Matthew S. Bothner, Toby E. Stuart, and Harrison C. White
This article examines the effects of status differentiation on the cohesion of a social structure. Using a formal model, we simulate the fates of a hypothetical cohort of newly hired employees, who are equals in the eyes of their boss and in the nascent stages of sorting into a status hierarchy. We cast these employees in a process in which they exert effort, receive public approval from the boss in exchange, and thus come to fill different places in a status order. We then consider the circumstances under which these workers cohere as a group and when, by contrast, differentiation makes cohesion among them unlikely. Our results show that the extent of the boss’s autonomy in relationship to employees accounts for this difference in outcomes. Under an autonomous boss, as differentiation transpires, status-based social forces break the group of workers apart. Conversely, when the boss occupies a compromised position, group-level cohesion coexists with differentiation. Our main contribution is the intuition that the cohesion-related consequences of status differentiation can substantially depend on the tie between contestants and their external audience. We conclude by developing conjectures for empirical research consistent with our main findings.