What does "occupation" represent as an indicator of socioeconomic status?: exploring occupational prestige and health

Soc Sci Med. 2010 Dec;71(12):2100-7. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.09.026. Epub 2010 Oct 30.


The association between socioeconomic status (SES) and health has been widely documented. However, the role of occupation in this association is not clear because occupation is less often used than income and education as an indicator of SES, especially in the United States. This may be caused by the ambiguity in what occupation represents: both health-enhancing resources (e.g., self-affirmation) and health-damaging hazards (e.g., job stress). SES has two aspects: resources and status. While income and education represent resources and imply status, occupational prestige is an explicit indicator of the social status afforded by one's occupation. Using data from the US General Social Survey in 2002 and 2006 (n = 3151), we examine whether occupational prestige has a significant association with self-rated health independent from other SES indicators (income, education), occupational categories (e.g., managerial, professional, technical, service), and previously established work-related health determinants (job strain, work place social support, job satisfaction). After all covariates were included in the multiple logistic regression model, higher occupational prestige was associated with lower odds of reporting poor/fair self-rated health. We discuss potential mechanisms through which occupational prestige may impact health. Our findings not only suggest multiple ways that occupation is associated with health, but also highlight the utility of occupational prestige as an SES indicator that explicitly represents social standing.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupations / classification*
  • Occupations / economics
  • Occupations / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Class*
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • United States
  • Work / psychology