Status Quo: Sticking to What You Know

Have You Ever?

Have you ever heard the idiom, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease?” Maybe your parents have explained the reasoning behind their actions with the words, “we’ve always done things this way.” Perhaps you’ve gotten into a debate with someone about a troubling current situation only to be met with the phrase, “that’s just the way things are.” 

The Explanation

All these phrases have to do with maintaining the status quo. They defend the perceived normal way of doing things. 

Definition of Status Quo

The status quo means the existing state of affairs. It’s generally used in a social or political sense. To say something is the status quo is to say it is a generally recognized norm by the society in question.

The History

The phrase “status quo” was first recorded being used in 1719. It’s Latin for “the state in which.” While the official denotation merely refers to the existing condition, the phrase soon took on a more pejorative connotation. The status quo is often spoken about as something that needs to be changed or altered.

So What

It’s important to recognize the status quo for what it is. People have a habit of getting stuck in their own way of thinking or acting because “that’s how it’s always been.” But that’s not the truth of the situation. The status quo is constantly changing. What was considered normal and appropriate twenty years ago isn’t the same as what’s viewed as acceptable today.

It can be difficult to remember that sometimes. Change can seem very big and scary. If where you currently are seems tolerable or good, alterations can come across as risky. In other words, the status quo bias convinces people that their current situation is perfect as it is and should not be changed at all.

Change is inevitable, but that doesn’t make the status quo inherently bad - it has both its pros and cons. The status quo affects everyone all the time. A person’s words, actions, and behavior are constantly influenced by what they perceive to be the current condition of society. It’s evident in fashion trends, legislature, films, television, books, and art - everything is constantly affected by and, in turn, affecting the status quo. Sometimes it’s for the worst; other times, it’s for the better. Identifying the status quo is essential for recognizing how it influences you and helps form your personal preferences and biases. Once you see the status quo for what it is, you can more properly combat unjust parts of it and work to change them. The status quo is the present and thus affects everyone living in it, but you get to decide what the status quo of the future will be.

Think Further

  1. Think of a time when you conformed to the status quo. Why did you?
  2. Why do you think the status quo took on such a negative meaning over time? Do you think this is warranted?
  3. What are some examples of the status quo (specifically in the political or social spheres) that are beneficial to society? How long do you think they’ve been considered social norms?


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Learn More

  1. Curtin, Nicola, Abigail J. Stewart, & Elizabeth R. Cole. “Challenging the Status Quo: The Role of Intersectional Awareness in Activism for Social Change and Pro-Social Intergroup Attitudes.” Psychology of Women Quarterly, vol 39, issue 4, 2015, pp 512-529. Doi: 10.1177/0361684315580439.
  2. Fernandez, Raquel & Dani Rodrik. “Resistance to Reform: Status Quo Bias in the Presence of Individual-Specific Uncertainty.” The American Economic Review, vol 81, no 5, Dec 1991, pp 1146-1155. JSTOR,
  3. Masatlioglu, Yusufcan & Efe A. Ok. “Rational choice with status quo bias”. Journal of Economic Theory, vol 121, issue 1, Mar 2005, pp 1-29. Doi: 10.1016/j.jet.2004.03.007.
  4. Ohly, Sandra & Charlotte Fritz. “Challenging the status quo: What motivates proactive behaviour?” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, vol 80, issue 4, Dec 2007, pp 623-629. Doi: 10.1348/096317907X180360.
  5. Samuelson, William & Richard Zeckhauser. “Status quo bias in decision making.” Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, vol 1, issue 1, Mar 1988, pp 7-59. Doi: 10.1007/BF00055564.