Is social status a real thing?

Why is it real?

Particularly, since some people may claim a status system of a different kind, but then again some may (through argumentation) recognize same status systems, then can social status systems be held as "objective"?

  • 1
    Psychologically, for sure. It is much easier to do controversial things if you are a human in status rather than not, since in the first case it's harder to shame you.
    – rus9384
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 21:06
  • Dramaturgy (Sociology) en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dramaturgy_(sociology)
    – Gordon
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 23:01
  • 2
    @rus9384 I've long had the problem of people "dearguing" social status by e.g. "opinionating" it and making it seem as if it's just subjective. But later on I've realized that some opposers of social status may in fact exhibit psychological defense mechanisms. That is, they recognize that they're lower status and then try to find a way through their feeling of inferiority in the situation, in order to have something to stand on. This implies that social status could be more broadly recognized, even when people don't admit it. It's just perhaps that some try to find a way over it.
    – mavavilj
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 23:31
  • It's for example odd that one claims that one can "opinionate" social status, but then in a "non-opinionated way" replace it with one's own system. When in fact one then has "two opinions" and the logical conclusion is to debate about how rightful they are. I find that a "real" social status does emerge from recognizing e.g. precedence relationships or "impact". I.e. those whose e.g. work has larger impact or is "more immediately important" should hold more status. This however has some confusion as to why are e.g. F1 drivers and such held as holding status.
    – mavavilj
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 23:35
  • 1
    "Useful" by what standards? If society collectively revises its status assignments then they will shift, if not, they may well reflect collective judgment.
    – Conifold
    Commented Oct 30, 2018 at 17:40

8 Answers 8


Whether social status is "real" would depend on the sense in which you think, say, rocks and stars are "real". There are important debates between realists and anti-realists in these questions, and there are people who occupy all four quadrants: both natural physical entities and social objects are unreal, both are real, natural objects are real and social objects are unreal, and vice-versa. In between these positions are the (perhaps more common) view that both are real, but one depends on the other and thus is "real" in derived, non-fundamental sense.

John Searle probably has the most robust realist argument; I think he gets to status in the more recent of his two books on the topic, The Construction of Social Reality. Searle's title refers to Luckmann and Berger's The Social Construction of Reality which in a sense also argues that social systems are objective although perhaps in a more radical sense than you have in mind. Ian Hacking's books are a good general introduction to the shape of the social construction debate in general.

  • 1
    See also "Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization" by John Searle 2009
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 22:24
  • 5
    So whether "rockstar" is real depends on whether you say "rocks" are real and "stars" are real!
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Oct 30, 2018 at 0:12
  • Not only they are real, but also earn a lot of money - in case these are real stars, of course. Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 10:26

Social status is an example of a 'language game', or a 'consensus construct'. You can claim such things are not real, but then you need some way to account for their effects.

The motivating example of a language game is a language. Is English real? Well, it exists only because people use it. It is a thing only because of its effects, and not because it has any other objective status. It is a set of rules with power. Clearly it has no power over speakers of some other language (on some other planet?) that have not encountered the English-speaking world. But that does not remove the reality that it has for us, as people who are currently using it to communicate.

Social status, had in various ways, has power over people. It gets them to do something and not something else, to respond to some demands and not others. The fact that some folks don't acknowledge the same ways of attaining or holding status is like the analogy with language.

Not all rules apply everywhere. "Down" is not a thing in space, which does not remove the reality that it has for us. To claim that 'down' means nothing attempts to ignore the power the concept has when it does apply.


Social status is very real. It is also subjective. These are not opposites.

Thoughts and beliefs are real because they affect the real world. Status is a belief, an opinion. (Anybody who argues that the real world is not real can go play somewhere else)

Status is always relative in the sense that person A only has status in the opinions of a different person, B. (Which is why it is called social status)

Person B is perfectly free to make their own rules about status or just hold opinions without considering any rules. Person C (or even person A) need not agree.

If you want to recover a semi-objective status you can say that overall social status is the SUM of everybody's individual opinions. Though this is not without its own problems.

  • I don't really think social status is subjective. You can't run into social status, but what social status is is not up to you, but defined by norms over which you have no control. In that sense it's actually objective. Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 15:18
  • @henning - "Objective" is not the sum of subjectives. That's "collective." And as such, status is indeed subjective (or at least not objective), it's just that many subjects are involved in the process of figuring out status. It's a built-in mechanism far beyond humanity, nothing we could ever change - or nothing we should. As Jordan B. Peterson once pointed out, even lobsters have a sense of hierarchy and status, which is biologically implemented.
    – Battle
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 9:24
  • @Battle I guess we mean the same thing, but our terminology is not aligned. In sociology, the concept of "social facts", which are deemed objective or at least "inter-subjectively valid" is pretty much established. Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 9:32

From a biology perspective, Dominance Hierarchy is a real, objective thing.

Alpha male monkeys, their mates, and their children get the prime feeding and sleeping spots. Other monkeys defer to them to make group decisions. Lower status monkeys are picked on and harassed if they step out of line. It's possible for a monkey to improve their rank through social bonds. A great documentary that illustrates this is Monkey Kingdom.


Depends on your definition of "real".

If you follow a more theoretical branch of philosophy, the point is indeed a matter of debate. You can't touch, feel, smell, see social status.

However, if you follow the argument that what is real is what can affect other things, then social status for sure exists because it affects (e.g. your career). It is the same argument as you would use to determine if things such as "love", "honour" or even thought and plans for the future, or even memories are "real".


I haven't seen any poor person who has less than a thousand of the followers in some social network. Most of persons who has tens thousands or more followers in some social network usually are the rich and / or the powerful ones.

There is a very old research, which estimated that only 15% of the salary / income comes from the knowledge, and about 50% from the social status.

As I am always struggling with the social interaction and do not have major income, I know that well from my own experience.

But a high social status of course is more than just "pretty look", pretty looking gives only average medium status. There are the communicative people with high level of leadership, who can explain their points very well, to get a lot of the followers.

Another level comes when someone grows from the social network blogger to the media person / politician / businessman. Social network serves as a "jump start" for that. Not many are able to achieve that, though.

  • 1
    I would add that it's possible to refrain from more superficial forms of status. By superficial I don't now mean e.g. "looks", but also to regard a particular communication style to be "status-worthy". After all, there are celebrities, "educators" etc. that may attain social praise, but it's possible that they do so among a population that's less critical of the information content. E.g. I don't find Obama is a particularly sharp politician (due to the abstractions and slight populism that he relies on), but he attains followers.
    – mavavilj
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 10:30
  • You mention some research showing the source of salary/income. Could you provide a reference to that? That would strengthen your answer and give the reader a way to get more information. Welcome to this SE! Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 10:32

You cannot "opinionate" social status away, even though any individual is free to disagree with anyone's status. Consider the following social experiment: send a letter to Buckingham Palace and ask Elizabeth II. of England to reply and address you as "Your Royal Highness" in her response. Do you, or anybody else for that matter, expect there's a chance in hell she'll abide?


White privilege is status (in some circles). The feminists are fighting against lower status (seen in some circles). College education adds status (in most circles but in many revolutions the educated are killed). Love breaks down barriers, hate and insecurities enforce them. The more you love everyone as yourself, the less status will mean to you and the less it will matter to others living in a community where love prevails.

I had an English friend tell me that in America, if he wanted to go to school and get an education, everyone would encourage him to better himself. In England everyone would discourage him and shame him by saying "Don't you know your place?" Hindus have a caste system where everyone's status is determined. It is believed by a huge percentage of the population and socially enforced. I had a teacher once say that if you had to pick a HR manager, and wanted him to be unbiased, you should pick an American. They are the most likely to judge someone by that person's abilities/skills/experience instead of race, religion, sex, and other factors.

The more people believe status matters the more it matters in society as a whole. The less people care about status the less it matters.

  • If you have any references supporting the different views expressed especially in the second paragraph it would strengthen your answer and give the reader a place to go for more information. Welcome to this SE! Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 15:18

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