Status attainment

Status attainment

Status attainment or status attainment theory deals largely with one’s position in society, or class. Status attainment is affected by both achieved factors, such as educational attainment, and ascribed factors, such as family income. It is achieved by a combination of parent’s status, one’s own efforts and abilities, and luck. The idea behind status attainment is that one can be mobile, either upwardly or downwardly, in the form of a class system.

In education context, status attainment assumes that social status of parents affects educational level achieved by children, which in turn affects occupational level and social status. Thus, level of schooling would affect (moderate) the degree of intergenerational transmission of social status. [ [ Status Attainment Theory] ]


Peter M. Blau and Otis Duncan were the first sociologists to grasp the concept of status attainment. Their introductory thesis stated that the lower the level from which a person starts, the greater is the probability that he will be upwardly mobile, simply because many more occupational destinations entail upward mobility for men with low origins than for those with high ones. After continued research, the initial statement proved to be incorrect. Blau and Duncan realized that people couldn't possibly think that the best way to get a high-social status position is to start at the bottom. They continued to find that the flaw was in the question the information was based upon. They found their research shouldn't be found upon the question of How are people mobile but how do people attain their statuses. Peter Blau and Otis Duncan continued on to conduct a landmark research study to provide answers to their new question.

The United States Bureau of the Census began the research when they conducted interviews in 1962 based on questions prepared by Blau and Duncan. The results showed that it was better to start at the top of the stratification system rather than at the bottom. Men whose fathers held high-status jobs had increased odds of gaining a high-status position although the results had shown a considerably weak correlation. The weak correlation continued to show that education was the primary mechanism in occupational status rather than a father’s occupational status. Men who held high-status jobs were usually able to give their sons more years of quality education than those who didn’t hold high-status jobs.

Peter Blau and Otis Duncan's conduction of the initial research study and status attainment model continues to be the core behind the theory of status attainment.

Status attainment in the United States

The first factor that affects one's status attainment is a person's family of origin. The parent's occupations, levels of education, and incomes are highly correlated with status attainment. Next, ability is usually measured by some sort of achievement test, and therefore refers to academic aptitude. One's ascribed ability strongly affects educational attainment. Academic performance contributes to status attainment because it eventually determines what job you will get. Encouragement from family and friends will affect education and occupational attainment. These aspirations create an expectation of achieving a certain educational level or occupation. Educational attainment strongly influences occupational attainment. It is clear that all of these factors are linked together and continue to affect each other throughout one's lifespan.

Status attainment is a process that we all go through. African Americans follow the same path, but their steps are limited. Differences in educational and occupational attainment have declined among African Americans. However, on average, African Americans and Whites begin at different status levels and end in different status levels. Increased schooling benefits everyone, but due to discrimination, white males benefit more. The same results are found in other minority groups and among females. Citation | last = Beeghley | first = Leonard | publication-date = |year = 2008 | title = The Structure of Social Stratification in the United States| edition = 5th | publication-place = | publisher = Pearson Education Inc. | pages = 129, 133 | isbn = 978-0-205-53052-6

Socialization vs. allocation

Socialization and Allocation are two different types of status attainment. Both models discuss the importance of how others effect attainments of an individual. “While both are the same in that aspect both differentiate on theoretical interpretations of the same observations and direct our attention to different kinds of phenomena.” (Kerckhoff 368-379).

According to Rodney Stark, Sociology Tenth Edition, the allocation theories are theories that argue that the primary function of schools is to allocate status, to place students in the stratification system, rather than to train them. (Stark 641). “In other words teachers identify and classify students according to externally imposed criteria.” (Kerckhoff 368-379). "Since this seems to imply that social order rests upon consensual values, and that the prestige hierarchy is a function of widespread convergence in moral evaluations, the approach has been criticized as an extension of the functional theory of stratification—although its practitioners strenuously deny this charge." (Marshall 1998). In this model “social agencies” try to determine the path of the individual and the individual is constricted to what they can do, do to the social structure. In most conditions ambition has no effect on outcome and the outcome is usually predictable. Allocation is “based on “plans” and “exceptions” rather than “wishes” or “aspirations”. As children get older they become less convinced that everyone has an equal chance to obtain “good things” in life.” (Kerckhoff 368-379). The clearest examples of this model are discrimination of race and individual characteristics. In the article The Status Attainment Process: Socialization or Allocation? Alan C. Kerckhoff states “rewards black receive for any level of accomplishment are lower than those of whites at the same level.”

Socialization, on the other hand, looks for the characteristics that affect the individual.This term is used by many but most commonly used by psychologist, sociologists and educationalists to describe the learning of ones culture and how to fit in. Also it teaches one how to act and participate in the society. Referring to the book Sociology, Socialization is the process by which culture is learned and internalized by each member of society-much of which occurs during childhood. (Stark 657).Or it can be explained as "the process by which we learn to become members of society, both by internalizing the norms and values of society, and also by learning to perform our social roles." (Marshall 1998). Unlike allocation adults can be enabled to perform new roles. With this model motivation and ability are important factors to help one attain status, this means “Individuals are free to move within the social system, attainments being determined by what the individual does and how well they choose to do it.” (Kerckhoff). Some people doubt in this system because they can be influenced by others or misinterpreted to how they feel fit.

Female status attainment

Status attainment for women is changing dramatically. Now that more women are joining the workforce female status attainment is becoming increasingly self-accomplished rather than through family background or gained through marriage. Still in today’s society however, women are much less likely than men to hold full-time jobs. This is especially true with women who come from a less privileged background or who have lower education levels. It is also interesting that women with full-time jobs tend to come from more economic prestige than working males. Rodney Stark suggests that "the average working woman's father has more education and a better job than does the father of the average employed male."

Ironically, even though women hold fewer jobs than men, women hold jobs of higher prestige than their male counterparts. This is probably because it is not beneficial for women who are married with children to go out and get lower-paying, lower status jobs because the economic benefits cancel themselves out in the end. Another irony is that married working women hold less prestigious jobs than their spouses. This is partially because married people tend to share the same economic backgrounds as well as education levels.

In the past, females generally attained their status through family background or marriage. Although it is still true today, females are becoming more independent and socially mobile. The increased independence and social mobility has led to an increase in women attaining their own status rather than attaining their status through family circumstances and/or through marriage.

Occupational status

Status attainment is directly related to occupational status. Occupational status and the attainment thereof is perhaps the core idea of status attainment. Status in the workforce is affected by many factors, most notably, gender, parent status, and work trends. Some major studies have proved these factors to be truly important. One such study that of John Porter, a Canadian, we will focus on.

In the 1973 survey conducted in Canada, Porter began to explore ideas of occupational status attainment. John Porter started his study believing that Canadians were less mobile than Americans in terms of climbing the occupational status ladder. In fact it was quite the opposite, Canadians as well as Americans had higher occupational statuses if their parents were high on the status ladder. This study also showed that gender can be important as well. Women who have full time jobs come from families higher up on the occupational ladder than men do. Work trends as well are a major factor in determining the occupational status of a person. We have seen a large shift of the workforce move from the agriculture aspect to largely skilled jobs. Since, few are left to labor in the agricultural field, we’ve found that those left are not unskilled laborers but rather farm owners. Thus a large shift in the occupational status of an average person in the agricultural sector has occurred.

To end, these findings and others can tell us many things about the status attainment of average persons. Most importantly they tell us that status is not simply attained through on underlying cause or factor but rather by a multitude of factors. In studying these factors more we can understand how they affect all aspects of status attainment.

Current research

* A research study of the country of Vietnam was conducted by the University of Utah in 2003. The study was focused upon the status attainment processes experienced by a generation of young men and women entering school and work roles during the transition of socialism to market economy in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Korinek). The analysis of the research seemed to show similar results to earlier implications on how status is attained through quality education rather than job, or social status of their parents.

* Blau and Duncan model: studies by Peter M. Blau and Otis Dudley Duncan in 1962, tested the correlation between son's occupational status with father's occupational status. Their studies were limited to males and showed two aspects of a person's social class of origin: father's educational achievements and occupational prestige; both ascriptive status traits (fixed at birth). The purpose of the study was to test whether ascriptive or achieved characteristics directly affected status attainment of the child. Higher father's educational achievements could yield higher child's educational achievement due to higher expectations and more support for attainment. Higher father's occupational prestige could increase educational expectations for the child as well as providing financial resources to support higher education. This model set the foundation for further investigation.

* Wisconsin Model: developed by William H. Sewell and his associates, further studied the mold set forth by Blau and Duncan. Their addition of variables such as: a child's mental ability, educational achievement, peer influence and personal aspirations, helped link stratification and mental ability inputs through a set of social psychological and behavioral mechanisms to educational and occupational attainment. These subjective variables added a social psychological side that Blau and Duncan lacked in their research. The study did not make any definite solutions of child status attainment but contributed greatly to encourage even further research.


# Duncan, O. D., Featherman, D. L., & Duncan, B. (1972). Socioeconomic background and achievement. New York: Seminar Press.
# Korinek, Kim. 2003. The status attainment of young adults during market transition: The case of Vietnam. Retrieved October 28, 2007, from Web site:
# Lin, N. 1999. Social Networks and Status Attainment. Annual Review of Sociology.
# Lin, N, WM Ensel, JC Vaughn. 1981. Social Resources and Strength of Ties: Structural Factors in Occupational Status Attainment. American Sociological Review.
# Marshall, Gordon (1998). Socialization. Retrieved October 22, 2007, from Web site:
# Marshall, Gordon (1998). Status attainment. Retrieved October 22, 2007, from Web site:
# Wegener, B. 1991. Job Mobility and Social Ties: Social Resources, Prior Job, and Status Attainment. American Sociological Review.
# Hanneman, Robert A. Status Attainment. Retrieved December 13, 2007, from University of California, Riverside, Department of Sociology Web site:

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