The One Thing in Life We ALL WantMore than any other desire, it is human nature to want a high level of social status. How we achieve that varies widely. For some it's about an impressive job title or owning a large, fancy house. For others, it's simply being at the top of their social circle, being well-known and highly-respected in their profession or earning a graduate degree. And it turns out that we really do covet a high social status--even if we don't realize it.
Status is considered universally important because it influences how people think and behave. "Establishing that desire for status is a fundamental human motive matters because status differences can be demoralizing," explains study author Cameron Anderson, a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business. "Whenever you don't feel valued by others it hurts, and the lack of status hurts more people than we think."
Some theorists have argued that wanting status is an innate desire for reputation or prestige. On the other end of the spectrum, scholars cast doubt on the notion that status plays an important role in one's psychological well-being or self-esteem.
To determine which is correct, Anderson and his team researched a wide range of studies dating back more than 70 years, being careful to define and conceptualize status to distinguish it from such things as power and financial success.
The Berkeley team defined status as comprising three components:
Low status can have a dire effect on our health. The previous studies that were reviewed in-depth showed that people who had low status in their communities, peer groups or in their workplaces suffer more from depression, chronic anxiety and even cardiovascular disease. Individuals who fall lower on the status hierarchy, or what the authors call the "community ladder," feel less respected and valued and more ignored by others.
So what? "The desire for status can drive all kinds of actions, ranging from aggression and violence, to altruism and generosity, to conservation behavior that benefits the environment," says Anderson. "The more we understand this basic driver, the more we can harness it to guide people's decisions and actions to more productive paths."