Expectation States Theory

  • Shelley J. Correll
  • Cecilia L. Ridgeway
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


Expectation states theory is, in many ways, a textbook example of a theoretical research program. It is deductive, programmatic, formalized mathematically, cumulative, precise, and predictive; and its propositions have been subjected to rigorous evaluation. More importantly, however, it is a theory that illuminates core issues in social psychology and sociology more broadly. It is fundamentally a “macro-micro-macro” explanation about one way that categorical inequality is reproduced in society. Cultural beliefs about social categories at the macro level impact behavior and evaluation at the individual level, which acts to reproduce status structures that are consistent with pre-existing macro-level beliefs. Status structures in groups can be thought of as the building blocks of more macro-level structural inequalities in society. For example, to the extent that status processes make it less likely for women in work groups to emerge or be accepted as leaders, in the aggregate we will observe that more men than women hold leadership positions in organizations, a stratification pattern that is reproduced at least partially by the way macro-level beliefs impact individual behaviors and evaluations.

By focusing on the role of differentiated performance expectations, expectation states theory provides a unifying explanation for how reward structures, behavioral patterns, and macro-level beliefs about a diverse array of social categories produce similar effects on the organization of interactional status hierarchies, the building blocks of societal stratification. It helps us understand how inequitable structures emerge in these smaller structures, which increases our understanding of the emergence and reproduction of inequality in society more generally.


Status Characteristic Status Belief American Sociological Review Performance Expectation Status Hierarchy 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shelley J. Correll
    • 1
  • Cecilia L. Ridgeway
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadison
  2. 2.Department of SociologyStanford UniversityStanford

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