What is Master Status – Definition, Meaning and Examples

Master status is a social status which in the eyes of an individual is the primary characteristic. That means that according to them. This status is their prime identifying characteristic. The term master status is used in Sociology and is defined as ‘a status has that has exceptional importance for social identity often shaping a person’s entire life’.

 In general, social status is a measure of one’s social value and can be ascribed or achieved.

What is Master Status?

The former status type is where no extra effort has to be put in by an individual in order to get it. Usually, a person cannot choose their status and have gained it through virtue of birth. Some examples of such are race, ethnicity, social class, and sex. 

On the other hand, achieved status is while which is acquired by an individual through his or her effort and is earned through the virtue of their merit. It includes personal skills, abilities, and efforts. Examples of these are professions, like doctors or lawyers. Another example is that of a parent or spouse.

Origin of the term

The term was first mentioned by Everett Hughes in the 1940s, who took up the concept at the American Sociological Association as the key subject of his address as the 53rd president.

During this address, he spoke about the tendency of people to identify one label or one demographic factor to be more significant than any other. He also mentioned that usually, race tends to be that aspect that people identify to be major. This concept was first presented by him in an article, “Dilemmas and Contradictions of Status” which was published in the American Journal of Sociology.

In the beginning, this concept was mostly perceived as negative, but after the 1970s when it began to be more widely used, it was considered to also be positive.

Perception

The whole concept of this term works on perception. An individual can have many statuses, but what they and others perceive to be dominant becomes their master status. For example, a woman can be a daughter, wife, mother, and doctor, but what she perceives to be dominant, such as being a mother, becomes her master status. This affects how an individual behaves and how others behave towards them.

Master Status and Society

Master status can be seen in all aspects of life, including mundane things such as handicapped signs and gendered bathrooms. It can also be seen in the legal field, where many criminal courts tend to let a person’s master status influence them. People who have a prior history as criminals are much more likely to be convicted, even though they haven’t done anything wrong at that time.

master status examples

This was also predominantly present during the period in the United States where race-based segregation took place and people were discriminated against for being African American. This was shown in all aspects of life, where separate buses, bathrooms, waiting rooms, schools, and other public utilities were used to highlight the racial difference. 

The Master status was visible in the pre suffragette times, where women could not be eligible to vote, and this was for the decision made to their gender, which is an ascribed status.

Conclusion

The master status is a concept that functions on perception as its primary determiner. This can be a positive, negative or neutral label. Race and gender as a master status could be a negative example of the same as they’re ascribed statuses which cannot be influenced by anyone.

On the other hand, things like careers are achieved statuses which are generally considered to be positive labels. Neutral examples of the same are being identified as someone else’s spouse or parent as it depends on the individual’s perspective and what is identified as such means to them. Some may take pride in that label while others could feel constricted by them. 

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