Middle-Status Conformity: Theoretical Restatement and Empirical Demonstration in Two Markets

By Ezra Zuckerman
2001| Working Paper No. 1598

A longstanding sociological conjecture predicts that conformity is high in the middle and low at either end of a status order. Despite the intuitive pull of this idea, it has encountered both theoretical and empirical difficulties. This paper aims to reestablish the conjecture in two ways. First, we clarify the theoretical basis for expecting such an inverted U-shaped curve, taking care to specify key scope conditions on the social psychological orientations of the actors, the characteristics of the status structure, and the nature of the relevant actions. Second, we validate the conjecture in two markets that both meet such conditions and allow for the elimination of confounding effects: the Silicon Valley legal services market and the market for investment advice. We show that middle-status market participants (law firms or securities analysts) are least likely to undertake an action (the announcement of a family law practice or the publication of a `sell’ rating) that threatens their acceptance in a desirable market segment. These results inform our understanding of how an actor’s status interacts with her role incumbency to produce differential conformity in markets and other settings that meet the specified scope conditions.