Are people quick to adopt status beliefs about a social difference that lead them to treat others unequally? In a test of status construction theory, two experiments show that men and women form equally strong status beliefs from only two encounters with others. Men act powerfully on these new beliefs in their next encounters with others but women do not, possibly because women face greater social risks for acting on ambiguous status advantages. Women are just as likely as men, however, to treat someone unequally on the basis of an established status distinction. This suggests that men are first movers in the emergence of status distinctions, but women eventually adopt the distinctions as well. Our results show that people readily transform social differences into status distinctions-distinctions that act as formidable forces of inequality.