Status affiliation is a common function of many of our activities – we like to make personal connections with high status folks, as that is commonly seen as raising our status. Among their other functions, the personal contact in seeing a doctor, attending a lecture, hiring a sculptor, or meeting with a CEO, creates a status affiliation.
Relative to other possible gifts, giving the gift of a status affiliation has several advantages:
- It usually looks bad to try too hard or directly to affiliate yourself with high status folks. It looks better if the effort is paid for and initiated by someone else, a gift giver.
- The act of giving affiliates the give giver, as well as the gift recipient, with the high status person. They get two affiliations for the price of one.
- You reduce the strength of an affiliation if you examine too critically the quality of the product or service of the associated high status person. Gift givers also have weak incentives to attend to private info about gift quality; common perceptions of quality matter more. So both gifts and status affiliation avoid private quality info.
- Looking less critically at the other functions of the relation make it easier to hypocritically believe you care mainly about those functions, pretending that you don’t care much about the status affiliation.
This complementarity between gifts and status affiliations helps explain why our affiliations with high status folks, such as via medicine or education, are often treated as gifts.