Does status matter in community-based forest management? If so, are the high-status households more benefited than the low-status households? What drives status differences, if any, in the appropriation of forest resources? To address these questions, we draw on a theory of status and resource use that defines one’s status as one’s relative position in a group on the basis of power, prestige, honor and deference. Following this perspective, we surveyed the heads of 341 forest-based rural households in India from 2009 to 2010. We find that collective actions themselves are status-driven and the high-status households are more interested and involved in status-maintaining collective actions such as decision-making and implementation, while the low-status households perform general tasks like forest patrol. Moreover, the high-status households derive benefits from local forest significantly more than the low-status households. Further, decomposition analysis shows that a household’s prestige and honor measured by its access to social resources, problem faced and useful contacts explain about 56 % of the status gap in forest benefits, while socioeconomic characteristics explain only 16 % of the gap. Thus, due emphasis on household status from a broader socioeconomic perspective is required to reduce inequality in participation and the distribution of forest benefits in co-management. © 2016, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.