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

J. Michael Oakes, Peter H. Rossi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

503 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)769-784
Number of pages16
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper was supported by HL61573 from the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The comments and criticisms of several colleagues and friends improved this paper; deserving special note are Andre Araujo, Ichiro Kawachi, Kevin Smith, and members of the Social Epi Workgroup at the University of Minnesota. Scholarly comments from an anonymous reviewer were especially helpful. This paper was begun when the first author was with the New England Research Institutes, Watertown, MA. The usual caveats apply. We dedicate this paper to the memory of Professor Andy B. Anderson.


  • Class
  • Psychometrics
  • Socioeconomic
  • Stratification
  • USA

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