If we Occupy different statuses. how can we determine which he most important? Sociologist Everett Hughes lied that societies resolve this ambiguity by determining master statuses. A master status is the most important status a person occupies; it dominates all of the individual's other statuses and is the overriding ingredient in determining a person's general social position (Hughes, 1945). Being poor or rich is a master status that influences many other areas of life, including health, education, and life opportunities. Historically, the most common master statuses for women have related to positions in the family. such as daughter, wife, and mother. For men occupation has usually been the most important status, although occupation is increasingly a master status for many women as welL "What do you do!" is one of the first questions many people ask when meeting another.
Occupation provides important clues to a person's educational level. income. and family background, An individual's race/ethnicity may also constitute a master status in a society in which dominant-group members single out members of other groups as "inferior- on the basis of real or alleged physical, cultural. or nationality characteristics (see Feagin and Feagin. 2003). Master statuses are vital to how we view ourselves, how we are seen by others, and how we interact with others. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is both a U.S. Supreme Court justice and a mother. Which is her master status? Can you imagine how she would react if attorneys arguing a case before the Supreme Court treated her as if she were a mother rather than a justice? Lawyers wisely use "justice" as her master status and act accordingly. Master statuses confer high or IQW levels of personal worth and dignity on people. Those are not characteristics that we inherently possess they are derived from the statuses we occupy. For individuals who have residence, being a homeless person readily becomes a master status regardless of the person's other attributes. Homelessness is a stigmatized master status that confers disrepute on its occupant because domiciled people often believe that a homeless person has a "character flaw." Sometimes this assumption is supported by how the media frame stories about homeless people
The circumstances under which someone becomes homeless determine the extent to which that person is stigmatized. For example. individuals who become homeless as a result of natural disasters (such as a hurricane or a brush fire) are not seen as causing their homelessness or as being a threat to the community. Thus. they are less likely to be stigmatized. However. in cases in which homeless persons are viewed as the cause of their own problems, they are more likely to be stigmatized and marginalized by others. Snow and Anderson (1993: 199) observed the effects of homelessness as a master status: It was late afternoon. and the homeless were congregated in front of [the Salvation Ann y shelter] for dinner. A school bus approached that was packed with Anglo junior high school students being bused from an east side barrio school to their upper-middle and upper-class homes in the city's northwest neighborhoods. As the bus rolled by. a fusillade of coins came flying out the windows. as the students made obscene gestures and shouted, "Get a job" Some of the homeless gestured back. some scrambled for the scattered coins-mostly pennies-others angrily threw the coins at the bus. and a few seemed oblivious to the encounter. For the passing junior high schoolers, the exchange was harmless fun, a way to work off the restless energy built up in school but for the homeless it was a stark reminder of their stigmatized status and of the extent to which they are the objects of negative attention.