Social Status Matters
By Ahmed Riahi-Belkaoui
Publisher – BookSurge Publishing
203 pages (+49 pages of references)
Rating – 4/10
Summary – Humans are “hard wired” to rank all aspects of our lives. Given that we are social animals, this means that we inevitably rank other people as well. Author Riahi does a good job of discussing the current research on social status. Unfortunately, Riahi is not a skilled writer and his dull, “academic” presentation will bore most readers.
Review – Too Much Cake, Not Enough Icing
If you want to insult someone you consider to be superficial, you might say that the person is “all flash, no substance.” Unfortunately, Ahmed Riahi-Belkaoui’s book Social Status Matters shows that it is also a problem to be “all substance, no flash.” In other words, the book contains interesting material, but the author’s dull, plodding prose makes the material inaccessible.
The book reveals that Riahi is a retired professor from the University of Illinois-Chicago. Sadly, he may have spent too much time writing for the academic journals, which are not noted for engaging reading. It’s a shame that Social Status Matters is so dull, because there’s an excellent book in there somewhere. To publish a more-accessible book, Riahi needed a skilled wordsmith as his co-author.
Some Things that You Will Learn –
Riahi organizes the book into 57 short chapters. This helps the reader because it makes the dense material somewhat easier to understand. It also allows readers to “skip around” and find those topics that are of the most interest.
As with most research, some of the findings are intuitive, but others are quite surprising. Here are just a few insights from Riahi’s book –
1) Researchers suggest that for women (who traditionally take on more child-rearing responsibilities) status comes from attracting fewer, higher-quality men (meaning men who hold positions of authority in society). Men, on the other hand, often prefer to attract large numbers of beautiful women with a focus on physical attractiveness (as opposed to a woman’s earning potential).
2) Lower-status people experience more stress than do higher-status people. That stress, in turn, appears to cause lower-status people to age faster than do higher-status people.
3) Riahi also includes an interesting discussion of high-status names. Specifically, he makes the intuitive point that names suggesting the “right” background carry status. He suggests that this has led to Americans from “lower-status” backgrounds adopting names that suggest status.
The adoption of names can take several forms. For instance, Riahi notes that a Jewish family (that feels it has suffered discrimination) might choose to name its daughter McKenzie Rosenthal. On the other hand, adults may elect to change both their first names and their surnames, as in Allen Stewart Konigsberg becoming Woody Allen. (Frustratingly, Riahi references his own name change – from Giorgio Arvali – but does not explain it other than in passing).
4) Higher-status people are more likely to interrupt someone who is speaking than are lower-status people. Also, men are more likely to interrupt a woman who is speaking than they are to interrupt a man; on the other hand, women tend to interrupt both men and women in roughly-equal proportion.
The book contains hundreds of insights similar to the four that I’ve mentioned; you just have to be willing to concentrate while reading to understand what Riahi is telling you.
For academics, Riahi’s book still has much to offer. A graduate student or professor who wanted to “get up to speed” on social status in a hurry would do well to read this book. For everyone else, however, Social Status Matters probably oprovides too little reward for too much effort.