The origins of status hierarchies: A formal theory and empirical test

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Citation: Roger V. Gould (2002) The origins of status hierarchies: A formal theory and empirical test. The American Journal of Sociology (RSS)
Internet Archive Scholar (fulltext): The origins of status hierarchies: A formal theory and empirical test
Tagged: Sociology (RSS) status (RSS)

Summary (Abstract)

Roger V. Gould's article offers a formal model for the evolution of status hierarchies. Essentially, the model suggests that individuals actors will reproduce status believes by basing their own believes on collective attributions. The result is a model that has strong self-reinforcing qualities. To this, Gould adds in the idea that actors also prefer reciprocation. The basic idea is that status can be explained with a model that allows for an equilibrium between (a) social influence and (b) a desire to not offer nonreciprocating opinions or ties.

Gould, like several other sociologists work, argues that the inability describe the spontaneous creation of status positions is a problem and aims to suggest a solution with his model. He sets up an argument between ideas of hierarchy as reflecting individual qualities and one reflecting social structure and others opinions only and argues that a third way that can connect and include both individual characteristics and social structure.

The model suggests that actors will want to attach themselves to the most attractive other people, but they always want these attachments to be reciprocated. He builds his model around these symmetrical ties and the desire for them. In order words, he sets up a trade-off between a one-way attachment to the most attractive alter and a reciprocated attachment.

His model suggests that asymmetry will be proportional to the difference in choice status between pairs of actors. In other words, the model predicts that a lower-status person will be more highly connected to a high-status person than vice versa, that pairs of actors with similar choice status will be similarly connected, and that the sum of attachments directed outward will be proportional to but more evenly distributed than the sum of attachments received (because the high status actors will receive more).

Gould offers a formal mathematical model built around these suggestion. He uses the model to derive a set of, 6 non-necessarily obvious propositions which follow from an analysis of the model but are not trivially obvious and do not flow from the assumptions. He then uses empirical evidence from a series of studies to test the hypothesis that have data available that fits several assumptions of the model (e.g., tie strength data, unconstrained number of ties, etc.).

One data source is data on verbal communication in task groups. Another is a study of a set of quintuplets from the ages of two and three. He also uses data from a residential fraternity which constrained out degree to be equal across all actors by constraining a ranking but which is longitudinal and call show changes over time to see if the status rankings are moving toward the model's equilibrium.

All six propositions seem to be supported by the empirical evidence.