Measuring social class in US public health research: concepts, methodologies, and guidelines

Annu Rev Public Health. 1997:18:341-78. doi: 10.1146/annurev.publhealth.18.1.341.


Increasing social inequalities in health in the United States and elsewhere, coupled with growing inequalities in income and wealth, have refocused attention on social class as a key determinant of population health. Routine analysis using conceptually coherent and consistent measures of socioeconomic position in US public health research and surveillance, however, remains rare. This review discusses concepts and methodologies concerning, and guidelines for measuring, social class and other aspects of socioeconomic position (e.g. income, poverty, deprivation, wealth, education). These data should be collected at the individual, household, and neighborhood level, to characterize both childhood and adult socioeconomic position; fluctuations in economic resources during these time periods also merit consideration. Guidelines for linking census-based socioeconomic measures and health data are presented, as are recommendations for analyses involving social class, race/ethnicity, and gender. Suggestions for research on socioeconomic measures are provided, to aid monitoring steps toward social equity in health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Public Health*
  • Racial Groups
  • Research Design*
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Class*
  • Socioeconomic Factors