Ascribed status
Ascribed status is the social status
Social status
In sociology or anthropology, social status is the honor or prestige attached to one's position in society . It may also refer to a rank or position that one holds in a group, for example son or daughter, playmate, pupil, etc....

 a person is assigned at birth or assumed involuntarily later in life. It is a position that is neither earned nor chosen but assigned. These rigid social designators remain fixed throughout an individual's life and are inseparable from the positive or negative stereotypes that are linked with one's ascribed statuses.

The practice of assigning such statuses to individuals exists cross-culturally within all societies and is based on sex, gender, race, family origins, and ethnic backgrounds. For example, a person born into a wealthy family has a high ascribed status based solely on the social networks and economic advantages that one gains from being born into a family with more resources than others.

In contrast, an achieved status
Achieved status
Achieved status is a sociological term denoting a social position that a person can acquire on the basis of merit; it is a position that is earned or chosen. It is the opposite of ascribed status. It reflects personal skills, abilities, and efforts...

 is a social position a person takes on voluntarily that reflects both personal ability and merit. An individual's occupation tends to fall under the category of an achieved status; for example, a teacher or a firefighter.

Individuals have control over their achieved statuses insofar as there are no restrictions that are associated with their ascribed statuses that could potentially hinder their social growth. Ascribed status plays an important role in societies because it can provide the members with a defined and unified identity. No matter where an individual's ascribed status may place him or her in the social hierarchy each has a set of roles and expectations that are directly linked to each ascribed status and thus, provides a social identity.


The various factors which determine ascribed status are:
  • Age
    Ageing or aging is the accumulation of changes in a person over time. Ageing in humans refers to a multidimensional process of physical, psychological, and social change. Some dimensions of ageing grow and expand over time, while others decline...

    , as in age stratification
    Age stratification
    In critical sociology, age stratification refers to the hierarchical ranking of people into age groups within a society.Age stratification which is based on an ascribed status is a major source inequality, and thus may lead to ageism.-External links:* *...

  • Kinship
    Kinship is a relationship between any entities that share a genealogical origin, through either biological, cultural, or historical descent. And descent groups, lineages, etc. are treated in their own subsections....

  • Sex
    In biology, sex is a process of combining and mixing genetic traits, often resulting in the specialization of organisms into a male or female variety . Sexual reproduction involves combining specialized cells to form offspring that inherit traits from both parents...

  • Appearance
    Human physical appearance
    Human physical appearance refers to the outward phenotype or look of human beings. There are infinite variations in human phenotypes, though society reduces the variability to distinct categories...

  • Race
  • Group
  • Caste
    Caste is an elaborate and complex social system that combines elements of endogamy, occupation, culture, social class, tribal affiliation and political power. It should not be confused with race or social class, e.g. members of different castes in one society may belong to the same race, as in India...

In addition to ascription, at birth there are also:
  • Delayed Ascription - When the social status is given at a later stage of life
  • Fluid Ascription - When the ascribed status leads to an achieved status

Reversible and irreversible ascribed status

The sociologist, Ralph Linton
Ralph Linton
Ralph Linton was a respected American anthropologist of the mid-twentieth century, particularly remembered for his texts The Study of Man and The Tree of Culture...

, developed definitions for ascribed status and achieved status. According to Linton, ascribed status is assigned to an individual without reference to their innate differences or abilities. Achieved status is determined by an individual's performance or effort. Linton noted that while the definitions of the two concepts are clear and distinct, it is not always easy to identify whether an individual's status is ascribed or achieved. His perspective offers a deviation from the view that ascribed statuses are always fixed.

Religion is generally perceived as an ascribed status but for those individuals that choose a religion as an adult or convert to another religion their religion is then an achieved status, based on Linton's definition. It is commonly perceived that ascribed statuses are irreversible while achieved statuses are reversible. Linton uses Leo Schnore's research to illustrate how ascribed statuses can be both irreversible and reversible. An example of an ascribed reversible status is the status of citizenship.

An example of ascribed irreversible status is age. His conclusion is based on the fact that an ascribed status within a social structure is indicative of the behavior that one can exhibit but it does not explain the action itself. Ascribed status is an arbitrary system of classifying individuals that is not fixed in the way that most people think.

Status is a social phenomenon rather than a biological one. The meaning is derived from the collection of expectations of how an individual should behave and what the expected treatment of that individual is. If an individual lies about a biological fact or social accomplishment and this lie remains undiscovered by others and is accepted by them then in this social system, his status will be based on the lie. His status would not be based on a biological fact or social accomplishment.

Behavior toward the individual will be in accordance with the accepted lie. Consequently, behavior expected from that individual will also be in accordance with that accepted lie rather than the ascribed status that would be associated with him if the truth were known. The success of the structure requires that the expectations remain constant, even if they are illegitimately acquired, given that the truth is never discovered. This further highlights the arbitrariness of ascribed status because there is no biological basis or universal truth for assigning these societal rankings to individuals.

Low self-esteem and ascribed status

There is a positive correlation between an individual's self-esteem and their ascribed status; for this purpose, self-esteem is defined as a liking and respect for oneself which has its basis in reality. Individuals with a low social status generally have a lower self-esteem. A negative image of oneself among individuals with lower ascribed statuses is the result of the internalization of the expectations that others have of them and the treatment that they receive based on those statuses.

The juxtaposition of their own value systems against the larger society's view often leaves individuals of a lower status with low self-esteem without regard to the individual’s actual capabilities. A negative self-image may stifle an individual's efforts to acquire a certain achieved status; this illustrates how a low ascribed status can result in a low achieved status.

Minorities and status inconsistency

Ascribed statuses are determined by the dominant groups in society and as a result, minorities are often assigned lower statuses. Within the social structure of the United States, minority groups are forced to attempt to reconcile the conflicts that arise from the social expectations that are linked with their assigned statuses in society and their perceived view of themselves. In the face of the knowledge that individuals occupy more than one ascribed role at a time, it becomes evident that there may be some statuses in society’s multi-dimensional structure that do not comfortably coexist.

Status consistency is defined as the degree to which an individual’s social rank positions that exist within important status hierarchies are at a comparable level. At the root of the problem of status inconsistency is the inability of individuals to reconcile the conflicting expectations. A woman from a racial minority group may not experience status inconsistency because as a woman and as a member of a minority group she may be considered to be of a lower ascribed status. But, if this woman rejects the assigned roles that are associated with her status she is then experiencing status inconsistency.

To offer another example, a woman born into a wealthy family occupies both a high and a low ascribed status within the social structure because her inherited resources and social networks are advantageous while her role as a woman may be considered inferior. When a person holds a high rank on one status dimension and low rank on another, the expectations of the two are often at odds with one another.

The two general consequences that arise from the tension that exists between the differing expectations are frustration and uncertainty about how one should act given how others believe they should behave and their own perceived notions of their abilities and the course of action that they should take to achieve their goals.

Types of statuses in upper class population

  • The Ascribed Status - an inherited status which symbolizes ownership of wealth
    Wealth is the abundance of valuable resources or material possessions. The word wealth is derived from the old English wela, which is from an Indo-European word stem...

     and vast land. The royal family fall into this category
  • The 'Pop Aristocracy' in which famous people who originated from working and middle class background made their money. Football players, actors and the like are included in this category.
  • Achieved Status - the last group of upper class are the entrepreneurs. They will have made their money from business. Firstly starting with a small family business, they slowly expanded and made their wealth in this way.


Wealth is not the only social characteristic that defines an individual's ascribed status. Religion is also a factor that must be considered. If your family identifies with a particular religion be it Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

, Hinduism
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

, Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

, etc., you are identified as the same religion as your biological or adopted parents. An individual's religion or absence of religion then becomes apart of his or her ascribed status. The social norms of a particular religion may have different ascribed statuses than those that are given by the larger society that it assigns to its followers based on the religious doctrines that govern their belief. Ascribed status can also be closely linked with master status as they both involve what you were born with although master status is a broader term and looks at more topics than ascribed status. Another way to look at ascribed status is through the caste system in India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...


Caste system

The caste system in India long has been an extreme example of a stratification structure based on ascribed status. Each level in the stratification structure is known as a caste. Everyone is born belonging to a specific caste. The caste of the parents thus generally determines the status of their children, regardless of ability or merit. The ranks of the caste system include:
  • Brahmins- These is the highest rank of the whole caste system. The Brahmins consist of all priests, scholars, and enlightened people that have been through many lives.

  • Kshatriyas- These are the rulers, warriors, and those concerned with the defense and administration of the well-being of their town or village.

  • Vaishyas- These people consisted of all the traders, merchants, and people involved in agricultural production

  • Sudra
    Shudra is the fourth Varna, as prescribed in the Purusha Sukta of the Rig veda, which constitutes society into four varnas or Chaturvarna. The other three varnas are Brahmans - priests, Kshatriya - those with governing functions, Vaishya - agriculturalists, cattle rearers and traders...

    - These people are the lowest of the caste system. Hindu religion believes this class is where first life starts. The sudras spend most of their time being the laborers and servants for the other castes.

  • Untouchables- The untouchables are the lowest of the low. They are so low that they do not have a place in the caste system. The jobs of these people include the cleaning of dead bodies and fecal excrement.


  2. A Clarification of "Ascribed Status" and "Achieved Status", by Irving S. Foladare The Sociological Quarterly © 1969 Midwest Sociological Society.
  3. A Clarification of "Ascribed Status" and "Achieved Status", by Irving S. Foladare The Sociological Quarterly © 1969 Midwest Sociological Society.
  4. Self-Esteem and Low Status Groups: A Changing Scene?, by Jeffrey M. Jacques and Karen J. Chason The Sociological Quarterly © 1977 Midwest Sociological Society.
  5. Status Consistency and Symptoms of Stress, by Elton F. Jackson American Sociological Review © 1962 American Sociological Association.
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