|Deciding who the boss is! (source)|
Hierarchies, in this case, are an essential way in which people can organize their social lives around others. So in some instances, having some people with low status and some people with high status is good: Status disparities set up realistic expectations for the behavior of others, and promote harmonious and (relatively) stable group relations by creating these expectations. Having low status in a group, in-and-of-itself is not necessarily a bad thing then. Sometimes people like to follow rather than lead, or like others to take the responsibility for failure (or success).
|Did not having a clear hierarchy hurt the Miami Heat? (source)|
There are, of course, some important caveats to this reasoning. First, while status differences are generally not a bad thing—because they organize social life—when these status differences are decided by arbitrary characteristics that have nothing to do with one’s capacity to lead (e.g., racial background, gender, sexual orientation) they create disruptions in social relationships. For instance, a long history of research in social psychology finds that ethnic minority students—a low-status identity decided arbitrarily—under-perform on academic tests when they are told they will be judged based on their ethnic group. When not given this information, ethnic minority students perform as well as other students.
|As income decreases, odds of mortality increase|
So how do we reconcile this status paradox? On the one hand, status hierarchies organize social groups and help people get along. On the other hand, being arbitrarily low status or being in a low status position for an extended period of time is really bad for your well-being. It’s one of those problems that doesn’t have a really clear, scientifically supportable solution. That is, unless I’m missing something…
How can we reconcile the status paradox? Let us know in your comments.
Sapolsky, R. (2005). The Influence of Social Hierarchy on Primate Health Science, 308 (5722), 648-652 DOI: 10.1126/science.1106477
Adler, N., Boyce, T., Chesney, M., Cohen, S., & et al, . (1994). Socioeconomic status and health: The challenge of the gradient. American Psychologist, 49 (1), 15-24 DOI: 10.1037//0003-066X.49.1.15