Is it necessary for us, to show other people what we have? If we are thinking about status symbols, the first thing many of us have in mind is money. Expensive cars, luxury watches, limited sneakers, the newest cellphone or a big yacht. Did you ever asked yourself, why people have the need to show off their liquidity? Are there reasons in our society or nature? Today I want to give some possibiltys why status symbols play an important role in our lifes.
What is a status symbol?
Several definitions are out there, but in general a status symbol is an object or a perceived visible trade, which reflects the social or economic status. A status symbol doesn't have to necessarily be an object, as there are several symbols which aren't really a materielle size. Education, fame, a title or connections to influencial people can be seen as such non-material status symbols. A status symbol can also be negativly connoted in a social context, because we consider a person with expensive clothes wealthy, but the clothes of poor people also determine their social status, so they are status symbols too. Our understanding is often connected to prestige objects like the one below:
illegally hunted ivory from elephants - a material as a status symbol in China
Status symbols are versatile
As we have seen, different cultures and societys have different values. Whereas wikings were respected if they had scars from won battles, commercial societys define the status based on goods people can buy through wealth. Between academic and intellectual people, publishing many publications or the ability to think in an educated way can be representative of the status in this specific group. In the time of a war, a uniform can also be seen as a status symbol, because soldiers gain reputation fighting for the homeland. A prosperity belly was a status symbol in the middle age, whereas today, many people find an athletic body attractive. Another point are achievements like trophys or certificates, a direct product of the comparrison between an individual and other humans. Athletes that won a worldchampionship are credited and often feared by opponents in a contest. The status of a high level athlete, has an impact of how people see each other.
cars can be seen as status symbols - a person with a sports car is likely to be more waelthy as a person who owns an old, damaged vehicle
The role of status symbols
Status symbols aren't a phenomen of mankind. The need of stats symbols in nature is omnipresent. We can see the tail structures of melanin and keratin of a peacock as a status symbol. For potentional sexual partners it is a ornament, a direct indicator for the genetical "fitness" of the animal. The handicap principle is decisively for this effect. The tail won't make the peacock faster or boost his flight abilty. This hypotheis states, a reliable signal have to be costly for the signaler. The traits the peacock has may be a handicap, but functions like conspicious consumption. Animals that aren't able to produce such signals implicate that they can't afford this waste of abilitys and if they are able to, a waste leads to the conclusion the animal has more than enough of something (e.g. strength), so it attracts partners. Even with the handicap it is able to survive the contest in the species and assoo against other kinds of animals, because of a high fitness (attractive -> fights between animals for a partner, the stronger one get's him/her)
the beautiful tail of a peacock consisting of feathers from 1 to 1.5 meters length
Fitness is also an status symbol in modern societys. The quality of our genes, displayed by the phenotype, have an impact on how attractive we are for other people. Education, skills and beauty are considered as attractive, because they stand for good genes and as the human species tries to bring good progeny's on the earth.
Status symbols like the crown and ceptar of a king represent dominance. We use the symbolic of objects to show off our superiority. Society provides us many advantages. In earlier days, the aspect of surving was a leading factor to pair groups of individuals up. Harmonious and peaceful exchange of informations, goods... between the members of the society increase it's effectiveness and the profits gained from it increase. So, think about it. One reason we formed societys/civilisations was to survive. An egoistic view, as we cared first of our own life and the direct result was protecting the others to be more protected, not because we liked them so much and wanted them to survive, but keeping us alive. Thats not even meant to be bad, it is just how a human body works. Here comes the big but: Egoistic views can lead to dictators or in a less extreme scenario to the presentation of force. Thirst for power can result from the wish to change the existing forms to a construction of thoughts of an individuum. Gaining followers, the rank as a dictator works as a status symbol too. In this specific case it is less prestige, but force which wants to get shown-off. Fear, obedience and oppresion. Terms, the status of the dictator is defined by from the victims of the regime.
crown and sceptre - the status symbols of a ruler
Does a status symbol attract everyone?
Definitly not. Different communitys have different ideals. Imagine a gang with tattoos, reflecting your status in the gang. If you have a tattoo of a leader, the other gang members will respect you. People from outside the gang may recognise the tattoo and see it as a status symbol of a gang and as a result, you have a lower status for them, beeing assocciated with crime. The same counts for expensive cars. Some woman/man are attracted by materialistic status symbols, but on the other hand, some see it as boasting.
Status symbols. No matter in form of a trophy, a position in a community, expensive clothes... Thinking about our own life we can find at least one thing we can consider as a status symbol, even if we don't see it as one. Maybe we own a expensive car because we just like it's performance and power, but in fact, it gives information about the owner's wealth, so it is a symbol for his/her wealth. Psychological and biological these symbols seem to be part of nature, as they can be attractive for potential partners, while on the other hand, they can also quench people if they are connotaed with a negative social status. We shouldn't only look at the status symbols, but the person behind them, to see how far the symbol equals the reality of the owner's life. A person is more complex than a simple status symbol, so don't jump into conclusions too fast.
Thanks for reading
Have a nice day :)