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Master Status in Sociology: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 Definition of Master Status
  • 1:56 Examples of Master Status
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

This lesson provides examples of master status, and describes the importance it plays in our lives and the lives of everyone around us. You'll consider what your own master status is, and take a quiz to check your understanding of the concept.

Definition of Master Status

Master status is a term in sociology used to describe the status of greatest importance in a particular person's life. This can be based on any status, such as your gender, ethnicity, skin tone, physical and mental health or ability, economic status, sexual orientation, religious or spiritual tradition, employment status, occupation or family responsibility, such as a parent or grandparent.

Master status is a type of label that may be given to you by others you encounter in the world, or it may be the status that you personally feel is most important. It could be a part of you that is first apparent to others when they meet you, or it could be an element to your identity that others would not realize simply by looking at you. Master status shapes a person's life and can be a positive, negative, neutral or mixed label, and it can change over time. While disability is often viewed as a master status, those with disabilities may have other areas of life that are dominant, such as being an athlete.

For some, their master status may come with a sense of prestige, the consensus from the community around them that a status is to be desired. On the other hand, when a status is seen as undesirable, the status may be stigmatized. A stigma can result from choices someone has made, such as breaking the law, or from circumstances outside of a person's control, such as illness or disability. A person may shift over time from being stigmatized to having a prestigious status, and vice versa. Status inconsistency occurs when one status does not appear to be coordinated with the others in a person's life, so there may be times when a master status is far different from other elements of a person's life.

Examples of Master Status

Imagine that you have a friend named Carla, and you try to pinpoint her master status. Since she is the CEO of a company, you might start with the idea that her master status is her job. Occupation is a common master status because most people spend many hours of their week working, and so it often dominates much of their identity.

Yet, occupation may be overshadowed by other important aspects of a person's life. For instance, if Carla spends her free time participating in animal rights rallies, her master status may be that of an activist, rather than a CEO. Since this particular area of her life dominates her thoughts and beliefs, to her it may trump being a CEO.

Gender, ethnicity, cultural heritage and religion also have the potential to be a person's master status. If Carla interacts with CEOs that are primarily male, her master status might be the fact that she is female. This status of gender may play a bigger role than any other because she frequently notices this as she goes about her work. She also might be known for being a 'female CEO' or could even receive recognition for being a woman in a male-dominated role. It tends to come up again and again, shaping how she experiences day-to-day life.

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