Master Status-Sociology Definition, Examples, Role & Ranks


A master status is a concept in sociology describing the privilege or right of one group to dominate over another. Talcott Parsons coined the term in his book “The Social System.”

Sociologists and anthropologists use the term master status as a theoretical tool to describe the relationships between groups of unequal status. Parsons describes master statuses as “the positions, functions, and values which members of a community accept.

These groupings are legitimate or socially ordained, and which are therefore given special authority for determining the social situation.” Therefore, master status refers to the cultural acceptance of a hierarchy.

In the absence of a master status, social order is unstructured; there will be several competing hierarchical structures, which form an unstable society. A master status is thus a widely accepted social hierarchy that defines the relationships between different social groups.

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Examples of Master Statuses

Figure: Examples of master statuses

There are various examples of master statuses throughout the world. These are gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, economic status, religion, age, and race.


In most societies, gender is the most important determinant of social status. This is because men usually hold a higher status in society than women. Gender can be defined as the social and cultural characteristics associated with being male or female. Gender is an important master status because of its differentials in power and privilege.

Gender is socially constructed: the characteristics associated with being a woman or man are acquired and learned through acculturation. The differences in power and privilege between men and women lead to the creation of gender inequalities.

Women are often excluded from positions of power, which makes them subordinate in society. These inequalities are what lead to the formation of gender as a master status.

Sexual Orientation

A person’s sexual attraction determines sexual orientation to another individual. The difference between these two orientations is the sex of the people that one finds sexually attractive. A person’s sexual orientation is a key aspect of his identity, which establishes their position within society, as they may be perceived to have different characteristics and qualities.

Sexual orientation is a master status in modern societies due to its hierarchical nature. Homosexuality and heterosexuality are viewed differently by society, which means they are structured according to different rules.

Homosexuality has been stigmatized and viewed as a deviant practice, whereas heterosexuality is seen as the norm. In modern societies, heterosexuality is considered to be a more natural orientation than homosexuality.

Physical Ability

Physical ability is a master status because it is a physical characteristic that distinguishes one group from another. The term ability refers to the capacity of the body and mind to perform tasks and deal with challenges.

The ability of some individuals is limited, which means that they are unable to carry out daily activities. For example, manual laborers work hard, which can cause damage to their bodies and reduce their ability.

Physical disability is caused by any factor or factors that inhibit or prevent movement or activity. Disability is an important master status because it limits someone’s actions and, therefore, their power in society.

Disability is an effect of society. If disability did not exist, it would be impossible for the discrimination and oppression of disabled people to exist. This is because the oppression of disabled people relies on their inability to perform certain tasks.

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Racial Status

In most societies, racial and ethnic backgrounds play a major role in determining social status. Cultural beliefs determine racial status about the differences in abilities and within different races. This is known as racially structured inequality, which means that race helps to determine one’s social status in society.

There are usually racial hierarchies, which means that some races have a higher status in society than others. People of color are usually placed at the bottom of racial hierarchies, meaning they have a lower status in society.

A person’s race is a master status because it is a physical characteristic that can differentiate between groups. Racial statuses are socially constructed, and people use them to distinguish and sometimes discriminate.

Economic Status

Figure : Economic status hierarchy

People’s economic status is one of the main determining factors of their social status. The skills and knowledge someone has are usually linked to what they can do in society. One person’s skills and knowledge will directly affect their economic status; they will be paid based on what they can do.

Economic status can be measured in many different ways. One common way is through the use of income, which indicates a person’s financial situation. Income is usually the result of a person’s knowledge and skills, which can be seen as an indicator of their economic status.

Families are also able to indicate economic status. People who can afford homes and cars, such as expensive cars, will be judged by society to have a higher economic status.

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Religion is another important factor in determining social status. Most societies are divided into religious groups, and the religion that one belongs to is an important factor in determining social status.

Religion is one of the most common ways people create their identities and distinguish the group they belong to. Religious status is also determined by the level of commitment that a person has towards their religion.

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What are The Roles of Master Statuses in the Society?

Master statuses are a way to classify people based on the predetermined characteristics of each master status. Some of the roles of master status are:

Determining individual behavior

A person is expected to exhibit a particular behavior as per their position in the community. Individuals usually adopt the roles because it is beneficial to them.

For example:

  • Men are expected to be tough and face situations with strength
  • Society expects women to be submissive to the leadership of men in a family
  • The community expects Christians to practice their faith and show kindness, love, and mercy.


Statuses are a way for individuals to be distinguished by their abilities and social standing based on society’s perception.

For example:

  • Physically and mentally disabled individuals are treated with empathy and helped to do what challenges them.
  • Men help women to do difficult tasks that require a lot of energy and help them during their childbirth.

The distribution of resources and rewards

People in higher positions can get more benefits and rewards than those in lower positions.

For example:

  • A police officer does not have to pay when they want to go swimming at the local pool.
  • The president of a company has the opportunity to get higher wages and benefits than those in lower ranks.

Transmission of social norms

A person’s behavior in society is closely related to the expected behaviors based on their master status. This means that people behave based on their position in society.

Social norms are usually transmitted through symbols, which is like a language that everyone understands.

For example, men are expected to wear formal clothing, and women to wear dresses on special occasions.

Conflict reduction

Through the use of master status, people are also able to resolve conflicts. For instance, when a person does not respect the authority of the teachers, they can be expelled.

Roles Definition

Different statuses bring role distinctions in society. For example:

  • Society expects men to protect and provide for their families.
  • Women are expected to nurture their children, run the household, and take care of things around the house.

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The Different Ranks of Master Status in The Society

Figure : Roman catholic ranks-Religion

There are different ranks of master statuses in society. These different ranks help to distinguish people depending on:

The authority that they are given by the community or government

This distinction is usually made through the use of symbols. For instance, a letter from a government gives an individual a particular authority they didn’t have.

The amount of respect they receive from other people in the community or society

Respect is based on the social norms of the community. When a person is in a position of authority and others around them exhibit respect, they are given a higher status than those who are not respected.


There is also importance attached to these ranks, which means that some ranks are considered more important than others. Each role that is held has a particular value attached to it in terms of its importance. Thus, these roles are treated with more respect than others.

For example, the post of a police officer is considered to be very important and carries high value. This is because they help to ensure that peace is maintained in society.

Examples of master status ranks are:

  • Fathers rank first in the family because of the role they play in child-rearing.
  • Men rank higher than women because of the distribution of roles in society.
  • Company C.EOs rank higher than others because they are expected to make decisions that will benefit society.
  • Bishops in churches and Imams in mosques rank higher in the religious circles than their followers
  • Wealthy people receive higher recognition in society than they would have if they were poor.

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The term “master status” is used to describe a person’s position in society and their level of social rank. It’s important to note that the terms are not interchangeable and don’t always have the same meaning. For example, your master status may be high if you’re an influential member of a company or professional organization.

Someone else might only reach this level by being popular on social media. Whatever your master status may be, understanding its definition will help you better understand how others perceive you, which has been shown to lead people.

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