Since the influential writing of Ralph Linton (1936), status and role have become the key concepts of sociology. By status, Linton meant a position in a social system involving designated rights and obligation, whereas, by role, he meant the behaviour oriented to others' patterned expectations. Linton states the long recognized and basic fact that each person in society inevitably occupies multiple statuses and each of these statuses has an associated role.

In every society and every group, each member has some function or activity with which he is associated and carries some degree of power or prestige. What the individual does or performs, we generally call his role. The degree of prestige or power we refer to as his status. Roles are related to statuses.

In a sense, ‘status’ and ‘role’ are two words for the same phenomenon. This is why, Linton remarked, “role is the dynamic aspect of status,” or the behaviour or tasks associated with or ascribed to a status. In other words, status and role are two sides of a single coin. It simply means that both are closely related and one cannot be separated from the other.

Social status and role are analytic terms; they have a more general quality than the concrete descriptive terms they reference. Sociologist prefers to choose such analytic terms rather than descriptive terms like bus conductor, customer, father or mother etc. After Linton, these two terms have become the basic features of the structural-functional theory. Later on, many sociologists have refined and added many ideas to these two terms.

For instance, R.K. Merton (1968), who is known to be the champion of role theory, departs from Linton’s conception of status and role. According to Merton, each social status involves not a single associated role, but an array of roles he calls ‘role set’.

The concepts of status and role are basic building blocks of social structure or social systems. According to Parsons, ‘status-roles’ are the sub-units of society. Participation by an actor in social system means that he is ‘located’ relative to other actors. This is his ‘status’. In this position, he does various things, and what he does is called his ‘role’. For him, ‘status-role’ is the proper unit of the social system. A social system can be thought of as a network of statuses and their associated roles.

What is Status?

Simply defined, status is a socially defined position in a group or a social system, such as female, student, teacher, child, mother, father etc. A status occupant is expected by others to behave in a special way, relative to the specific situation. The relation of the father and the child is reciprocal and gives to each a position in the family group. The position is always relative; status always implies a group. With every status certain privileges, rights and duties are associated.

Most sociologists have used the two terms position and status synonymously, but some have made a distinction between these terms. ‘Position’ denotes one’s situation in the role structure.

Which is subjective, while ‘status’ refers to the evaluative aspect of position whether others see it as ‘high’ or ‘low’. In this sense, it is an objective term.

Harry M. Johnson distinguished the three related concepts, viz., ‘role’, ‘status’ and ‘position’. He defined a social position as something filled by an individual member of a social system.

The position consists of two main elements

  1. Expectations and obligations held by other members concerning the behaviour of the position incumbent; and

  2. Right or the legitimate expectations of the position incumbent concerning the behaviour of other members. The first element Johnson calls the role of a position, while the second element he calls a position's status. It denotes the prestige of a position or an individual.

Though generally used synonymously status and social status there is a bit difference between the two terms. The term ‘status’ simple indicates the position a person occupies in a group. Whereas social status is the amount of honour and prestige a person receives from community members and the larger society in a stratification system.

It denotes the position and relative ‘social standing’ of a person on a publicly recognized scale or hierarchy of social worth. In this sense, it embraces all his particular statuses and roles that determine his social standing in society. It is the social identity an individual has in a group or society.

Social statuses may be very general (such as those associated with gender roles) or maybe much more specific (as in occupational positions). A person's social status is determined by a wide range of factors, facts and conditions such as original nature and physical characteristics, accidental conditions, physique, mentality, and temperament. Sex, age, race, caste, class, economic position, etc. are also important factors that affect a person's social standing in society or the community he lives in.

Definition of Status

  1. Ralph Linton says that “status is the place in a particular system, which a certain individual occupies at a particular time.”

  2. For Morris Ginsberg, “A status is a position in a social group or grouping, a relation to other positions held by other individuals in the group or grouping”.

  3. According to Kingsley Davis, “status is a position in the general institutional system, recognized and supported by the entire society”.

  4. For Horton and Hunt, “status is the rank or position of an individual in a group”.

  5. Status in Weber’s theory refers to the esteem or ‘social honour’ given to individuals or groups.

Types of Status

Statuses are culturally defined, despite the fact that they may be based on biological factors such as sex, caste or race. Ralph Linton has noted two types of status:

  1. Ascribed status: 

An ascribed status is a social position assigned at birth and is, therefore, usually permanent. Hence, an ascribed status is one into which a person is born and in which he or she remains throughout his or her life, e.g., sex, caste, race and age. A Brahmin, for example, enjoys the ascribed status of a Brahmin by virtue of his birth. In addition, sex, ethnic background, place of birth, and family name supply assigned statuses. Such statuses are said to be ascribed. Ascribed statuses are usually fixed at birth. In India, caste status is generally ascribed, although several changes have been going through ‘Sanskritization’ and ‘inter-caste marriages.

  1. Achieved status: 

An achieved status is one that is chosen or achieved, such as a married person, a parent, a friend, a doctor or an engineer. An achieved status is acquired through one’s efforts. Society recognizes such changes in achieved status. Statuses that are not fixed by inheritance, biological characteristics, or other factors, over which the individual has no control, are known as achieved statuses. An achieved status is entered as a result of some degree of purposive action and choice. Thus, an achieved status, by contrast, is one that is based on something the person has done. For example, a boy of 17 can be an athlete, a guitarist, a student of history and a member of a local club enjoying different forms of achieved status.

Ascribed and achieved statuses have numerous differences and similarities. They each affect a person’s and a group’s roles both socially and industrially, and they may even affect the characteristics of a person and the public’s perception of them.

Another concept of status that existed to not known in the study matter is ‘Master Status’. Let us put in simple, a master status is the defining social position a person holds, to choose interactions or to relate self to others. A person’s social identity influences that person’s roles and behaviours in a societal context and often shape a person’s entire life. For many people occupation determines the basic status and everything revolves around it. For example, occupation is often a master status because it forms such an important part of a person’s identity and affects the other roles one may occupy such as a family member or friend, a resident of a city, or even a hobby enthusiast. In this way, a person may identify as a teacher, firefighter, or pilot. Gender, age, and race are also common master statuses. Often physical disabilities serve as a master status to the point where the person's entire life suffers from de-humanization affecting the possibility of achieving any status.


The role, in sociology, is expected of an individual who occupies a given social position or status. A role is a comprehensive pattern of socially recognized behaviour, providing a means of identifying and placing an individual in a society. It also serves as a strategy for coping with recurrent situations and dealing with others' roles (e.g., parent-child roles). The term, borrowed from theatrical usage, emphasizes the distinction between the actor and the part. A role remains relatively stable even though different people occupy the position: any individual assigned the role of the physician, like any actor in the role of Hamlet, is expected to behave in a particular way. An individual may have a unique style, but this is exhibited within the expected behaviour’s boundaries.

Role expectations include both actions and qualities: a teacher may be expected not only to deliver lectures, assign homework, and prepare examinations but also to be dedicated, concerned, honest, and responsible. Individuals usually occupy several positions, which may or may not be compatible with one another: one person may be husband, father, artist, and patient. Each role entailing certain obligations, duties, privileges, and rights vis-à-vis other persons.

Definition of Role

  1. According to Ogburn and Nimkoff a role is “a set of socially expected and approved behavior patterns consisting of both duties and privileges, associated with a particular position in a group”.

  2. According to Johnson “role is expectations and obligations held by other members concerning the behaviour of the position incumbent”.

  3. Alex Inkles ‘role’ refers to “the set of expected or normative rights and obligations allowed to and demanded of persons generally felt to be incumbent of a recognized status by others who participate in the same social system”.

Interrelationships between social status and role

The concepts of status and role have a growing significance in the social sciences. Status and role are simplified by Ralph Linton when he said, ‘you occupy a status, but you play a role’. Every position or status in society carries with it a set of expected behaviour patterns. Status and role are ‘two sides of the same coin’.

Statuses and Roles constitute an important element in social structure. Young and Mack say “A role is the function of a status”. A person in a social set-up is bound to play a role. Sometimes he plays so many roles at a given time. According to his role, he gets status.

Similarly, the status of an individual gives him a definite role. Sometimes status is ascribed and sometimes it is achieved. Therefore, status and role, both are interrelated.

  1. The terms ‘role’ and ‘status’ are inter-related: A status is simply a position in society or a group. A role is the behavioural aspect of status. Statuses are occupied and roles are played. A role is how a given individual fulfills the obligations of status and enjoys its privileges and prerogatives.

  2. The role is a relational term: An individual plays a role vis-a-vis another person’s role, attached to a ‘counter-position’.

  3. Role and status point out two divergent interests: Status is a sociological concept and sociological phenomena. On the other hand, the role is a concept and a phenomenon of social psychology.

  4. Both are dynamic: Role changes with each new incumbent in a status. The status changes as the norms attached to it are altered. New obligations and new responsibilities may be added to status or old ones may be removed over time. Sometimes more rigorous role-playing may expand the functions of a status.

  5. Both are correlative: Though status and role are co-related, it is possible to have one without the other. A status without a role may simply denote an unfulfilled position in an association. In the same way, roles are often played without occupying a status.

  6. Status as an institutionalized role: The structure of society consists of statuses and not roles. It has become regularized, standardized, and formalized in the society at large or any specific association with society. It is statuses together with norms that give an order, predictability and even possibility to social relations.

Therefore, the concepts of status and role are the initial tools for the analysis of social structure. A status is simply a position in society or a group. Every society and every group have many such positions and every individual occupies as many positions as there are groups to which ones belong.

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