exist. These are mainly inequalities of prestige or social influence and are typically based on such factors as age, sex, and certain personal characteristics. As is the norm throughout the world, men tend to have higher status than women among hunter-gatherers, and, likewise, the older members of society are often given more honor and respect than the younger ones. In addition, the possession of certain personal traits is generally a basis for the acquisition of prestige. Men who are particularly skilled hunters, who show special courage, or who are thought of as having great wisdom are often accorded high prestige. Such individuals typically assume leadership functions because they are deemed to be worthy of the trust and confidence of others.
However, men of prestige and influence among hunter-gatherers are no more than “firsts among equals,” and they typically have no special privileges not available to others. It must also be noted that the acquisition of prestige and influence comes from an individual's own abilities and efforts, not from any mechanism of social heredity. Prestige is both personally gained and personally lost. Individuals must continually justify such honor, and should their abilities or efforts fail them, their status will fall and others will replace them.
It must be stressed that the degree of prestige that can be gained among hunter-gatherers is very mild when compared to the nature of prestige in other societies. Hunter-gatherers loathe boasting and self-glorification, and they use strong sanctions against those persons who come to think too highly of themselves. Their emphasis is clearly on communal well-being and general social equality. In this sense they are quite aptly described as egalitarian societies (Woodburn, 1982).