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What Is an Ascribed Status?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2016
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Ascribed status is a sociological term that refers to certain things about an individual that he or she is born with or simply possesses, which are partially predictive of a societal position. Some common traits that confer status are ethnicity, age, and gender, and the degree to which these have an effect depend on the society. Being born female in some cultures means having fewer opportunities, for example. The types of status that are ascribed are often contrasted to the achieved status or those things an individual can do to gain higher social positioning.

In addition to factors that determine ascribed status like age, gender and ethnicity, there are arguably other factors that help to determine a person’s social position and opportunity level. The socioeconomic status of parents, and later of each individual, may have an effect on how much achieved status a person can gain. Numerous studies have evaluated how an ascribed status like parental education or ability to afford health care may affect a person’s social positioning throughout life. Another area worth considering is genetics, since many diseases, like mental illnesses, may be passed from one generation to the next and could alter a person’s ability to achieve.

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Certain cultures have a high tolerance for people with any ascribed status reaching any possible achieved status. In places like the US, different ethnicities and genders may rise to high status levels, though it is generally the case that the ascribed status of a person may create or remove obstacles. For example, most women still make less money then men performing the same jobs, even if a few women are extremely financially successful.

Other cultures are notoriously much less permissive of certain people with an ascribed status gaining an elevated achieved status. In countries where there is strong attention to caste, some people may be, by birth, only able to progress to a certain point. Lower castes, generally determined by family of origin, may not enjoy the same freedoms or economic opportunities. A number of countries also place strong restrictions on the activities of women, meaning their ability to achieve is limited. Socioeconomic levels, class, religious or sexual preferences are other potential areas that could limit achievement.

Sociologists tend to view an ascribed status as a partial influence on a person’s success that is mediated by the ability to achieve and by cultural beliefs. Since cultures can change their views, status that is ascribed can become more or less important over a person’s lifetime. Moreover, in spite of disadvantageous circumstances, a few people achieve great things, anyway. Therefore, this status is somewhat but not totally predictive of a person’s eventual social standing.

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