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Master status is a sociological term used to denote the social position, which is the primary identifying characteristic of an individual. The master status, whether ascribed or achieved, overshadows all other social positions of the status set in most or all situations. The term was coined in the 1940s by Everett Hughes.

The master status is often the most important constituent in the architecture of an individual’s identity. Common master statuses are those of race or ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, physical ability, age, economic standing, religion or spirituality, and education. Others include that of being a parent, child, or sibling; being employed or unemployed; and being disabled or mentally ill.

In perception, an individual’s master status supersedes his 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, a wife, an American, and a novelist, she is more likely to label herself first as a mother and to identify with other women who label themselves as such. Unlike other aspects of the status set, the master status affects how the individual behaves in almost every given situation.


  • Gordon Marshall, ed., A Dictionary of Sociology (2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 399-400.
  • Macionis, John J (2005). Sociology. 10th ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education. 142.


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