Examples of master status include being an athlete, a felon, a doctor, or a mother. It is the status that’s your main status.
A master status is a social identity that is the primary identity that you have. It often determines people’s perceptions of you and your chances in life.
Your master status is often assigned to you by society and you don’t get a choice. So, while you feel like the most important part of your identity might be ‘father’, society might primarily know and perceive you as a ‘doctor’.
Master Status Examples
1. Your Occupation
Occupation is often a person’s master status. This has been the case for many thousands of years.
You can see the role of occupation as a master status exemplified in the fact that many people have surnames that refer to their ancestors’ occupations: Smith for a blacksmith, Cook for a chef, Cooper for a barrel maker, and so on.
Today, people still look to their own occupation as a key driving purpose in their lives. Builders take pride in the fact they construct things for a living, while teachers take pride in the fact they mold the minds of future generations.
2. Gender (e.g. Being a Woman)
Gender has historically been a master status used to structure society.
Primarily, it’s been employed as a way to stratify society, divide up labor, and oppress women. Women, regardless of their inherent intellect or skills, have historically been expected to raise children and focus on domestic affairs.
This left the public sphere and decision-making almost exclusively to men for most of human history.
One prime example of how gender has been seen as a master status is in the right to vote. Up until about 1890 – 1925, the western world slowly started to move toward universal suffrage. Before then, gender was used as a crude way to separate who can and cannot participate in democracy.
3. Race (e.g. Being Black)
Historically, people of color have been discriminated against in North America and Europe. When you’re discriminated against exclusively for your race, this is an instance where your race has been ascribed as your master status.
The stark and confronting example of this is US slavery. During this dark period in US history, black people were granted no rights as citizens and were allowed to be sold into servitude.
Even after the end of slavery, black people have continued to be discriminated against through methods such as voter suppression and denial of access to housing in white neighborhoods.
4. Being a Felon
A person who has a felony carries that identity with them for the rest of their life. They will have their ability to travel overseas severely restricted and they will have limited job opportunities.
5. President of the United States
One of the best examples of master status is that of the President of the USA. Once you become president, this will forevermore be the primary reason people know about you.
Before they were presidents, Obama was known as a senator, Biden as a vice president, and Trump as a celebrity. After their inauguration, those previous identities became overshadowed by their new important status.
People with disabilities can find it hard to be seen beyond their disability.
For example, a person who is in a wheelchair might feel like people don’t see them for their unique intelligence or sense of humor because all anyone sees is the wheelchair. These people have to go through their whole lives battling against people’s preconceptions or stereotypes about them.
7. Being a Parent
Many people say that parenthood is the greatest blessing of their lives. And after becoming a parent, the most important identity to them is that of mother or father.
Socially, many people see being a mother as a uniquely important role, leading to common descriptions of mothers like ‘stay at home mom’ and ‘soccer mom’ to describe a person.
8. Religion (e.g. Being Jewish)
Many people consider religion to be at the core of their sense of self. Famously, Vice President Mike Pence once described his identity as first Christian, second conservative, and third Republican. For Pence, his master identity was his religious faith.
Religion has also been a cause for discrimination against people for millennia. Jewish people, for example, were widely discriminated against during WWII. During this period, their religious identity was the master status that overwhelmed all others and condemned them in the eyes of the Germans.
9. Age (e.g. Being a Senior)
Childhood is a period of life considered protected. A child’s primary or master status according to law, and usually in the eyes of everyone, is precisely that of child.
Legally, children are often not able to be held culpable for their crimes. They’re restricted from having access to a range of ‘adult’ things, banned from working, and all children need a guardian.
Seniors, similarly, start being defined by their age more than any other factor. They start getting special statuses that give them discounts, access to special healthcare, and in most societies, respect for being social ‘elders’.
10. Citizenship (At the Airport)
While citizenship is rarely a person’s overall master status, when in the airport, it suddenly becomes the most important status you hold.
A citizen can be fast-tracked through customs and is not denied entry, while others must wait in line to get approval to enter a country.
Famous people are generally famous for a specific skill or trait. Commonly, this includes being famous for sporting prowess, being a great musician, and so on.
If you are famous, you generally have one master identity, which is the one that made you famous. People on the street will almost exclusively see the famous person as that famous person, and not for the fact they are a father or brother or any other possible identity that the person has.
Real-Life Master Status Examples
|Person||Their Master Status|
|David Beckham||Former Football Star|
|Angela Merkel||Former Chancellor of Germany|
|Martin Luther King, Jr||Activist|
|Ruth Bader Ginsberg||Former Supreme Court Justice|
|Stephen Hawking||Former Scientist|
|Hellen Keller||Disabled Activist|
|Leonardo Di Caprio||Actor|
Types of Statuses in Sociology
There are three main types of social status in sociology: master, ascribed and achieved.
An ascribed status is a social status that was given to you at birth. You did not earn or choose your ascribed status. For example, your assigned gender at birth is an ascribed status.
An achieved status is one that you earned through effort or choice. An example of an achieved status is “doctor of philosophy”, which only people who have completed a rigorous Ph.D. can claim.
A master status is your primary status that is more important than all others.
Master vs Ascribed vs Achieved Statuses
A master status can be either an ascribed or achieved status.
For example, your gender may be your master status but also an ascribed status. On the other hand, your profession (e.g. being a doctor) might be the primary way people identify you, thereby being your master status, but is also one that was achieved through hard work.
A master status is a status that is the dominant status for a person. It’s the one that you’re most identified with.
The best examples of master statuses are related to famous people, who are usually famous for a specific reason: Brad Pitt is an actor, Barack Obama is a former president, David Beckham is a former footballer.
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]