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Status Signaling Bell Curve

4 Aug

The importance of status-signaling directly correlates with an individual’s placement on the bell curve. At both the ultra-high and ultra-low end extremes, the majority of status-signaling behavior becomes largely muted – though this is due to polarly different reasons.

For the high-status individual, standard status-signaling behavior becomes unnecessary due to the evidentiary nature of their status. At certain levels, high-status individuals can even engage in what would normally be considered “status-lowering” activities due to the fact that their inherent high-status allows them to more easily disregard societally imposed inhibitions without fear of significant retribution – a self-reinforcing high-status signal itself.

On the other side of the divide, exists the ultra low-status individuals. The relatively low importance of signaling behavior to extremely low-status individuals spurs from a lack of ability to effectively mediate their low-status in the general social marketplace, even with the aid of proper signaling and status markers. Unable to compete in the overall market, the natural survival strategy then becomes to carve out a niche market which one can remain viable in.

As the vast majority of low-class individuals realize their inability to rise to the upper echelons of society, they then begin to focus not on achieving high-status, but rather attempt to gain a sense of relative high-status carved out of a differentiated group. The prettiest Denny’s waitress might have gained high-status amongst Denny’s waitresses, but in the general population Denny’s waitresses as a group are still low-status, and unless Denny’s waitresses as a group can manage to increase their overall market status (a highly-unlikely proposal), the highest-return social strategy for the majority of Denny’s waitresses is to develop and refine their own subculture, as differentiated from standard culture as possible. Achieving status, and the associated social power, amongst a low-status peer group is, after all, still better than having no status, and therefore no power, at all.

Strong signaling tends to occur with individuals and groups near the apex of the bell curve as these individuals, groups, and subcultures tend to have much higher levels of relative mobility. Being both in range to rise to the upper levels of society, and therefore gain significant power, and also to fall to the lower levels and suffer significant loss. Benefits of success and costs of failure for actors at this level are dramatically increased compared to the rest of the market, leading to high levels of competition, rivalry, and as a result, increased (and more dramatic) signaling activities.