Status attainment

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In sociology, status attainment or status attainment theory deals largely with one's position in society, or class. Status attainment is affected by both achieved factors, such as educational attainment, and ascribed factors, such as family income. It is achieved by a combination of parents' status and one's own efforts and abilities. The idea behind status attainment is that one can be mobile, either upwardly or downwardly, in the form of a class system.


Peter M. Blau (1918–2002) and Otis Duncan (1921–2004) were the first sociologists to isolate the concept of status attainment. Their initial thesis stated that the lower the level from which a person starts, the greater is the probability that he will be upwardly mobile, simply because many more occupational destinations entail upward mobility for men with low origins than for those with high ones. After continued research, the initial statement proved to be incorrect. Blau and Duncan realized that people couldn't possibly think that the best way to get a high-social status position is to start at the bottom. They continued to find that the flaw was in the question the information was based upon. They found their research shouldn't be founded upon the question of "How are people mobile" but on "how do people attain their statuses". Peter Blau and Otis Duncan continued to conduct a landmark research study to provide answers to their new question.[citation needed].

There are two similar working models in regards to status attainment theory. As Haller & Portes (1973)[incomplete short citation] noted there is the Blau and Duncan's (1967)[incomplete short citation] model which focuses on status transmission, that there is some direct effect of parental influence. However, ultimately the level of education affects occupational attainment. Also, the Wisconsin model comes to similar conclusion however notes that the effects of parental status vanish when other factors are considered. (Haller & Portes, 1973)[incomplete short citation].

In the United States

The occupation of household heads, their level of education, and household income are highly correlated with status attainment and capital.[1] A strong indicator that points to the variation of status attainment is measured through various standardised achievement tests, that reflect academic aptitude. Therefore, the ascribed ability and relation to the constellation of household, strongly affects educational attainment. Academic performance and aptitude carries an influence on status attainment since the highest level of education attained, is a strong predictor of an individual's future occupational positions and the type of work they qualify for.[2]

In a study conducted by Blane et al. (2005) it was found that the higher the IQ in childhood the higher the social class in middle life. Furthermore, it was found that the IQ at age 11 was significantly related to occupational class at middle life.

Encouragement from family and friends will affect education and occupational attainment. These aspirations create an expectation of achieving a certain educational level or occupation. Educational attainment strongly influences occupational attainment. It is clear that all of these factors are linked together and continue to affect each other throughout one's lifespan.[citation needed]

Status attainment in the U.S. is the process of acquiring positions in educational and occupational hierarchies. Major influential factors include: parental social background, cognitive ability, motivation and education. Very trivial[according to whom?], but nonetheless imperative[according to whom?] to one's starting status, family background and upbringing play a major role in status attainment[citation needed]. For example, being born into a wealthy family gives an individual a better starting point than an individual being born into poverty.

Cognitive ability or one's intellect can contribute to the probability of one seeking higher education in life. An individual's level of educational attainment provides a better chance for moving up the occupational ladder. Cognitive ability is linked to motivation and education which are the other two major influential contributors of status attainment. This aspect of status attainment has nothing to do with one's parental social background, but rather acts on its own as an attribute for achieving higher status attainment. Being a factor independent from family background or motivation and education, cognitive ability cannot be enhanced or a predicate of the likelihood of one achieving a higher status. Someone of great intellect could have no motivation to accomplish anything, and someone of lesser intellect could be motivated and do great things.[according to whom?][citation needed]

Perhaps the most influential factor in determining one's status attainment is motivation and education.[citation needed] "This plays an important role in status attainment research and has been found to influence both educational attainment and occupational aspirations of young people, as well as the timing of life course transitions" (Schoon, 72)[full citation needed]. The higher the motivation a person has the more likely they are to receive higher education and eventually gain a higher paying occupation.[citation needed]

African Americans follow the same path, but their steps are limited.[according to whom?][dubious ][citation needed] Differences in educational and occupational attainment have declined among African Americans[citation needed]. However, on average, African Americans and Whites begin at different status levels and end in different status levels. Increased schooling benefits everyone, but due to discrimination, white males benefit more[according to whom?][dubious ].[peacock term] The same results occur in other minority groups and among females.[3]

As Kerckhoff (1976) notes, African Americans' educational attainments and occupational attainments are lower than those of white people.[citation needed]

Socialization vs. allocation

Socialization and Allocation are two different types of status attainment. Both models discuss the importance of how others effect attainments of an individual. "While both are the same in that aspect both differentiate on theoretical interpretations of the same observations and direct our attention to different kinds of phenomena." (Kerckhoff 368-379).[incomplete short citation]


According to Rodney Stark, allocation theories argue the primary function of schools is to allocate status, to place students in the stratification system, rather than to train them. (Stark 641)[incomplete short citation]. "In other words teachers identify and classify students according to externally imposed criteria." (Kerckhoff 368-379)[incomplete short citation]. "Since this seems to imply that social order rests upon consensual values, and that the prestige hierarchy is a function of widespread convergence in moral evaluations, the approach has been criticized as an extension of the functional theory of stratification—although its practitioners strenuously deny this charge." (Marshall 1998)[incomplete short citation]. In this model "social agencies" try to determine the path of the individual and the individual is constricted to what they can do. Allocation is "based on "plans" and "exceptions" rather than "wishes" or "aspirations". As children get older they become less convinced that everyone has an equal chance to obtain "good things" in life." (Kerckhoff 368-379)[incomplete short citation]. The clearest examples of this model are discrimination of race and individual characteristics. In the article "The Status Attainment Process: Socialization or Allocation?" Alan C. Kerckhoff states "rewards black receive for any level of accomplishment are lower than those of whites at the same level".


Socialization, on the other hand, looks for the characteristics that affect the individual. This term is used by many but most commonly used by psychologist, sociologists and educationalists to describe the learning of ones culture and how to fit in. Also it teaches one how to act and participate in the society. Referring to the book Sociology, Socialization is the process by which culture is learned and internalized by each member of society-much of which occurs during childhood. (Stark 657)[incomplete short citation]. Or it can be explained as "the process by which we learn to become members of society, both by internalizing the norms and values of society, and also by learning to perform our social roles." (Marshall 1998). Unlike allocation adults can be enabled to perform new roles. With this model motivation and ability are important factors to help one attain status, this means "Individuals are free to move within the social system, attainments being determined by what the individual does and how well they choose to do it." (Kerckhoff)[incomplete short citation].


Gender dynamics around the world has changed dramatically over the course of the past few decades and the status attainment for females and women is changing dramatically.[citation needed] Now that more women are joining the workforce, female status attainment is becoming increasingly self-accomplished[neutrality is disputed] rather than through family background or gained through marriage[citation needed]. Still in today's society however, women are much less likely than men to hold full-time jobs[where?][according to whom?][citation needed]. This is especially true with women who come from a less privileged background[neutrality is disputed] or who have lower education levels[citation needed]. It is also interesting[neutrality is disputed][according to whom?] that women with full-time jobs tend to come from more economic prestige than working males[neutrality is disputed][where?][citation needed]. Rodney Stark suggests that "the average working woman's father has more education and a better job than does the father of the average employed male"[where?][citation needed].

Even though women hold fewer jobs than men in some societies[neutrality is disputed], women hold jobs of higher prestige than their male counterparts.[neutrality is disputed][citation needed] This is probably because it is not beneficial[neutrality is disputed] for women who are married with children to go out and get lower-paying, lower status jobs because the economic benefits cancel themselves out in the end. Married working women also hold less prestigious jobs than their spouses. This is partially because married people tend to share the same economic backgrounds as well as education levels, and partially because in the process of evolutions, sexual dimorphism has triggered women to prefer wealthy husbands.[4]

In the past, females generally attained their status through family background or marriage.[citation needed] Although it is still true today[according to whom?], females are becoming more independent and socially mobile in many parts of the world. The increased independence and social mobility has led to an increase in women attaining their own status rather than attaining their status through family circumstances and/or through marriage.[neutrality is disputed][citation needed].

Treiman and Terrel (1975)[incomplete short citation] cautiously note that the mother's educational level strongly affects the education level of the daughter more so than the educational level of the father.

"Many researchers have found that male and female status attainment processes are virtually identical while others have reported gender differences in the importance of mental ability and family background variables as predictors of attainment".[5]

As a result[clarification needed] women face a different type of socialization process than men do. Early childhood experiences are very influential for women. In particular, family, marriage, and early child bearing have great importance for the attainment of women[citation needed] (Wilson & Peterson)[incomplete short citation].

Occupational status

Status attainment is directly related to occupational status. Occupational status and the attainment thereof is perhaps the core idea of status attainment. Status in the workforce is affected by many factors, most notably, gender, parent status, and work trends.[citation needed]

Education is the most important determinant for men and women when it comes to occupational status (McClendon, 1976)[incomplete short citation].

In the 1973 survey conducted in Canada, Porter began to explore ideas of occupational status attainment. John Porter started his study believing that Canadians were less mobile than Americans in terms of climbing the occupational status ladder. In fact it was quite the opposite, Canadians as well as Americans had higher occupational statuses if their parents were high on the status ladder. This study also showed that gender can be important as well.[according to whom?][neutrality is disputed] Women who have full-time jobs come from families higher up on the occupational ladder than men do.[citation needed] Work trends as well are a major factor in determining the occupational status of a person. We have seen a large shift of the workforce move from the agriculture aspect to largely skilled jobs. Since, few are left to labor in the agricultural field, we’ve found that those left are not unskilled laborers but rather farm owners.[neutrality is disputed] Thus a large shift in the occupational status of an average person in the agricultural sector has occurred.(citing required/ date= Oct 2014)

Current research


  1. ^ "Page One Economics: Education, Income, and Wealth" (PDF).
  2. ^ Sumanen, Hilla (Summer 2019). "Interrelationships between education, occupational class and income as determinants of sickness absence among young employees in 2002–2007 and 2008–2013". BMC Public Health. 15: 332. doi:10.1186/s12889-015-1718-1. PMC 4393569. PMID 25888526.
  3. ^ Beeghley, Leonard (2008), The Structure of Social Stratification in the United States (5th ed.), Pearson Education Inc., pp. 129, 133, ISBN 978-0-205-53052-6
  4. ^ Buss, D. M. (1992). Do women have evolved preferences for men with resources? Ethology and Sociobiology, 12.
  5. ^ Peterson, Gary W. & Wilson, Stephan M. (1993), "The Process of Educational and Occupational Attainment of Adolescent Females from Low-Income, Rural Families", 55, National Council on Family Relations, pp. 158–163
  6. ^ Saunders, P. (1997), Social Mobility in Britain: An Empirical Evaluation of two Competing Theories (31 ed.), Sociology, pp. 261–88
  7. ^ Breen & Goldthorpe, R. & H. (1999), Class Inequality and Meritocracy: A critique of Saunders and An Alternative Analysis, British Journal of Sociology, pp. 1–27