How Do the Powerful Attain Status? The Roots of Legitimate Power Inequalities


Department of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, 94720, USA. E–mail:


Power inequalities are coercive, based on relative control over resources, whereas status hierarchies are based on collectively endorsed conceptions of merit. How then do the powerful achieve status? We argue that using power for personal gain can lead to perceptions of the powerful as competent—enhancing status—but also selfish—diminishing status. Consequently, power users will be most likely to attain status when they successfully avoid perceptions of selfishness. Two experiments support this view, finding that power users achieve greater status when moderating their power use, forgoing maximal profits in exchange, or using philanthropic gestures to counteract perceptions of greed. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.