Assigned Status in Sociology: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that your nationality is an assigned status? In this lesson, we will define assigned status and learn more about the topic using examples.

What is Assigned Status?

An assigned status is a position that a person holds in a social system that is either given by virtue of birth or involuntarily. Another term used for assigned status is ascribed status. Let's look at examples to understand assigned status further.

Example

Jane is a 42-year-old physician. Both of Jane's parents were respected surgeons, so it was no surprise when Jane decided to go into the medical field. Although Jane's parents were very wealthy, their busy work schedules often kept them away from home. Jane's parents would often place her in the middle of their arguments, forcing her to play the role of mediator. Jane's parents did not have any other children, which increased Jane's loneliness. Jane was closer to her nanny than she was to her own parents.

It was because of her experiences growing up that Jane decided that she wouldn't let her job become her life. Jane opted to become a family physician instead of a surgeon like her parents, which allowed her to work a more traditional nine to five schedule. Jane took a year off work after each of her four children were born. Jane is very active in her children's lives and attends most sporting and school events. Jane refuses to argue in front of the children and often talks things out with her husband before it evolves into a huge marital conflict.

Jane's Assigned Status

Jane has several assigned statuses. Jane did not choose or earn a wealthy family, she was born into one. Jane also did not choose to be a female, an only child, or the mediator between her bickering parents. These are all examples of assigned statuses.

Other examples of assigned statuses include:

  • Your birth order, i.e. if you are the youngest child in your family
  • The hair color you were born with
  • Becoming an aunt or uncle, i.e. if your sibling has a child
  • Your country of birth
  • Being known as the nurturing parent (if you did not choose to be the nurturing parent)
  • Being the victim (if you did not choose this)
  • Race

We have no control over our assigned statuses. We do not choose them, nor do we earn them. Our assigned statuses are given to us, whether we want them or not is irrelevant. Because our assigned statuses are involuntary and are given to us early in life, they can be nearly impossible to change. For example, it would be very difficult for young Jane to make her parents lose their wealth. Likewise, Jane could not change being an only child.

How Do Assigned Statuses Influence Us?

At any given point, we hold multiple assigned statuses in our lives. Just look at all of the different assigned statuses Jane held at once. Each status has certain behaviors or roles that a person is expected to take on. Whether the person wants to take on these roles or not does not matter. Nor does it matter if these behaviors and roles are fair. For example, since Jane was wealthy, she might be expected to buy expensive clothes, live in a fancy house, and attend school with other wealthy kids. Likewise, since Jane is the mediator, she might be expected to have good conflict resolution and speaking skills. Jane might also be expected to help her parents come to an agreement whenever there is an argument, even though it is not fair to put Jane in this position.

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