The measurement of SES in health research: current practice and steps toward a new approach

Soc Sci Med. 2003 Feb;56(4):769-84. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(02)00073-4.


The resurgence of social epidemiology has yet to induce corresponding research into basic measurement issues. This paper aims to motivate investigators to refocus attention on the measurement of socioeconomic status (SES). With a primarily American focus, we document striking paucity of basic research in SES, review the history of SES measurement, highlight the central limitations of current measurement approaches, sketch a new theoretical perspective, present new pilot results, and outline areas for future research. We argue (1) that lack of conceptual clarity and the bypassing of standard psychometric techniques have retarded SES measurement. And (2) social epidemiologists should revisit the measurement of SES and consider whether a richer, psychometrically induced, approach would be more useful. Our pilot study suggests a great deal of uniformity between existing SES measures and that a new approach may be worthy of pursuit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Educational Status
  • Epidemiologic Research Design*
  • Family Characteristics
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Social Class*
  • Social Identification
  • Sociology, Medical
  • United States / epidemiology