The ways we choose to present ourselves to other people also give clues as to our social status, which is the position we occupy in a particular setting. In a doctor’s office, the doctor occupies one status, the nurse another, and the receptionist still another. Some statuses carry more prestige and power than others. In our society, the status of doctor is more prestigious than the status of nurse, and the status of nurse is more prestigious than that of receptionist.
Statuses also exist in the home, including the positions of mother, father, oldest child, youngest child, and grandparent. Most of us occupy a number of different statuses in our lives. The collection of all of our different statuses from every setting is called our status set.
Sometimes we wear status symbols, or signs or symbols of a respective status. Professors wear academic regalia to identify their status within the collegiate setting. Successful businesspeople may drive luxurious cars or wear expensive clothing or jewelry to indicate a high financial status within the community. A wedding ring is also an example of a status symbol in our culture, as it communicates the message that the wearer is married.
Not all status symbols are positive. In some states, an individual who has been convicted of driving a car while intoxicated must put a bumper sticker saying “DUI” (Driving Under the Influence) or “Convicted DUI” on their car. The bumper sticker indicates a status that is generally looked down on in our society.
We tend to have more than one status at any given point in our lives, and most of the time there is consistency among our various statuses. Status inconsistency results when a person occupies one or more statuses that do not ordinarily coincide in the same person. A seventy-five-year-old grandmother who is a college freshman and a cab driver who is a classically trained Shakespearean actor both exhibit status inconsistency.
A master status overrides all other statuses and becomes the one by which we are first known to others. For many people, their occupation is their master status, since it conveys so much about their income, education, skills, and interests. People who differ from the rest of society in some way may have a different master status. For many people who are homosexual, their sexual orientation becomes their master status, and others think of it when they hear those people’s names. Their statuses as professionals, athletes, family members, and community leaders are secondary to their status as homosexuals.