Socioeconomic Status (SES): What You Need to Know

This refers to a wholesome evaluation of an individual’s financial and social standing. It is an important criterion, as several students with backgrounds of low socioeconomic status tend to deal with social and financial unpredictability. SES influences overall human functioning in different ways for children, youth, and families.

Psychological health: Lower levels of SES are linked with higher levels of behavioral and emotional difficulties, including delinquent behavior symptoms, social problems, and hyperactivity/attention deficit disorder among adolescents. These are also associated with higher rates of anxiety, depression, attempted suicide, illicit drug use, among others.

Physical health: Lower levels of SES are linked with a higher likelihood of being sedentary and having a higher body mass index (BMI) for adolescents, possibly due to a lack of accessible healthy food options and neighborhood resources like playgrounds. These levels are also associated with higher levels of obesity, higher infant mortality, etc.

Education: Low SES, along with exposure to adversity, is associated with decreased educational success. Often, children from low-SES families start kindergarten with substantially less linguistic knowledge. Children in impoverished families are far more likely to be absent from school during their educational experiences, which further increases the learning gap between them and their affluent peers.

Family well-being: Lower SES has been associated with domestic crowding, a condition that leaves negative consequences for children and adults, including poor health outcomes and higher psychological stress. Among low-income families, those with family exposure to substance use manifest the highest child abuse and neglect rates.

Three key measures are most commonly utilized to capture SES.

Income: Survey respondents can pick from a range of incomes given by researchers or report the accurate number of annual earnings. The collection of income needs to incorporate the measurement of total income, unearned or earned, from particular sources like wages and salaries, unemployment insurance, etc. However, often, people feel uncomfortable disclosing their income and might be tempted to inflate the earnings.

Education: Researchers should measure education in single years completed up to five or more years of college. It should also incorporate information on whether an individual earned a high school diploma or equivalent.

Occupation: Occupation should be measured using at least a set of two standardized questions – one to collect occupation and another to collect industry. Additional information about the employer and work tasks should also be considered. However, though occupation can be a good indicator of income and education, simply checking off a job category doesn’t capture more complex aspects of a person’s social standing.

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