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11.4: Achieved Status vs. Ascribed Status

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    Achieved status refers to the status level an individual in society has earned through work, education, luck, and/or social climbing. Achieved status is changeable throughout one's life. An example would be the status one earns when they become a doctor after years of studying and preparation. Having the credibility of being a doctor is a higher achieved status than the credibility of being a medical school student.

    Ascribed status refers to the status that an individual acquires by virtue or by birth. The individual has no control over this status, it is simply the social position they are born into (James 2017). In many instances, this status is a social construct already pre-determined before one is born into the specific culture; it is nearly impossible to move up. One examples of ascribed status is eye color. When a baby is born, they have a certain eye color. Because the baby has no control over its eye color and can't change this feature it is considered an ascribed characteristic. Another example of an ascribed characteristic is kinship. When a baby is born, it is related by blood to a certain group of people, its kin, and nothing can change this.

    Cultural Example of Achieved Status

    American society possesses a number of examples of achieved status. In America, it is culturally acceptable (if you have the necessary resources) to begin life at the low end of the social ladder and to work your way up, by means of achieving a proper education, making useful social connections, and getting promoted within your career. Achieved status is not a position that a person is born into, but rather, it is attained through effort; this includes becoming an Olympic athlete, a doctor, or even a criminal. Although this struggle from the low end of the social ladder to the upper has become ingrained in the idea of America (The American Dream), the actual occurrence of someone rising from lower class to higher class is extremely rare. The number and severity of the obstacles one faces to climb the social ladder often depends on one's race, ethnicity, and beginning economic status.

    Examples of Ascribed Status

    Caste System

    A caste is a system of social stratification found in India (as well as other parts of the world) dividing people into categories based on moral purity and pollution (James 2017). Abiding by the Caste System ultimately allows the people in the highest caste to control the rest of society and keep social barriers from being crossed. In India, the caste system consists of five different levels. The highest caste is considered the most "pure"- ritually and morally; the castes beneath it decline in "purity" and increase in "pollution". The Castes are as follow:

    • Vedas(The Enlightened)
    • Brahmins (priests and teachers)[6]
    • Kshatriyas (rulers and soldiers)[7]
    • Vaishyas (merchants and traders)[8]
    • Shudras (laborers)[9]

    Below these castes are the "Untouchables" or the Achuta (Dalit).

    File:Beggar India.jpg
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Dalit's in Jaipur

    An “untouchable” or Dalit is considered outside of the caste system. They are the lowest in the Indian social stratification and treated very poorly often segregated from the rest of society. The "Untouchables" are taught early on that they are born into their caste to pay for bad behavior in their previous lives. They are limited to jobs considered ritually polluting such as taking care of human waste, metal work, street sweeping. Some insist that the Indian caste system doesn't exist anymore due to the incorporation of democracy, change in government programs and the implementation of rights for the "untouchables"; however, this is mostly only seen in the urban areas.


    An ascribed status of an individual can be based on the sex that they are born. Gender typing is known as the process in which a child starts becoming aware of their gender. They slowly are socially constructed into the norm of that gender. This comes from an infant maturing and trying to focus and figure out their human behavior.Often there are certain activities that are reserved for males or females. Crossing the gender roles set forth by society is often frowned upon in communities that gender type. The vast majority of gender typing is culturally generated and not a creation of inborn biological distinctions between the sexes.[10]

    An ethnographic example of gender typing can be observed in the early development of children in the United States. From birth, some U.S. parents set their children up for certain sexual categories by giving their babies gender-distinct names, clothes, and environments. The gender roles ascribed by the parents can lead to differences in intellectual and emotional development. For example, girls are provided with toys such as Barbies that encourage them to learn social rules and imitate behaviors. In contrast, boys are given more active toys and encouraged to explore. As a result of this early childhood gender typing, elementary school girls typically say they would choose lower paid, lower status careers such as nurse, teacher, or stewardess and boys are more likely to obtain higher paid, higher status careers such as pilot, architect, doctor, or lawyer, largely influence by their toys and surroundings. [11]

    Political Organization

    Political organization gives thorough information on the values/ideas of separate individuals. In modern human societies, people have organized in groups, usually according to their status/role in society. Some examples include:

    • Political parties
    • Non-governmental organizations
    • Advocacy groups
    • Special interest groups

    Types of Political Organization

    There are four types of political organization within groups and they are split between centralized or non-centralized political systems. An uncentralized political system is a political organization that requires several different parties to make a decision/law where as the centralized system is a political organization that is made up of one group that holds all authority within a government.[8]

    Between the centralized and non-centralized forms of political organization, there are four groups:

    • Band Society - a foraging group and the smallest group of political organization ranging anywhere from 20 to 200 people but typically consisting of about 80 people. Most of the people within this group are relatives either by birth or marriage. Since a band is a foraging society they do not have a place of permanent residence because they are constantly moving around. A band is referred to as egalitarian because there is no distinction between an upper and a lower class but they have a leader. The leader doesn't exhibit typical leadership by lacking power and influence over the members.
    • Tribe - comprised of several bands. Leadership is based on ascribed and achieved statuses, some tribes may have a chief, and their organization is based on kinship. A tribe is more reliant on horticulture and pastoralism rather than foraging like bands and are usually a larger group than bands. A sub division of a tribe is the “Big Man” system which has a very influential leader who has no formal authority.
    • Bushman - traditionally a society of people that are comprised of a band and thus egalitarian, which is defined as, relating to or believing in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities. Since they moved around a lot they had traditional gear that they wear which included a hide sling, blanket, and cloak in order to carry their food, firewood, a digging stick and even a separate smaller cloak to carry a baby. The woman gather and the men typically hunt in this society and the children do not have jobs.
    • Chiefdom - the people are led by one person known as a chief. The chief governs over a group of tribes which are related through blood or marriage. In many chiefdoms, the chief is looked upon as the sole decider of what goes on in the society, and holds much sway with the members of the chiefdom. This centralized style of government has a social hierarchy and economic stratification unlike bands and tribes. On the other hand, a state is much more centralized than a chiefdom and has formal laws and authority. They have power to tax, maintain law and order, and to keep track of their citizens.

    Nation, Nationalities and Nation-State

    In the past, nations came about when groups of people who were similar in ways such as language, appearance, religious beliefs, and history came together to form territories, nation-states, and eventually countries. Out of these nations came the sense of nationalities and nationalism. Nationalism can be defined as a sense of belonging to a particular nation that comes with birth (loyalty and devotion). An example would be patriotism in the United States.

    Nation: A group of people believed to share the same history, culture, identity, and oftentimes ethnicity.

    Nation-State: A political unit consisting of an autonomous state inhabited predominantly by a people sharing a common culture, history and language. [12]

    Nationality (Nation-Building): The sense of belonging and loyalty to a particular nation that comes about through origin, birth or naturalization.[13] Often, government officials will encourage citizens to feel loyalty and devotion for their nation-states; this is called nationalism.

    Nation-building: An effort to instill a sense of nationality into the citizens of a state

    This page titled 11.4: Achieved Status vs. Ascribed Status is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Wikibooks - Cultural Anthropology (Wikibooks) .

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