The traits that help a person climb the social ladder include honesty, intelligence and being hard-working, new research finds.
Across 14 different countries and societies, researchers found that the traits linked to higher social status were remarkably consistent.
Similarly, being knowledgeable, making sacrifices for others and being kind increased a person’s social status.
Having a long-term mate is also seen as positive for social status for both men and women.
The traits that universally decreased a person’s social status are, unsurprisingly, being unclean, a thief and mean and nasty.
Professor David Buss, the study’s first author, said:
“Humans live in a social world in which relative rank matters for nearly everything — your access to resources, your ability to attract mates, and even how long you live.
From an evolutionary perspective, reproductively relevant resources flow to those high in status and trickle slowly, if at all, to those lower on the social totem pole.”
The researchers surveyed 2,751 people in 14 countries about 240 different factors that might affect a person’s social status.
The results showed that certain factors were widely perceived as positive, said Professor Buss:
“From the Gypsies in Romania to the native islanders of Guam, people displaying intelligence, bravery and leadership rise in rank in the eyes of their peers.
But possessing qualities that inflict costs on others will cause your status to plummet, whether you live in Russia or Eritrea.”
There were some interesting kinks in the results.
Men gain more status from taking risks and being physically brave.
Women gain more status from their appearance and domestic skills.
Apparently, not enough has changed in the gender wars in this respect.
A sense of humour, meanwhile, is generally positive for social status, but less so in East Asian countries like China, South Korea and Japan.
Practising witchcraft is only a problem for your social status if you happen to live in Eritrea or Zimbabwe, the research found.
Finally, catching a sexually transmitted disease, along with being dirty, unclean and nasty decrease a person’s social status, Professor Buss said:
“Although this study was conducted prior to the current pandemic, it’s interesting that being a disease vector is universally detrimental to a person’s status.
Socially transmitted diseases are evolutionarily ancient challenges to human survival, so humans have psychological adaptations to avoid them.
Lowering a person’s social status is an evolutionarily ancient method of social distancing from disease vectors.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Buss et al., 2020).