Measuring Socioeconomic Status in Studies of Child Development


  • I thank Doris Entwisle, Nan Astone, and my colleagues in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study for useful advice. Support for this research was provided by the Vilas Estate Trust, the Spencer Foundation, the Institute for Research on Poverty, and the Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author.

Address correspondence to Robert M. Hauser, Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1180 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI 53706.


Income is more difficult to measure fully and accurately than occupation. Detailed occupational codes may be mapped into standard socioeconomic scales, and occupational status is related to other variables in much the same way as repeated or long-term measures of income. For these reasons, whether or not an attempt has been made to measure income, the measurement of socioeconomic status may be improved by ascertaining the occupation (and industry) of a job held by 1 or both parents. Income and household composition are preferable to the official poverty line in classifying economic standing, and housing tenure is a simple and powerful measure of economic consumption. Wherever possible, paternal as well as maternal education should be ascertained. However well they are measured, race-ethnicity and socioeconomic status do not capture all of the effects of family background.