Measuring Socioeconomic Status

8. Summary

What is Socioeconomic Status?

Socioeconomic status (SES) is a measure of one’s access to collectively desired resources and is a fundamental construct in the social and health sciences.

Why SES Matters

  1. Measures of SES, and statistics based on them such as variances, are necessary to quantify if not understand the level of stratification or inequality in or between societies.
  2. Without sound measures of SES, it is impossible to capture and understand changes to the structure of a society.
  3. Without sound measurement of SES it is impossible to understand the intergenerational change of social status over time.
  4. Without an understanding and sound measurement of SES, the relationship between other important social variables, such as race or sex, can be masked by the evident and often dominant relationship between outcomes and SES.
  5. Finally, SES matters because it has been related to health and life outcomes for as long as social groups existed.

How SES is Measured

Composite measures

  • Duncan SEI & Nam-Powers OSS
  • Household prestige scale
  • Cambridge scale
  • NS-SEC

Univariate measures

  • Income
  • Wealth
  • Educational Attainment
  • Poverty
  • Area/contextual level measures

How SES Should Be Measured

There are three major uses of SES, and how SES should be measured depends on which use is intended.

  • The first major use of SES is as an outcome measure;
  • The second major use of SES is as a primary exposure or risk factor for some (health) outcome; and
  • The third major use of SES is as a control or adjustment variable.

This chapter also provides recommendations for readers interested in measuring and studying SES.