What is 'Status Symbol'

A status symbol is an object which is meant to signify its owners' high social and economic standing. Although which things act as status symbols changes over time, they are always linked to the primary differences between the upper and lower classes within the society. In capitalist societies, status symbols are most often tied to monetary wealth.

BREAKING DOWN 'Status Symbol'

Expensive goods like luxury vehicles and large houses are mostly out of reach for lower economic classes, so these items serve as status symbols indicating that their owners are able to afford their extremely high prices. Since much of the utility derived from status symbols comes from their high price, an increased price for a status symbol may actually increase its demand, rather than diminish it. A product which exhibits this phenomenon is known as a Veblen good.

Status symbols are indicative of the values of a society or culture. For example, in a capitalist society, money or wealth and things that can be bought by wealth are considered status symbols. Where warriors are respected, a scar can represent honor or courage. Among intellectuals, the ability to think intelligently and be educated is an important status symbol regardless of material possessions. In academic circles, a long list of publications and a securely tenured position at a prestigious university or research institute are a mark of high status. Many have speculated that the earliest foods to be domesticated were luxury feast foods, used to establish one's place as a "rich person."

Clothing as Status Symbols

One type of status symbol is a uniform that symbolizes membership in an organization, such as the military or law enforcement. A uniform as a status symbol may also display additional insignia of rank, specialty, tenure and other details of the owner's status within the organization. A state may confer decorations, medals or badges that can show that the wearer has heroic or official status. In academic circles, color-coded academic regalia is often worn during commencement ceremonies, indicating academic rank and specialty.

In many cultures around the world, diverse visual markers of marital status are widely used. Coming of age rituals and other rites of passage may involve granting and display of symbols of a new status. Dress codes may specify who ought to wear particular kinds or styles of clothing, and when and where specific items of clothing are displayed. A modern example of this can be seen in the professional world, where certain brands of ties, suits or shoes confer status on the wearer.

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