Rank and authority as a source of social status in America

March 8, 2012

“Our occupational rank looms as a powerful factor in fixing our status in the public’s mind,” notes Packard. After analyzing the various elements that confer social prestige on an occupation, he lists sixty-one professions and offices in decreasing order of their prestige, in the eyes of the American public. At the top are judges, bishops, business executives, high-ranking military officers, and such representatives of the liberal professions as doctors and lawyers. At the bottom are maids, miners, street cleaners, and other representatives of service jobs.1

John Jay, an American politician, statesman, diplomat, the first Chief Justice and a Founding Father of the United States.

Robert Bierstedt observes:

“Those who have high rank or status in their occupational associations will also, with some exceptions, have high-ranking status in their communities…. A bishop of the Episcopal Church, for example, may have only a small income, relatively speaking, but the status of bishop confers the prestige that supports a high rank on the class scale…. On the other hand, the incomes of entertainers and professional athletes sometimes reach astronomical proportions—or so it seems to the rest of us—without contributing very much to the enhancement of their class positions.”2

Positions of authority in society confer status, as Nisbet affirms:

“Possession of authority has always been an indicator of status that is distinguishable from each of the others we are describing. Irrespective of amount of wealth, of advancement of education, or of family origin, the position of authority one holds, the degree of influence he exerts over others, is sufficient to rank him fairly high.”3

General George S. Patton Jr., American WW II General.

In the United States many offices of authority are filled by self-made men who reach their positions in politics, industry, commerce, finance, and the like by their own merits and work, and thereby become part of the governing elites, acquiring a social status in keeping with their position.4

Thus we conclude that the free enterprise system as it exists in the United States presents a broad array of ways for an individual to acquire social status, which usually results from a combination of several of the above-mentioned factors.


Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII: A Theme Illuminating American Social History (York, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 1993), Appendix I, pp. 174-175.


1 Vance Packard, The Status Seekers (New York: David McKay Co., 1959), p. 93. Cf. also pp. 112-113.

2 Robert Bierstedt, The Social Order, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974), p. 471.

3 Robert A. Nisbet, The Social Bond: An Introduction to the Study of Society (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970), p. 192.

4 Cf. Frederic Cople Jaher, The Urban Establishment: Upper Strata in Boston, New York, Charleston, Chicago, and Los Angeles (Urbana, Ill.: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1981), pp. 718-719.


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