Master status

In sociology, the master status is the social position that is the primary identifying characteristic of an individual. The term master status is defined as "a status that has exceptional importance for social identity, often shaping a person's entire life."[1] Master status can be ascribed or achieved.

Ascribed statuses are statuses born with- for example race, sex, etc. Achieved statuses are gained throughout life-such as, mom, athlete, spouse, etc. When one of these statuses over powers the others it can be determined as one's master status.


Everett Hughes first introduced the notion of master status in the 1940s, and it was the key subject of his address as the 53rd president of the American Sociological Association. In this address, he discussed "the tendency of observers to believe that one label or demographic category is more significant than any other aspect of the observed person's background, behavior or performance", with special reference to race. [2]  Everett Hughes presented the concept of Master Status in an article, “Dilemmas and Contradictions of Status” in the American Journal of Sociology. While his concept was influential the term master status wasn't cited regularly until the 1970s.[3] While it often perceives master status as negative, like race or gender discrimination, this isn't always the case; for example: occupation status.


The master status is often the most important architecture of individual identity.[citation needed] Common characteristics are those of race or ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, physical ability, age, economic standing, religion or spirituality, and education. Others include raising children, employment status; and disability or mental illness.

In perception, an individual's master status supersedes other identifying traits; for example, if a woman feels that her role as a mother is more important than her role as a woman, a daughter, etc., she is more likely to identify herself as a mother and to identify with other women who label themselves as such. An individual's master status dominates how they are perceived by others and their behavior towards them. More than other aspects of the status set, the master status affects how the individual behaves and how others behave with respect to them.[citation needed]

Master Status in SocietyEdit

Master status can be seen in everyday life, for example- gendered bathrooms, handicapped signs, fame, occupation, etc. These identities often control individual interactions. People may treat one differently depending on their master status. These examples are often social constructs that humans create to understand the world we live in.

Criminal courts' decision making based on master statusEdit

From data taken on about 370 different criminal court case decisions, studies have focused on the creation of a master status based on gang membership and the influence that has on charging and sentencing decisions. Various statuses such as: drug addict, mentally ill, child abuser, alcoholic, and ex-convict have a big impact on decision making. Statuses like these modify personal identity and limit alternatives and opportunities in the eyes of those in charge of sentencing. Stereotypes and master statuses can not be confused because while a stereotype indicates in this scenario that the observer is the one who filters any additional information about the case at hand, a master status heavily influences any final decisions made even when other information may be relevant. Over the years, gang and non gang offenses have been carefully looked at because of this master status notion.[4]

Effects of Master Status Throughout HistoryEdit

Plessy vs. FergusonEdit

In this court case race was evident as a master status, as the Supreme Court upheld racial segregation allowing advantages to white individuals. It occurred after African American Homer Plessy refused to sit in a car for blacks. “The court ruled that a law that “implies merely a legal distinction” between color was "not unconstitutional.”[5] This distinction is an example of a master status, in this case discrimination occurs due to ones master status.

Right to VoteEdit

Until 1920, women were prohibited from voting in elections. This exemplifies the master status of sex as it overpowered other aspects of a woman's identity. Allowing women to vote limited the power of this master status.


  1. ^ Macionis. Sociology 7th Canadian an individual's entire collection of statuses, at a specific period of time. Over a lifetime, a person regularly exchange, relinquish, and take on many different statuses.
  2. ^ Aspinall, Peter J., and Miri Song. "Is Race A ‘Salient…’ Or ‘Dominant Identity’ In The Early 21St Century: The Evidence of UK Survey Data On Respondent'’ Sense Of Who They Are." Social Science Research 42.2 (2013): 547-561. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Oct. 2016.
  3. ^ Scott, Lisa-Jo K. van den; Hoonard, Deborah K. van den (December 2016). "The Origins and Evolution of Everett Hughes's Concept: 'Master Status'". The Anthem Companion to Everett Hughes. Retrieved 2019-11-12.
  4. ^ Miethe, Terance D.; McCorkle, Richard C. "Gang Membership and Criminal Processing: A Test of the Master Status Concept." Justice Quarterly 14.3 (1997): 407-428
  5. ^ Editors, History com. "Plessy v. Ferguson". HISTORY. Retrieved 2019-11-12.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)

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