Achieved Status: Definition & Examples

By Charlotte Nickerson, published April 04, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD


  • The concept of ascribed status, first defined by the anthropologist Ralph Lipton, is one that someone obtains based off their personal accomplishments and effort. Some examples of ascribed status include profession, relationships, and conditions or abilities acquired after birth.
  • Achieved status often exists alongside ascribed status, describes all of the statuses that someone acquires either at birth or involuntarily later in life. These, unlike achieved status, cannot be changed, preventing either upwards or downwards social mobility.
  • There is, to some extent, ambiguity between what can be considered to be an ascribed status and what is simply an achieved one.

What is Achieved Status?

Achieved status is a position in society which individuls gain through their own efforts, rather than being born into it. In modern industrial societies, education is the main way in which individuals can achieve a particular status through acquiring qualifications.

Achieved statuses serve as a reflection of someone's ability, choices, or personal efforts (Bell, 2013). Achieved statuses can result from any combination of work, education, luck, or social status, and change throughout one's life (Luo, 2007).

The greater the importance the achieved status in a society, the more open that society is likely to be.

The concept of achieved status was one developed by the anthropologist Ralph Lipton, who tried to create a way to describe the properties of social systems in a way that gave sociologists insight into the nature of social structure (Foladare, 1969).

Achieved vs. Ascribed Status

Ascribed status is assigned to an individual without reference to their innate differences or abilities. It is beyond an individual's control. People can either be born with an ascribed status, such as sex, race, and age, or be put in a situation where they have ascribed a status (such as disability).

Achieved statuses, in contrast, cannot be assigned at birth. No one can be born an engineer, or a criminal. 

People can hold both ascribed and achieved statuses. For example, someone can be a lawyer from a wealthy family who was born in France, or the daughter of some people, the sister of a few, the cousin of several, and the friend of many.

Furthermore, whether or not status is achieved or ascribed is not always completely clear. This is called mixed-status (Luo, 2007).

Examples of Achieved Status

There are a number of examples of achieved status. For example, the American Dream posits that it is culturally acceptable, even desirable, to start life at the lower end of the social ladder and work one's way up by achieving a formal education, making useful social connections or "networking," and climbing the corporate chain. Achieved status is not something that anyone is born into, but attained through effort (Luo, 2007). 

Although this struggle for higher achieved status is engrained in the American ethos, it is rare for someone to climb from the lowest ascribed status to the highest achieved status.

This is because those with low ascribed statuses often face a number of severe obstacles dependent on factors such as race, ethnicity, and familial wealth.

Some sociologists even considered those who have a class status that remains stationary through their lifetime to have an ascribed class status, and those that have successfully moved upward to have achieved class status (Foladare, 1969).

Someone's achieved status can also depend on how experienced and high-ranking they are in a profession. For example, a doctor who runs their own practice may have a higher achieved status than a resident or a medical student; and an endowed university professor a higher position than an associate professor, postdoc, or graduate student. 

Not all achieved statuses are positive.  For example, being a criminal is in itself an achieved status, someone must go through the effort of committing crimes in order to hold it.

People can sink from a high to a low achieved status. An embezzling businessman may become a criminal and bereft of his fortune, or a man may divorce his wife (Achieved Status vs. Ascribed Status).

Is motherhood an achieved status?

Parenthood is one example of a status that is both achieved and ascribed. 

Meanwhile, a large number of pregnancies are unplanned. Many parents did not intend to become parents. If, for any number of reasons, someone becomes a parent without choice in the matter, parenthood can be considered an ascribed status. 

Even in the case where pregnancy is planned, parenthood can still be considered to be, in part, an ascribed status. One cannot choose to take on these obligations. Being a parent is not widely considered to be a status that is lost. Even in the case where their child dies or becomes estranged, parents typically retain the status of parent.

At the same time, the process of becoming a parent is one that requires effort. To become a parent, someone must undergo a process that involves gestating and/or rearing a child. Because actions must be undertaken for someone to become a parent, parenthood can be considered to be an achieved status.

Regardless of whether it is an achieved or ascribed status, or any combination thereof, parenthood carries along itself a number of status obligations.

For example, mothers are expected to care for both themselves and their unborn children by abstaining from activities that could cause either of them harm, such as drinking alcohol or smoking. There are also a number of legal, social, and economic obligations that come with child rearing, such as ensuring that one's children have enough to eat, or attend school. 

Is being a student an achieved status?

No one is a student at birth. They must go through some process in order to be enrolled in a school, and must go through some effort to maintain their student status.

It is true that not all students become students voluntarily. Many countries have requirements, for example, that children are enrolled in school until a certain age. This compulsory education can make being a student seem like an ascribed status.

However, staying a student is still something that is true about someone because of what they do. A student who poses a threat to their peers, or does extremely poorly in school, may cease to be a student, losing their status.

Most people also lose the status of a student as they graduate from the education system, and whether or not to pursue post-secondary education remains a highly individual choice. 

Is religion an achieved status?

One classic example of a mixed-status is religion, which Foladare addresses in his 1969 paper. If an infant were baptized and raised in a particular religion without any choice on his part, this religion would be an ascribed status.

For example, many Catholic children are designated as Catholics on a church level from baptism on, even if they cease to hold these religious beliefs. Meanwhile, if someone converted to a different religion, their religion would be an achieved status (Foladar, 1969).

About the Author

Charlotte Nickerson is a member of the Class of 2024 at Harvard University. Coming from a research background in biology and archaeology, Charlotte currently studies how digital and physical space shapes human beliefs, norms, and behaviors and how this can be used to create businesses with greater social impact.

Fact Checking

Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

This article has been fact checked by Saul Mcleod, a qualified psychology teacher with over 17 years' experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in psychology journals including Clinical Psychology, Social and Personal Relationships, and Social Psychology.

Cite this Article (APA Style)

Nickerson, C. (2022, April 04). Achieved Status: Definition & Examples. Simply Sociology.


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