Master status

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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]


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] 


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]

Criminal courts' decision making based on master status[edit]

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.[3]


  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. ^ 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

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