12 June 2020

What Sways Social Status?

Welcome back. Tell me. How do you rate your social status, your reputation? No, wait. This is better. What criteria would you consider if you were rating someone’s social status? Would you use different criteria for men and women?

An international team, led by researchers with the University of Texas at Austin, investigated the criteria people in different countries would use to rate social status. The study provides the first systematic measure of potentially universal and gender-differentiated behaviors and traits by which individuals are accorded high or low status by their peers.

Study Background
The study was not aimed at justifying the number of social media followers. Rather, as the researchers discuss, its significance begins with social status being a central feature of our highly social species. Relevant resources, including food, territory, mating opportunities, alliances and group-provided health care, flow to those high in status and trickle slowly to those low in status.

Some serious social status--ancient Egypt
(from www.thinglink.com/scene/885586337846001665).
Most  of us would be content to just learn key status criteria, but the lead researchers, being evolutionary psychologists, set out to test hypotheses drawn from evolutionary meta-theory. They hypothesize that (a) men’s and women’s status criteria will depend equally on skills and characteristics that increased their relational value equally throughout our evolutionary history and (b) there will be gender differences in status criteria where ancestral relational value differed between the sexes.

I refer you to the paper (see P.S.) should you wish to pursue their hypotheses further. I’ll stick to the criteria themselves.

Surveying Social Status Criteria
The researchers surveyed 2,751 people (average age 23; 1,487 female) from 14 countries across 5 continents.

Social-status criteria survey sample by country
(from doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000206).
A total of 240 status-affecting actions, characteristics and events were generated through a mix of nomination and expert input. American undergraduate students nominated items, which were culled to 175. Other items were added over time in consultation with anthropologists and psychologists who had specific knowledge of the cultures surveyed.

Survey respondents rated the full list of items available at the time of data collection. With required translations, they were provided an explanatory prompt, then asked to rate (from +4 to -4) the likely effect of each item on a person’s status and reputation in the eyes of the individual’s peer group. Each respondent rated the items twice, once for the impact on men and once for the impact on women.

Status-Impacting Criteria
Of the 240 items rated, 123 were judged to increase
and 117 to decrease a person’s status. The most status-increasing criteria were being a trusted group member, being intelligent and getting accepted at a prestigious university. The most status-decreasing criteria were being known as a thief, being unclean and being stupid
The most status-affecting criteria and mean ratings for men and women combined across all countries (from doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000206).
Many criteria did not differ by gender and appear to have similar effects across the countries sampled. Three candidates for universal status criteria are those associated with general value to the group and to individuals within the group, value to one’s kin, and physical health.

Traits of acting masculine (e.g., assertive, forceful, willing to take risks) and feminine (e.g., affectionate, sympathetic, understanding) showed the largest gender-differentiated status consequences. Leadership qualities appear more central to men’s than women’s status, while domestic skills, attractiveness and aspects of women’s sexual strategy (e.g., chastity/purity) appear more central to women’s status.

Sexual promiscuity lowers the status of both genders, albeit more for women than for men. Nevertheless, items that address simply finding a long-term mate tend to be equally beneficial to the status of both men and women.

Wrap Up

Although the study is the first to examine specific criteria by which humans evaluate and accord status cross-nationally, the researchers have been able to highlight criteria central to both men and women as well as those that are gender-differentiated. Their theoretical modeling suggests that status criteria reflect a complex mixture of evolutionary, environmental and cultural forces.

Perhaps you can draw insight to examine your own social status, though I’m confident there’s little room for improvement. Thanks for stopping by.


Social-status criteria study in Jour. of Personality and Social Psychology: doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000206
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-06/uota-bat060220.php

1 comment:

  1. I find it curious that "always being honest" is not higher on the status-increasing list, and am even more surprised that honesty, or rather, dishonesty does not appear on the status-decreasing list at all. Perhaps that is covered by "being unreliable"?