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Ascribed Statuses

Ascribed statuses are those which are fixed for an individual at birth. Ascribed statuses that exist in all societies include those based upon sex, age, race ethnic group and family background.

Similarly, power, prestige, privileges, and obligations always are differentially distributed in societies by the age of the participants. This has often been said about the youth culture in the U.S. because of the high value Americans attach to being young. Pre-modern China, by contrast, attached the highest value to old age and required extreme subordination of children. The perquisites and obligations accompany age change over the individual's lifetime, but the individual proceeds inexorably through these changes with no freedom of choice.

As the discussion implies, the number and rigidity of ascribed statuses vary from one society to another. Those societies in which many statuses are rigidly prescribed and relatively unchangeable are called caste societies, or at least, caste like. Among major nations, India is a caste society. In addition to the ascribed statuses already discussed, occupation and the choice of marriage partners in traditional India are strongly circumscribed by accident of birth. Such ascribed statuses stand in contrast to achieved statuses.