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Status inconsistencies in an educational setting : an application of rank balance theory Clark, Susan M.


This research is concerned with a theory of rank balance as an approach to understanding stratified social systems. Despite a long history of interest in the problem, it was not until recently that an attempt was made to develop a theory which integrates rank balance within the field of social stratification. This project critically examines the theory developed by Zelditch and Anderson. One hundred and ninety-two students in a university residence were interviewed in order to collect data directed to answering three problems. The first problem investigated is a precondition to the theory and is concerned with the way in which a social system is stratified. It is maintained that a person has an overall rank in a system which is determined by his/her ranks on relevant evaluative criteria weighted according to their relative importance. The data showed strong support for this part of the theory. The second problem was to study the extent to which the students had balanced or imbalanced ranks under three different definitions of balance. The results show that the percentage of balanced and imbalanced persons varies according to the precise definition used, although under all three conditions a majority of the students were imbalanced. Such findings indicate that the usefulness of rank balance as an explanatory system may be limited if there is no agreement on which people are balanced or imbalanced. The third problem studied was to investigate if people who have imbalanced ranks behave differently from those whose ranks are balanced. One response to imbalance was studied. This was the desire for rank mobility as expressed through preferences for changes in ranks on the evaluative criteria. Contrary to the predictions of the theory, students generally did not appear to be concerned with rank balance. Possible reasons for this lack of concern may be found in the peculiarities of the student residences as a social system, in the type of evaluative criteria important to the students, or in the nature of the comparison processes the members make between themselves. Evidence from this research indicates that the scope of the theory has to be limited since it is not likely to be applicable to all social systems.

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