Examples of ascribed status include age, gender, race, caste, disability, inherited title, and multigenerational wealth.
An ascribed status is a social status that you didn’t choose and is usually given to you from birth.
When exploring a person’s ascribed status, you need to think of identity features that a person neither earned nor chose. No amount of effort or desire can influence our ascribed status.
(However, as I discuss in the FAQ at the bottom of this article, in some instances, ascribed status can be gained and lost later in life!)
Ascribed Status Examples
A person cannot change their age, making this an ascribed identity marker. While this is ascribed throughout our lives, it also changes. You move through phases of infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, and senior years, at a pace that you do not control.
At each age, you may face discrimination and stereotypes that will both hinder and help you. As a young person, you may be seen as cool and full of vitality but also naïve. As an elderly person, you may be seen as wise but also potentially failing cognitively or strength-wise. These are all considerations that could benefit you when going for a job, or that a potential employer might hold against you.
Your gender (male or female) is ascribed by society at birth. However, in the 21st Century, people are increasingly seeing gender to be more fluid than in the past. Progressive societies acknowledge transgenderism where people are born feeling as if they are one gender trapped in the other gender’s body.
See Also: Gender Stereotype Examples
Your race is a genetically defined feature. It is generally identifiable by your skin color, but also other features such as eye color and jawline. Common races include black, Caucasian, and Asian.
Societies have historically created social hierarchies based on race. For example, in the United States, white Europeans have historically enjoyed privileges while African Americans have historically suffered severe discrimination.
Unlike race, ethnicity is about cultural expressions of people who share common ancestry. For example, people who are Caucasian might come from a range of different ethnic groups ranging from Ireland across to eastern Russia.
Similarly, in Myanmar, there are multiple different ethnic groups within the country that are in consistent and ongoing armed conflict.
Furthermore, you may have been born in the United States but enjoy an ethnic background from anywhere in the world because you continue to practice the traditions of your ethnic origins.
See Also: Social Identity Examples
A person doesn’t choose to have a disability. Nevertheless, it is a status marker that can have a negative impact throughout your life.
For example, it could hinder your ability to access public services, jobs, or even go traveling throughout your life. While society has made good gains in ensuring access for people with disabilities, there is still some way to go.
6. Physical Appearance
While people make big efforts to alter their physical appearance (from putting on makeup to getting cosmetic surgery), it is by-and-large an attribute that you don’t have control over.
Unfortunately, physical appearance can lead to status discrimination, such as when people who are overweight are overlooked for customer service jobs because a brand wants to maintain an image of beauty and perfection.
You do not choose your ancestry and yet it can dramatically impact your position in the social stratification system.
The most stark example of this is the descendants of slaves. They continue to experience the intergenerational disadvantages that came from their disempowerment and disenfranchisement.
Other examples of ancestry impacting your social position is if you were born into minor royalty or can get a legacy position in an elite school such as Eton in England.
8. Birth Order
There is research showing that your birth order may impact your success in life. Furthermore, in some societies, the first-born son is favored and privileged while the younger children and girls are secondary. This can impact access to education and other opportunities in life.
9. Citizenship at Birth
Your birth citizenship can dramatically affect your life. For example, people born into first-world countries have greater access to public services and enhanced ability to travel unimpeded.
While this is usually an ascribed status, it is also possible to change your citizenship. However, this requires a lot of work. If you become a naturalized citizen, then your citizenship will become an achieved status. Similarly, in some circumstances, you can lose or renounce your citizenship.
10. First Language
People do not choose the first language they learn. Your first language is the language of your parents.
People who speak English tend to have a global advantage because it is the language of business. However, upper middle-class people who don’t speak English as a first language tend to be able to speak multiple languages which could also give them an upper hand.
Associated with first language is the seemingly stubborn identity marker of your accent.
Accents tend to become permanent and unchangeable from about the age of 12. After this age, even if you move overseas and live in a culture with an entirely different accent, you tend to keep your original accent.
This can cause your status to remain fixed for life. For example, even you move from the UK to the USA at the age of 20 and stay there for 30 years, you will still be seen by people you interact with as British, not American.
12. Inherited Title
Sometimes, you might inherit a title. This is most common in old monarchies like the UK. You might inherit the title of Baroness, Duke, Dame, or Earl. These inherited titles can remain with you for your whole life thanks to your royal ancestry.
The United States doesn’t tend to have these titles, but there are less formal titles that one might inherit such as the “son of Rupert Murdoch” or “daughter of the former president” that you cannot shake.
13. Multigenerational Wealth
People can inherit wealth. We might call these people ‘trust fund babies’.
Inherited wealth, also known as old money, is destined for you from birth. This can shape how people treat you as you grow up as well as your opportunities (for example, for elite education).
The issue of whether sexuality is a choice or something you are ‘born with’ has been ongoing for decades.
Today, progressive societies increasingly leaning toward embracing the idea that people do not choose their sexuality, based upon the testimony of LGBTQI people.
Thus, we can consider sexuality to be ascribed rather than an achieved status example.
- Brahmins – Teachers and intellectuals
- Kshatriyas – Warriors and rulers
- Vaishyas – Traders
- Shudras – Menial jobs
Your assigned profession in life used to depend on the caste you were born into. Furthermore, people from lower castes (e.g. those that destined you for menial work) were widely discriminated against to the extent that they were considered ‘untouchables’.
Movement between the castes and marriage to people from other castes was also traditionally frowned upon.
Today, discrimination between castes remains among many people.
16. Postcode at Birth
The place where you were born is not up to you but can have a big impact on your life.
For example, in many countries, your postcode influences where you can go to public school. Similarly, it may influence the sort of healthcare you have access to.
This also relates to being a ‘city kid’ or a ‘rural kid’ who might have a lot more access to outdoor play which can help with spontaneous physical development.
Thus, while your parents may be able to make a choice about where within a city or country you are born, you personally did not.
While not the most important factor that might impact your status within the social hierarchy, your hair is an example of ascribed status.
This is one ascribed status that you cannot change but also changes through life. For example, you might become a bald man at age 25 without any choice of your own. Suddenly, you find that as part of your identity that you cannot change (and something that could impact your status in social situations, such as when dating).
18. Social Class
People tend to be born into a social class. This doesn’t just mean wealth (e.g being born into poverty) but also a class-based culture.
For example, working-class people often tend to associate with other working-class people, share a common way of speaking, and live in the same neighborhoods.
By contrast, being born into the upper class will mean you have access to better schools, more learning resources, and more elite clubs.
As a child, you tend not to choose which social class you belong to. However, when you’re older, you may be able to move across class boundaries, so this one fits in the gray area between ascribed and achieved. As a student, it might be a good idea not to use this as a clear ascribed status example.
19. Genetic Predispositions
We are often predisposed to certain physical traits due to our genes. A person may be predisposed to a certain chronic illness, for example.
Similarly, you may have a certain genetic predisposition to being particularly muscular, tall, thin, short, or fat. Each of these predispositions may lead to stereotyping throughout your life or limit life chances (e.g. not being allowed into the military due to flat feet).
See Also: Types of Stereotypes
Like social class, religion is partially ascribed and partially achieved. We usually start with an ascribed religion (e.g. being baptised at birth) and raised within your family’s religious traditions.
We are introduced to and socialized with people within our family’s religious groupings and obtain that religious identity with minimal personal choice.
When we reach adulthood, we may change religions, lose faith, or continue the religion of our family. Thus, into adulthood, this one becomes a choice and is therefore closer to an attained rather than ascribed status in adulthood.
Like religion, we’re usually born into a culture that we cannot choose. As we get older, we can choose to reject the culture, but many dispositions of the culture stay with us for life.
That’s because a culture becomes normalized within us. For example, some cultures teach their children in unique ways (e.g. the place-based learning that occurs in Aboriginal Australian culture) that can influence how someone learns and thinks for the rest of their lives.
Related: Examples of Culture
In some towns, sharing a surname with people who have been disgraced can be a big problem.
While you may not personally have any reason to be seen as being a disgrace, if two of your uncles went to prison and your cousins are poorly behaved at the local school, this might work against you. People may stereotype you.
By contrast, if you’re the younger brother or sister of an intelligent person or a star athlete, people might see you as also having great potential.
23. Eye Color
Eye color very rarely impacts your destiny. It is not an identifying feature that tends to garner much discrimination. The rare exception might be people with stunning eyes. In these cases, they might be considered beautiful and gain certain advantages from this.
Nevertheless, eye color is an ascribed feature rather than an achieved feature.
Ascribed Status Definition in Sociology
Ascribed status is a concept in sociology that works in contrast to achieved status (a social status that you worked for) and master status (your dominant identity feature).
Social status research was progressed by Max Weber in his research on the three-component theory from The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Weber argued that social status was one of three components that contributed to the social stratification system which privileges some people above others.
Following Weber’s work, Ralph Linton developed the dualistic concepts of ascribed status versus achieved status.
Ascribed Status vs Achieved Status in Sociology
According to Linton, ascribed status was one given to us at birth and neither earned nor chosen. No amount of effort or desire would influence our ascribed status.
By contrast, achieved status was something we could choose and earn through ability, merit, and choice.
The concepts of ascribed and achieved status help us to understand how prestige, privilege, and honor are either achieved or assigned by society. They show how we live in a social hierarchy that is both incredibly unfair (we’re born into a position on the hierarchy) and fluid (we can change our status in some contexts through hard work).
Gray Areas and Factors Influencing Ascription of Status
There are gray areas where it’s not clear if someone’s status is ascribed or assigned. In these instances, we can see that ascribed status isn’t as clear or fixed as we might have first thought.
Thus, social status fits more on a sliding scale than a black-and-white contrast. While most ascribed statuses are given at birth and stay with us for life, some may change, and remain unchosen and unearned.
This prompted Linton to propose several terms to describe how even ascribed status can change. These terms are outlined below.
Delayed ascription refers to an assigned status that is assigned later in life. An example is the onset of a disability in adulthood which fundamentally changes people’s perception of you in the social hierarchy.
Fluid ascription refers to situations where an assigned status becomes ascribed in adulthood. This occurs when you’re given a status without your choice and then you choose to keep it or lose it as an adult.
One example of fluid ascription is religion. Many people are raised within a religious tradition without their free will or choice, and then in adulthood they have to choose whether to keep or lose that ascription.
What is master status?
Master status is the status that is the dominant social status of a person. For example, Bull Clinton’s dominant status will always be remembered as a president of the United States. His other statuses as father, husband, Democrat, Caucasian, and college graduate are all secondary to his main, or master, status feature.
Sometimes, what society perceives to be your master status is different from the one you perceive for yourself. For example, Bill Clinton may think the most important status for himself personally is that of a father.
Ascribed statuses are features of a person that influence their position in the social hierarchy. They cause unfair social stratification that can advantage some people and disadvantage others despite the fact you don’t choose any of these identifying features.
Examples of ascribed status include race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, inherited title, and disability.
Bourdieu, P. (1979). Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste. London: Routledge.
Fiske, S. (2010) Interpersonal Stratification: Status, Power, and Subordination. (pp. 941–982). In Fiske, S., Gilbert, D. & Lindzey, G. (eds.) Handbook of Social Psychology. Los Angeles: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Linton, R. (1936). The Study of Man: An Introduction. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Prato, M., Kypraios, E., Ertug, G., & Lee, Y. G. (2019). Middle-status conformity revisited: The interplay between achieved and ascribed status. Academy of Management Journal, 62(4), 1003-1027. doi: https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2017.0316
Roberts, A., Palermo, R. & Visser, T. (2019). Effects of dominance and prestige-based social status on competition for attentional resources. Sci Rep 9, 2473. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39223-0
Weber, M., & Kalberg, S. (2013). The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Routledge.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]