Alexander W. Watts

Department of Sociology

The Clayman Institute for Gender Research


The Morality of Status



Scholars have long studied status as an axis of inequality. Within social interactions, the cultural status afforded to different social groups produces competence-related inequalities. For example, status shapes patterns of influence, deference, and expectations for ability. I argue that, in addition to competence, status conveys perceptions of morality. This theoretical expansion leads to a more refined understanding of status, especially as it relates to prejudice against lesbians and gay men. Results from three experiments support several arguments. First, lesbians and gay men are perceived as less moral than identical heterosexual women and men. Second, this morality bias is a result of a perception that both lesbians and gay men are viewed as not feminine and not masculine, respectively. Third, perceptions of morality, more so than competence, are strong mechanisms affecting both social distance preferences and the likelihood a respondent would hire a gay man for a job. These studies provide compelling evidence that the link between status and morality, though undertheorized, is an important component of social inequality.