social status

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social status


Status, Social


the relative position of an individual or group in a social system, defined in terms of certain attributes (economic, professional, or ethnic, for example) specific to the given system.

People with the same social status display a set of similar personality traits that are apprehended as an individual’s “social type.” Status can be either “ascribed” or “achieved,” depending respectively on whether an individual holds a given position owing to inherited characteristics, such as race or social origin, or through his own efforts—for example, through education or merit. Any social status may be compared to another in terms of some criterion corresponding to the dominant value system, and thus acquires a given degree of social prestige.

The work of bourgeois sociologists on social status is largely based on the theory of M. Weber, who counterposed his own views to those of historical materialism. According to Weber, social stratification is determined not only by economic and political factors (access to national wealth, for example, or power, or law), but also by social factors (such as prestige). In Weber’s terminology, status (his Stand, meaning estate as well as position in general) is what unites a group of people sharing a specific life-style—a style that includes a set of habits, values, beliefs, notions of honor, and other psychological elements. For every lifestyle there is a correspondingly higher or lower evaluation, or degree of esteem, and those seeking such evaluation will adopt certain norms and ideas. Thus, the bourgeois nouveau riche strives to copy the aristocracy’s life-style, and his children may acquire a contemptuous attitude toward economic entrepreneurship.

Bourgeois sociology attempts to establish empirically the aggregate of objective factors (such as sex, age, ethnicity, education, type of occupation, property) on the basis of which status groups arise, each with its particular life-style. Such concepts ignore class relations as the real basis of status or of social distinctions.

The concept of status is also used as a correlate of social role; status refers to a set of rights and duties, while role denotes the dynamic aspect of status—that is, a particular behavior. In bourgeois sociology and social psychology, this concept of status is given a psychological interpretation, referring essentially to an individual’s position as perceived by himself or by others.

Marxist-Leninist class theory makes it possible to analyze the division of society into various classes, social groups, and strata, and to define the principles underlying people’s status. In a socialist society, with its absence of class antagonism, the most important variables that determine the status of a group are occupation and educational qualifications (and consequently wages), as well as age, marital or family characteristics, and regional or local categories. The more useful an individual’s work is to society and the greater his efforts and achievements, the higher his status.


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