Measuring Socioeconomic Status and Subjective Social Status (2024)

Home Public Interest Directorate Socioeconomic Status Resources and Publications Stop Skipping Class Campaign

One objective of the Stop Skipping Class campaign is to provide best practices for measuring socioeconomic status (SES) and subjective social status (SSS).

An important determinant of the approach you will use to measure SES and SSS is the level at which you plan to assess its effects — the societal level, the community or neighborhood level, or the individual level. If you are examining how a new policy affected the number of individuals living in poverty, you may look into how many people are living below federal poverty thresholds before and after it takes effect. Researchers interested in how living in a particular neighborhood affects diagnoses of a particular illness may examine the median income of individuals living in that community. Others interested in how SES or SSS affects an individual's mental health may assess occupational prestige or educational attainment.


Education can be measured using continuous variables (e.g., highest year of school completed) or categorical variables (e.g., 1-6 scale indicating the highest grade completed). Higher levels of education are often associated with better economic outcomes, as well as the expansion of social resources (APA, 2007).


Income can be measured in a variety of ways, including family income, assessments of wealth and subjective assessments of economic pressure. At the neighborhood and societal level, federal poverty thresholds, supplemental poverty measures and school and neighborhood level indicators of poverty can be assessed. Lack of income has been found to be related to poorer health, mainly due to reduced access to goods and services (such as health care) that can be beneficial to health (APA, 2007).


Occupation can be assessed by asking participants to note their current or most recent occupation or job title, or to indicate their occupational category from a list. Aside from financial benefits, employment can improve one's physical and mental health and expand social networks (APA, 2007). However, the nature of lower SES positions can undermine these benefits, as the job itself may be hazardous or monotonous (APA, 2007).

Recommended Measurements

The National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics has provided recommendations(PDF, 67KB) for measuring education, income, employment and family size/relationships. This provides researchers and policy makers with a consistent, standardized measurement and collection approach to SES across groups.


Education should be measured in single years completed up to 5 or more years of college, and should also include collection of information on whether the individual obtained a high school diploma or equivalent. Surveys should also collect information on degree attainment.


Income should be asked for the individual survey respondent and for the respondent's entire family, as well as household income. The collection of income should include the measurement of total income, earned or unearned, from specific sources (e.g., wages and salaries, dividends and interest, Social Security, unemployment insurance, disability income, etc.)


Occupation should be measured at a minimum by a set of two standardized questions: one question to collect occupation and one question to collect industry. Additional information about work tasks and employer should also be considered.

Family size and relationships

Given that family size and household composition are required to calculate poverty, and survey measures should collect information on family size and household composition in compliance with official federal poverty guidelines as issued and published each year.

Other Recommendations for Conceptualizing and Measuring Social Class

For psychologists and other researchers who are interested in a more nuanced approach to measuring SES and SSS, an article by Diemer, Mistry, Wadsworth, Lopez and Reimers (2013) provides an in-depth look at best practices for conceptualizing and measuring social class. Specifically, the authors provide recommendations for the following areas:

  • SES: Measures of occupational prestige, which can be assessed at the individual or household level. These measures generally ask participants to indicate their most recent occupation, which is then classified into occupational categories.
  • SES: Resource-based measures including measures of educational attainment, total family income, labor market earnings, wealth, and SES composite scores. These measures may ask participants to indicate the highest grade or year of school they completed, the combined total income of all members of their family in a given year, or their accumulated assets minus debts owed.
  • SES: Absolute poverty measures including Federal Poverty Thresholds or Federal Poverty Levels, the Supplemental Poverty Measure, family budget measures and school or neighborhood level indicators of poverty.
  • SES: Relative poverty measures including measures of material hardship and deprivation, food insecurity, economic pressure or an income-to-needs ratio. These measures may ask participants to indicate their unmet needs, whether they have insufficient food for all family members during a specific time period, or whether they endured any psychological distress due to financial difficulties.
  • SSS: Subjective Social Status measures include perceptions of one's social standing using categories such as "working class" or "middle class," or perceptions of one's social position relative to others based on income, educational attainment and occupational prestige.

Date created: 2015

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Measuring Socioeconomic Status and Subjective Social Status (2024)


How do you measure subjective social status? ›

SSS: Subjective Social Status measures include perceptions of one's social standing using categories such as "working class" or "middle class," or perceptions of one's social position relative to others based on income, educational attainment and occupational prestige.

What is subjective and objective socioeconomic status? ›

Objective SES is the economic and social position in relation to others, which is widely measured by using three indicators: income, education, and occupation. In contrast, subjective SES is a person's conception of his or her position compared with that of others (Anderson et al., 2012; Kraus and Stephens, 2012).

What is the difference between social status and socioeconomic status? ›

An individual's social class influences their behavior, ideas and attitudes. This status has less movement and or change over time. Socioeconomic status is a combination of an individuals work status as well as the individual's economic position based on income, education, and occupational prestige.

What factors may be considered when measuring socioeconomic status? ›

In the modern era, wealth, income, educational attainment, and occupational prestige have been defensible indicators of SES.

How is social status measured? ›

Socioeconomic status (SES) encompasses not only income but also educational attainment, occupational prestige, and subjective perceptions of social status and social class.

Can social class be measured either subjectively or objectively? ›

Measuring Social Class

We can measure social class either objectively or subjectively. If we choose the objective method, we classify people according to one or more criteria, such as their occupation, education, and/or income.

What are the three types of socioeconomic status? ›

Socioeconomic status is usually described as low, medium, and high. People with a lower socioeconomic status usually have less access to financial, educational, social, and health resources than those with a higher socioeconomic status.

What is an objective measure of socioeconomic status? ›

Objective Socioeconomic Status

Measures included traditional socioeconomic indices, such as educational attainment and household income, as well as less traditional indicators of social standing including home size and frequency of out-of-town vacationing.

What are the three components of socioeconomic status? ›

Socioeconomic status is typically broken into three levels (high, middle, and low) to describe the three places a family or an individual may fall into. When placing a family or individual into one of these categories, any or all of the three variables (income, education, and occupation) can be assessed.

How do you figure out your socioeconomic status? ›

How a person perceives their own social class extends beyond what a W-2 income form claims they earn, experts say. You can look at income, education, marital status, location, family history, gut instinct and a host of other factors to find out where you fall.

What are examples of socioeconomic status? ›

Socioeconomic status is a complex concept that involves education, income, overall financial security, occupation, living conditions, resources, and opportunities afforded to people within society. Socioeconomic status and one's perceived social standing are factors of social class.

What are the five socioeconomic factors? ›

Socioeconomic Factors
  • Education.
  • Employment Status.
  • Income.
  • Food Insecurity.
  • Housing Insecurity.
Sep 1, 2023

What is subjective social status? ›

Definition of Subjective Social Status (SSS)

SSS is defined as one's perception of their social class relative to others (Diemer et al., 2013). Measures of SSS are usually subjective, and take into account a person's judgment of their human, social and cultural capital.

What is the scale for measuring socioeconomic status? ›

The popular and well-accepted SES scale includes the Rahudkar scale 1960; BG Prasad scale 1961; Udai Pareek scale 1964; Jalota scale 1970, Kulshrestha scale 1972; Kuppuswamy scale 1976; and Bharadwaj scale 2001. The Kuppuswamy scale and BG Prasad scale are living measures to assess socioeconomic condition.

What are the three key indicators of the socioeconomic conditions? ›

An individual's SES is based on aspects of their economic and social position, such as income, education, and occupation. SES status has been shown to significantly affect our health.

How are subjective measures measured? ›

Subjective measurement is how scientists measure what people say. It is very important that we listen to our patients and get feedback on their experience here. This can include using a survey to answer open ended questions, ranking an experience based on feelings, and more.

How is subjective well-being measured? ›

Subjective well-being is most commonly measured by asking people a single question, such as, “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?” or “Taken all together, would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” Such questions elicit a global evaluation of ...

How do you measure subjective experience? ›

Subjective experience can also be measured by asking open-ended questions that allow participants to answer in detail using their own words and descriptions through speech or writing.

What is the subjective social scale? ›

A frequently used measure of subjective social status is the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status that depicts social status as a 10 rung ladder, asking individuals to rank themselves on this ladder relative to other people, either in their local neighbourhood or wider society.

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