Did You Know?
An ascribed status is further divided into two types: Delayed Ascribed Status which is assigned to a person later in life, and Fluid Ascribed Status which is an achieved status influenced heavily by the ascribed status.
Whether we like it or not, each one of us has our own position in society, a rank in the social hierarchy that has been in existence since times immemorial. This position, also called a 'social status', often decides how a person is to be treated by the rest of the world. If someone holds a high social position, or status, he receives respect, power, and control, whereas if someone holds a so-called low position, he is immediately looked down upon. The question here is, does one get ranked by choice or involuntarily? If it is by choice, then how does the ranking system work? If it isn't a choice, what is the reason for that? Who decides these positions?
The Webster's Dictionary defines status as "the position or rank of someone or something when compared to others in a society, organization, group, etc." This rank is dependent upon many factors―birth, prestige, honor, power, and achievements, to name a few. Status is typical of the vertical stratification as mentioned by sociology experts―the positioning of the members of society in a vertical manner according to the resources they own, the power they have, and their lineage. In any case, it is almost always that the concept of a social status causes inequality in society, and increases the divide that exists between the rich and the poor. Status may be acquired, or it may be ascribed. So, what is an ascribed status in society?
Meaning of Ascribed Status
An ascribed status is a social ranking that a person is assigned at birth, and which stays with him for the rest of his life. The person has no choice or say in the matter, and the status that is stamped onto his identity is based on his birth, his race, his ethnicity, his lineage, his gender, etc. An ascribed status is a key factor in the existence of the social hierarchy, and is one of the reasons why the social hierarchy remains rigid and unchanging. This ascribed status will remain with the individual forever, bringing with it all the good and bad stereotypes that are linked with social positions.
Ascribed statuses exist all over the world, and are not particular to any one culture. Despite the rapid progress and development of society, the custom of assigning a social position to a person at birth is still thriving. A person born into a rich, influential family will have a 'high' ascribed status, solely because of the wealth and power the family possesses. He or she will be treated with respect wherever (s)he goes, and will be privy to all the luxuries and opportunities that exist. On the other hand, a person born to a poor or middle-class family won't be treated the same way. He or she will have to work hard for respect from society. In fact, those born with a poor family background are often looked down upon.
From a bigger point of view, some races or ethnicities are unfairly ranked higher than the others, leading to inequality in society. Aside from the family one belongs to, the caste, creed, gender, race, or nationality also give him/her an ascribed status. Thus, some castes/ethnicities are deemed higher than others, and those deemed lower are looked down upon, their opportunities are often stripped off, and they are assigned to remain beneath the so-called upper strata of society forever.
An ascribed status never takes a person's achievements or good deeds, morals, and education into consideration. It simply assigns higher power and value to those attached to the so-called higher social groups, and lesser or no power and value to those underneath. In many cultures, marriage between a person with a higher ascribed status and a lower ascribed status is largely frowned upon even today.
Examples of an Ascribed Status
Like we saw before, an ascribed status depends upon a person's kith and kin, his/her gender, race, caste, ethnicity, and economic status of his/her family. Some examples of an ascribed status would be:
- Males: Even today, we can see the inequality that exists between a man and a woman in societies across the world. A man gets more respect, more opportunities, and more power simply because of his gender, and even though his female opponent may be more deserving, she is undermined and underestimated.
- Royalty: Members of royal families have a high ascribed status because of their lineage, political and economic connections, and the power they possess. Every new addition to the family gets the high ascribed status, even though he/she hasn't really done anything to get it.
- Family occupations: In some cultures, people were expected to take up only the occupations which their forefathers had chosen. Though this scenario is changing now, it earlier kept the gap between the higher classes and lower classes intact―those born with a higher status held occupations of power and leadership, while those born with a lower status practiced occupations which were controlled by those with power. It did not matter if those with a higher status deserved that power or not, their status defined what they were to get.
Ascribed Status vs. Achieved Status
An achieved status is the complete opposite of an ascribed status. An achieved status is the social positioning of a person based on his achievements, merit, and the fulfillment of goals. An achieved status is earned by an individual, it is not assigned to him at birth, or is not dependent upon his family or race or ethnicity. Achieved statuses are not rigid, and can be assigned to absolutely anyone based on their merit regardless of their ascribed status. An achieved status is the means to ensure more equality in society.
An occupation would be a good example of an achieved status―a person becomes a lawyer, for instance, or a doctor, based on his merit and not his birth, and hence receives the respect and power that he or she has earned.
An ascribed status causes a divide in society, and yet, it provides every individual with a social identity. To do away with this divide, it is necessary to put more emphasis on treating people according to their achievements and merit, and not the power that was conferred upon them at birth.