Measuring socio-economic position for epidemiological studies in low- and middle-income countries: a methods of measurement in epidemiology paper

Int J Epidemiol. 2012 Jun;41(3):871-86. doi: 10.1093/ije/dys037. Epub 2012 Mar 21.


Much has been written about the measurement of socio-economic position (SEP) in high-income countries (HIC). Less has been written for an epidemiology, health systems and public health audience about the measurement of SEP in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). The social stratification processes in many LMIC-and therefore the appropriate measurement tools-differ considerably from those in HIC. Many measures of SEP have been utilized in epidemiological studies; the aspects of SEP captured by these measures and the pathways through which they may affect health are likely to be slightly different but overlapping. No single measure of SEP will be ideal for all studies and contexts; the strengths and limitations of a given indicator are likely to vary according to the specific research question. Understanding the general properties of different indicators, however, is essential for all those involved in the design or interpretation of epidemiological studies. In this article, we describe the measures of SEP used in LMIC. We concentrate on measures of individual or household-level SEP rather than area-based or ecological measures such as gross domestic product. We describe each indicator in terms of its theoretical basis, interpretation, measurement, strengths and limitations. We also provide brief comparisons between LMIC and HIC for each measure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection / methods
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Developing Countries*
  • Epidemiologic Methods*
  • Humans
  • Socioeconomic Factors