Socioeconomic Status And Social Class

     Socioeconomic status and social class are two terms often used interchangeably to indicate social distinction among individuals.  While similar, these terms are not synonymous.  Historically, social class has been used to refer to social boundaries that could not be crossed due to conditions from birth (e.g., Caste).  However, as societies around the world have advanced, many individuals have gained the opportunity to achieve power beyond their inborn class during their lifetime by acquiring the resources to move upward.  Thus, the concept of socioeconomic status became more meaningful since ones social standing could be measured based on their social and economic power at a given stage in their life. 
     The American Psychological Association (APA) (2007) describes socioeconomic status is an intersecting measurement of education, occupation, and income, which determines the social standing or class of an individual or group.  Specifically, various formulae that are comprised of different combinations of these factors determine an individual’s socioeconomic status.  There is, however, no universal measure for socioeconomic status and researchers continue to disagree about which formula is the most valid operationalization this construct. 
     Socioeconomic status is a fundamental determinant of human functioning across the lifespan, including: development, well-being, and physical and mental health. However, these social distinctions are both complex and dynamic.  That is, not only can individuals move up or down the social ladder, but the definitions of, and relations among social classes change over time. 
     **For the purpose of continuity, the term socioeconomic status will be used in this document to reflect socioeconomic and social class factors.

Approaches to Conceptualizing Socioeconomic Status

Intersection of SES with other Demographic Factors

More Resources for SES and Social Class


American Psychological Association, Task Force on Resources for the Inclusion of Social Class in Psychology Curricula.  (2008). Report of the Task Force on Resources for the Inclusion of Social Class in Psychology Curricula. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

American Psychological Association, Task Force on Socioeconomic Status. (2007). Report of the APA Task Force on Socioeconomic Status. Washington, DC:American Psychological Association.

Mangan, J. M. Education, socioeconomic status, and social class. Retrieved 11 November 2009 from