Header image

Noah Askin, Matthew S. Bothner, and Wonjae Lee

Stratification within small groups is virtually inevitable. Understanding the precise mechanisms by which it occurs and the nature of its consequences is an important sociological endeavor. Individuals’ pre-existing qualities, as well as advantages emerging from intra-group interactions, affect the flows of respect and deference accruing to each member of a group. Differences in these flows in turn create a hierarchy. In this article, we first discuss foundational research on the causes and consequences of stratification before turning to more current trends. We focus on the ways in which status, the primary determinant of one’s location in a group’s hierarchy, is created and maintained or lost. We discuss the Matthew Effect—a process by which high-status group members receive disproportionate credit for their contributions, and also more easily maintain their status. We also address the circumstances and activities that can curb the Matthew Effect. We then move to current research, which centers on two main concepts: first, we consider peer effects, discussing the various means by which an individual’s closest peers shape his or her status; second, we take a broader perspective by examining small groups as open systems. This section considers how a group’s external environment, including other nearby groups, affects the level and stability of within-group stratification. We emphasize key issues and implications for future research on these topics.

Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences (2015)

When Do Matthew Effects Occur?

Posted by admin in 2010 - (Comments Off)

Matthew S. Bothner, Richard Haynes, Wonjae Lee, and Edward Bishop Smith

What are the boundary conditions of the Matthew Effect? In other words, under what circumstances do initial status differences result in highly skewed reward distributions over the long run, and when, conversely, is the accumulation of status-based advantages constrained? Using a formal model, we investigate the fates of actors in a contest who start off as status-equivalents, produce at different levels of quality, and thus come to occupy distinct locations in a status ordering. We build from a set of equations in which failing to observe cumulative advantage seems implausible and then demonstrate that, despite initial conditions designed to lead inevitably to status monopolization, circumstances still exist that rein in the Matthew Effect. Our results highlight the importance of a single factor governing whether the Matthew Effect operates freely or is circumscribed. This factor is the degree to which status diffuses through social relations. When actors’ status levels are strongly influenced by the status levels of those dispensing recognition to them, then eventually the top-ranked actor is nearly matched in status by the lower-ranked actor she endorses. In contrast, when actors’ status levels are unaffected by the status levels of those giving them recognition, the top-ranked actor amasses virtually all status available in the system. Our primary contribution is the intuition that elites may unwittingly and paradoxically destroy their cumulative advantage beneath the weight of their endorsements of others. Consequently, we find that the Matthew Effect is curtailed by a process that, at least in some social settings, is a property of status itself—its propensity to diffuse through social relations. Implications for future research are discussed.

Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 34 (2010): 80-114

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.

Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 28 (2004): 261-295