As a starting point, the Steel (2007) meta-analysis in the highly regarded Psychological Bulletin is an excellent starting place for learning about the theoretical and empirical literature on procrastination. However, a lot of the literature seems to be focused on procrastination as trait, rather than treating procrastination as a task specific, temporally varying phenomena (which I think is what is more relevant to your question).
Before we can talk about the causes and consequences, we should define procrastination.
The wikipedia article on procrastination cites Steel (2007) who defined procrastination as
"to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting
to be worse off for the delay."
Thus, we should be clear that procrastination is not intentional stalling with the aim of getting out of a task.
Skill, difficulty, and procrastination
Steel (2007) suggests that procrastination may be greater when:
- people have low self-efficacy, fear of failure, and perfectionism
Self-efficacy may be due to an actual lack of skill or may be a bias in thinking.
From a utility perspective, for a constant level of reward, having lower levels of skill on a task or doing a task that is more difficult, increases the cost of obtaining the reward.
I can also see a specialisation argument, whereby people seek out domains that they are good at because the link between effort and reward is shorter.
So in summary, I think there is reasonable theoretical support for the idea that being bad at a task whether through lack of skill or inherent task difficulty may increase procrastination (or even task avoidance).
Rewards and procrastination
I'd be more comfortable defining your question in terms of rewards rather than specifically focussing on social status. Social status is one, albeit very important, type of reward. However, I think as a starting point, it would be easier to think about the rewards provided by the task. Also, it is probably also worth thinking about the flipside, the punishment (or loss of rewards) that flow from not doing a task.
In reviewing the literature, Steel (2007) suggests that procrastination may be greater when:
- the task is aversive in itself
- rewards are more distal
It is also implied by the concept of procrastination that the person does want to do the task in the longer term, whether this be out of obligation or for another more material reward.
That said, greater reward and less distal rewards should reduce procrastination. Also, increasing the punishment and temporal proximity of not completing the task should reduce procrastination (as perhaps many all-nighter before an assignment is due can attest).
More broadly, there is a school of thought typified by this blog post by Daniel Lemire that sees procrastination as sometimes representing an adaptive indicator that one should focus on different tasks.
Thus, in a broad sense, reduced rewards for task completion should both increase procrastination and task avoidance.
Functional role of procrastination
Thus, in broad terms there is a theoretical argument suggesting that reward structures and the distribution of skill should lead to specialisation whereby people generally will tend towards doing tasks to which the opportunity cost is less than that for others. That said, there is a difference between procrastination and task avoidance in that task avoidance implies someone does not want to do the task at all.
Anyway, while the above analysis touches on the empirical literature, it is largely driven by a theoretical analysis grounded in concepts of rationality and utility maximisation. I'd be interested to read about what specific empirical studies have been conducted to test some of these ideas.
- Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin 133 (1): 65–94. FREE PDF