Social status is usually determined by many factors some of which are explicit e.g. perception about wealth, power while some others are implicit e.g. social mobility/background, education etc.
If everyone knew each other’s income/wealth, then it would have been very easy to determine everyone’s status because monetary wealth is still probably the most significant factor determining the social status.
However, as people often don’t know other people’s income, they often try to judge the number indirectly via other cues demonstrated by concerned persons.
We should note that social status is often subjective. It can differ widely accross countries, culture etc. Some yardsticks of measuring of social status can be highly controversial and illogical (e.g. status based on caste system etc.)
So what are the attributes that shape someone’s social status?
This is one of the most important aspect of determination of status. More properties (or land) you own, more status you command (this can be somewhat diluted if property is your primary source of income). People try to guess (in some countries like UK property purchase price is in public domain) the price of property(s) you own and place you accordingly in social ladder.
Some occupations automatically place people in the higher up because of the known average income level people earn in those professions. Thus, doctors, lawyers, accountants, property developers, managers, Management Consultants, CxOs etc. Blue collar jobs are often associated with low social status. Fore retired people, it the last occupation/role/grade they retired from.
Power and family background
This can manifest in several forms. It can be political power or be closely associated with someone in family/relative with such power. Can also be influencing power or popularity like well known actor, singer, social worker, author etc. This is also somewhat linked with Social Mobility. If someone starts life as poor but then becomes rich is usually considered of less status than someone coming from a rich family and maintain that heritage (even though the former should be given more credit). Power can also be popularity of someone within known friend circle. However, someone can be “likeable” but not necessarily considered “loaded / wealthy”.
This is good indication of wealth and thus social status. The perceived cost of holidays is considered an indication of wealth. In India, having foreign holidays is considered much higher social status than in country vacations. This is somewhat true in developed countries as well (as mentioned in many UK newspaper articles)
In Western countries, only the rich people can afford domestic help. If you are able to keep cook, nanny, cleaner on a regular basis in your house, that shows you are wealthy. In India, having couple of domestic maids do not signify any status however, if you have several servants, then it does indicate status symbol.
Appearance and attitude
Appropriate clothing can uplift one’s social ranking (even for a short time). Your apperarence and what you wear is what other people always see. A well groomed appearance with calm, composed mannerism indicates higher ranking (provided not everyone in the room are of same type – if so, then people try to downshift others’ if their appearance is below par). It should be noted that in some events (e.g. marriage ceremony) everyone is well dressed. During that event, it is difficult to judge anyone’s status. However, it is the repeated apperance in which indirectly create a perception of one’s status in known circle. The way someone communicates and convinces opinions as facts can also influence others’ perception and thus can uplift. E.g. speaking slowly in UK uplift one’s status (while it downshifts in India as people assume speaking slowly means one is not having grasp of the subject). Public figures (e.g. ministers, flim stars etc.) are very careful never to show their unkempt appearance in public.
These are often manifests by ownership of branded goods. Wearing jewelleries, branded clothes etc. indicate that someone is able to spend lavishly. However, this is somewhat weak indicator of status as in Western society, one can be cash poor yet buy expensive cars, phones, gadgets under “hire purchase” scheme.
Other factors which does contribue to social status (but not limited to)
- Sending kids to private education
- Expensive hobbies e.g. flying planes, keeping dogs
- Expensive presentations in social events
Factors which do not usually uplift social ranking even though they have contributed
- Having more free time (indicates more freedom)
- DIY (Indians consider it deregatory as if you are trying to save money forgetting it can be someone’s hobby)
- Academic qualifications (unless it manifests as more earning power in real world)
- Prudent investment/ cash in the bank (because no one sees what wealth you have)
I understand this article can be subjective and not everyone will argue with everything mentioned.