Reciprocity implies equality in the giving and receiving of benefits. However, we find that reciprocity does not generate equal benefits, in terms of social status. Instead, across 7 studies (N = 3,426), observers conferred more status to individuals who initiated (i.e., initiators) than individuals who reciprocated (i.e., reciprocators) identical prosocial acts. Further, choosing not to reciprocate a prosocial act led to a more severe status penalty than choosing not to initiate a prosocial act. We find this discounting of reciprocity is driven by perceived obligation — observers view reciprocators as acting under constraint. When reciprocation appears less obligatory (e.g., given indirectly, or privately), the status discount is mitigated. Finally, we show that the discounting of a reciprocal act can be enduring — reciprocators still received less status after 2 successive, counterbalanced rounds of exchange.