analytic terms rather than descriptive terms like bus conductor, customer, father or mother etc. After Linton, these two terms have become the basic features of structural-functional theory. Later on many sociologists have refined and added many ideas to these two terms.

For instance, R.K. Merton (1968), who is known to be the champion of role theory, departs from Linton's conception of status and role. According to Merton, each social status involves not a single associated role, but an array of roles to which he calls 'role set'.

The concepts of status and role are basic building blocks of social structure or social systems. According to Parsons, 'status-roles' are the sub-units of society. Participation by an actor in social system means that he is 'located' relative to other actors. This is his 'status'. In this position he does various things, and what he does is called his 'role'. For him, 'status-role' is the proper unit of social system. A social system can be thought of as a network of statuses and their associated roles.

What is Status?

Simply defined, a status is a socially defined position in a group or a social system, such as female, student, teacher, child, mother, father etc. A status occupant is expected by other to behave in a special way, relative to specific situation. The relation of the father and the child is reciprocal and gives to each a position in the family group. Position is always relative; status always implies a group. With every status certain privileges, rights and duties are associated.

Most of the sociologists have used the two terms—position and status—synonymously, but some have made distinction between these terms. 'Position' denotes one's situation in the role-structure.

Which is subjective, while 'status' refers to the evaluative aspect of position—whether others see it as 'high' or 'low'. In this sense, it is an objective term.

Harry M. Johnson (1960) distinguished the three related concepts, viz., 'role', 'status' and 'position'. He defined a social position as something filled by an individual member of a social system.

The position consists of two main elements:

(1) Expectations and obligations held by other members concerning the behaviour of the position incumbent; and

(2) Right or the legitimate expectations of the position incumbent concerning the behaviour of other members. The first element Johnson calls the role of a position, while the second element he calls the status of a position. It denotes the prestige of a position or an individual.

According to Kingsley Davis (1949), "status is a position in the general institutional system, recognised and supported by the entire society". For Horton and Hunt (1964), "status is the rank or position of an individual in a group". Status in Weber's theory refers to the esteem or 'social honour' given to individuals or groups.

Though generally used synonymously—status and social status—there is a bit difference between the two terms. The term 'status' simple indicates the position a person occupies in a group. Whereas social status is the amount of honour and prestige a person receives from members of the community and from the larger society in a stratification system.

It denotes not only the position but relative 'social standing' of a person on publicly recognised scale or hierarchy of social worth. In this sense, it embraces all his particular statuses and roles that determine his social standing in a society. It is the social identity an individual has in a group or society.

Social statuses may be very general in nature (such as those associated with gender roles) or may be much more specific (as in the case of occupational positions). Social status of a person is determined by a wide range of factors, facts and conditions such as original nature and physical characteristics, accidental conditions, physique, mentality and temperament. Sex, age, race, caste, class, economic position etc. are also important factors that affect social standing of a person in a society or the community he lives.

Types of Status:

Linton (1936) has noted two types of status:

(1) Ascribed status:

Statuses, which are given to us at birth (age, sex, kinship, race, caste), are known as ascribed status. These are 'assigned' to a person by society without regard for the person's unique talents or characteristics. Such ascribed characteristics cannot be changed by individual effort. These are more or less determined by the cultural situation over which he has no control initially, for example, position or status of a boy or a girl in a family is ascribed in terms both of sex and age. Likewise, Negro or Harijan are ascribed status.

Generally, ascribed statuses are determined on four bases:

(1) Sex dichotomy (male-female);

(2) Age difference (child, youth, adult);

(3) Kinship (son, brother, sister etc.); and

(4) Social factors (divorcee, widow etc.).

In traditional societies most statuses are ascribed, with one's occupation and general social standing determined at birth. An ascribed status does not have the same social meaning in every society. For instance, the term 'old man' is viewed as more of an insult in some societies, while respect for the elderly is an important cultural norm in India and other Asian countries. Conflict theorists are especially interested in ascribed statuses (those assigned by birth), since these statuses often confer privi­leges or reflect a person's membership in a subaltern group.

(2) Achieved status:

"Any social position held by an individual as a result of his or her personal accomplishments in open formal or market competition with others is known as achieved status" (.Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, 1994). It is a social position which a person attains through his own efforts, individual choice and competition.

This is secured through one's ability, performance and possibly by good or ill fortune. Collector, policeman, husband, father, college graduate, teacher are examples of achieved status. Achieved status requires the individual to make choices, not only of occupation but also of friends, marital partners, place of residence, schools, colleges and organisations (recreational clubs) etc.

The main bases of achieved status are:

(1) Property (jagirdar, zamindar);

(2) Occupation (doctor, engineer);

(3) Education (college graduate, illiterate);

(4) Specialisation and division of labour (foreman, mechanic);

(5) Political power (prime minister, president);

(6) Marital relations (husband-wife, sister-in law etc.); and

(7) Achievements (good sportsman, musician etc.).

Societies vary considerably in the relative distribution of ascribed and achieved statuses. The ascribed status is more important in a simple and traditional society while in a modem industrial society, greater emphasis is placed on achievement and particularly of occupational positions. In such changing societies, many statuses are open to achievement. Weber argues that ascribed status has rapidly declined as a means of access to economic and political power in modem societies.

Status, Office, Station and Stratum:

Kingsley Davis (Human Society, 1949) has drawn distinction between a few concepts, which apparently look similar to the basic concept status as under:

Status and Office:

The term 'status' designates a position in the general institutional system, recognised and supported by the entire society spontaneously evolved rather than deliberately created in the folkways and mores. 'Office', on the other hand, would designate a position in a deliber­ately created organisation, governed by specific and limited rules in a limited group, more generally achieved than ascribed.

Positions of Principal of Jain College or Professor of Psychology in J.N. University are the examples of office, because they refer to a particular position in a particular group or institution. It is to be noted that holding an office may at the same time give one a status and conversely, holding a particular status may help one acquire a certain office. Occupa­tional status is often a status and office both.


A single individual occupies not one but many statuses and offices. 'Station' refers to such a cluster of statuses and offices that tend to be combined in one person as a locus and are publicly recognised as to combined in a great many cases. Whereas a single status or office defines one's position with reference to a limited sector of social interaction, a station embodies one's generalised status (the sum total of one's major position) in the overall social structure.


'Stratum' is a term which is used to refer "a mass of persons in a given society who enjoy roughly the same station". Individuals belonging to same stratum tend to have the same outlook toward the world. They used to have like interests, attitudes and problems. Specifying the stratum is one of the most convenient and frequently used ways of giving a shorthand description of a social structure. Every society is commonly divided into some strata.

It may be noted that status is a purely relational term, which means that each status exists only through its relation to one or more other statuses. One status cannot be defined without referring to another. There cannot be a parent without a child or teacher without a student or a doctor without patient.

In this sense, all statuses are paired and associated with certain rights and duties to which we call role. Thus, all statuses and roles are usually defined in the contexts of social statuses and roles performed by others. Since statuses are positions in social systems, they exist independently of the particular individuals who occupy them. Indeed, a status can exist even though no one is occupying it at the time, such as the status of President when the current President has died and new one has yet to be elected.

Each person occupies many statuses simultaneously and is expected to perform the roles appropriate to them. A person may be a son, a father, a brother and a police officer and plays roles according to each status. These roles are both complex and different in each case.

The playing of them depends on a variety of circumstances, for one is father in relation to one's children, a brother in relation to his brothers and sisters and an uncle in relation to nephews and nieces and so forth. Women have a different status from men, their roles call for 'feminine' behaviour. Feminine role varies with the needs of time and place. The married woman is in a different status from that of the single girl. Her role is different and in many ways she will have a different personality.

Status set:

If we take the sum of all of the statuses that we occupy, the result is known as a status set. Status set is a complex of many positions a person occupies. A person can be a doctor, father, husband, a citizen, a member of a political party etc. The sum of all these statuses is called status set.

Master status:

Each person holds many different statuses. Some may connote higher social positions and some lower positions. Sociologist Hughes (1945) observed that certain statuses are more important than others. A status-by which an individual is principally identified in the society, is known as master or key status. This status dominates others and thereby determines a person's general position within a society.

The nature of this key status varies from society to society and varies also from one period of history to another. In India, ascribed status of caste and gender can function as master statuses; they often dominate one's life. They have an important impact on one's potential to achieve a desired professional and social status.