Achieved status

Achieved status

Achieved status is a sociological term denoting a social position that a person acquires on the basis of merit. It reflects personal skills, abilities, and efforts. Examples of achieved status are being an Olympic athlete, being a criminal, or being a college professor. Status is important sociologically because it comes with a set of rights, obligations, behaviors, and duties that people occupying a certain position are expected or encouraged to perform. These expectations are referred to as roles. For instance, the role of a "professor" includes teaching students, answering their questions, being impartial, and dressing appropriately.

Achieved status v. ascribed status

Ascribed status is a position assigned to individuals or groups based on traits beyond their control, such as sex, race, or parental social status. This is usually associated with "closed" societies. Achieved status is distinguished from ascribed status by virtue of being earned. Many positions are a mixture of achievement and ascription; for instance, a person who has achieved the status of being a doctor is more likely to have the ascribed status of being born into a wealthy family. This is usually associated with "open" societies or "social" class societies.

As related to social mobility

Social mobility refers to one's ability to move their status either up or down within the social stratification system, as compared with their family’s status in early life. Some people with achieved status have improved their position within the social system via their own merit and achievements. Someone may also have achieved status that decreases their position within the social system, such as by becoming a notorious criminal. In a society that one's position in that society can change due to their actions, either increase or decrease, that society can be referred to as an Open System. A Closed System society would not allow Social mobility as easily as an Open System.

Cultural capital

Cultural capital is a concept, developed by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, that can refer to both achieved and ascribed characteristics. They are desirable qualities (either material or symbolic) that contribute to one's social status; any advantages a person has which give them a higher status in society. It may include high expectations, forms of knowledge, skill, and education, among other things. Parents provide children with cultural capital, the attitudes and knowledge that make the educational system a comfortable familiar place in which they can succeed easily. There are other types of capital as well; Social capital refers to ones membership in groups, relationships, and networks. It too can have a significant impact on achievement level.


Industrialization has led to a vast increase in the possible standard of living for the average person but also made this increase necessary. For the productivity of the average worker to rise, he or she had to receive far more education and training. This successively made the average worker much less replaceable and therefore more powerful. Hence, it became necessary to satisfy workers’ demands for a larger share.


According to sociologist, Rodney Stark, few Americans believe coming from a wealthy family or having political connections is necessary to get ahead. In contrast, many people in other industrialized nations think these factors are necessary for advancement. Americans are more likely than the people in these nations to rate “hard work” as very important for getting ahead. While most nations value hard work, the Italians, for example, are hardly more likely to rate it as very important than they are to think one needs political connections.


People with a lower income will generally be a better example of moving up in the social stratification and achieving status. This holds to be evident in most cases because those who accrue a lower income usually have the motivation to achieve a greater status through their own ambitions and hard work. Those of higher income are typically the result of achieving status. In other cases the people of higher income may have unjustly acquired that position and were ascribed the status and income they hold, such as monarchs, family run businesses, etc. Those without the privilege of ascribing their status will generally have the greater motivation of achieving their own status. The general economic well being of the society the person lives in also tends to be another factor in their status and to what extent they are able to achieve their status. For example Americans are less likely than people in other industrialized nations to object to current income variances. According to Rodney Stark, in 1992, only twenty-seven percent of Americans strongly agreed that income disparities in their country were too large. In contrast, more than half of Russians, Italians, and Bulgarians agreed with this statement.

Achieved status in stratification systems around the world

In all societies a person's social status is the result of both ascribed and achieved characteristics. Societies differ markedly on several dimensions in this process: what attributes are used to assign status, the relative importance of ascribed vrs achieved attributes, the overall potential for social mobility, the rates of mobility that actually occurred, and the barriers for particular sub-groups to enjoy upward mobility in that society.

Cultural differences around the world

Medieval Europe

One's status in medieval Europe was primarily based on ascription. People born into the noble class were likely to keep a high position and people born of peasants were likely to stay in a low position. This political system is known as Feudalism and does not allow for much Social mobility.

Feudalism in Latin America

Bolivia has had past newspaper advertisements that claimed to have land, animals and peasants for sale. The peasants weren't necessarily slaves but placed in their Social class and obligated to work due to their bind to the land they lived and farmed. This sort of social interaction is based mainly on the people's strong belief of tradition and to uphold the actions of the past. In 1971 Ernesto Laclau addressed the argument of whether Latin America was either under a social system of Feudalism or Capitalism. He determined that the social system was extremely different from the capitalistic system in Europe and America, so therefore Latin America would be more closely related to have a Feudalism approach to social interaction.

Caste system in India

In caste systems, ascription is the overpowering basis for status. Traditional society in India was comprised of many castes. Each person’s caste group was determined at birth (children joined their parents’ caste group) and each group was limited to certain occupations. All of the filthy and undignified occupations, such as collecting garbage, were reserved for one caste, whose members were excluded from holding any other occupation. Correspondingly, highly skilled occupations, such as being a goldsmith, were reserved for another caste. However, some people managed through talent and luck to rise above their given caste. For example, great aptitude as a soldier was often a way to reach a higher status. Similarly, some people fell to low positions if they misbehaved and/or exhibited incompetence.

Mahatma Gandhi, a British-educated lawyer was born into the "vaishya", or business, caste. During his lifetime, he led a nationwide campaign in attempt to end caste discrimination among other "injustices" (as he saw them) in India during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

United States and Canada

Social status is primarily based on achievement in the United States and Canada. Most North Americans are socially mobile and either rise or fall below the status of their parents.

In the 1950s, Seymour Martin Lipset and Reinhard Bendix of the University of California, Berkley, found that individual achievement depends on one’s adaptability to developments in technology. They also observed structural mobility in these societies. That is, industrialization has increased the proportion of high-status occupations and has decreased lower-status occupations. When structural change forces a great deal of upward mobility that’s not at the expense of people born into high-status families, it is hard to oppose it or discriminate against individuals who have risen.

ee also

*Ascribed status
*Master status
*Social class
*Social hierarchy
*Social status
*Social structure of the United States
*Status attainment


[ online edition]

Further reading

cite book |last= Lipset |first= Seymour Martin |authorlink= Seymour Martin Lipset |coauthors= Reinhard Bendix |title= Social Mobility in Industrial Society |year= 1959 |publisher= University of California Press |isbn= 0887387608 [ online edition]


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