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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Culturally Responsive Education: Socioeconomic Status & Classism

This guide provides a starting point to finding resources on diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-oppression work at Shepherd University.


Social Class

Social class encompasses both socioeconomic status (SES) and subjective social status (SSS). Although social class may often be included in psychological studies, it is often treated as a control variable as opposed to a main variable, or a moderator or mediator of a relationship. As such, these practices do not allow us to examine the role of social class in predictive relationships, nor potential class-related differences among constructs (Diemer et al., 2013). SES and SSS can also be conceptualized in several ways, which has implications for the types of measures included in your study.

Definition of Socioeconomic Status (SES)

The 2007 Report of the APA Task Force on Socioeconomic Status notes three approaches to conceptualizing SES. Each can serve a larger purpose of advocacy for and awareness of social inequalities.

Material and structural factors

The materialist approach to conceptualizing SES emphasizes the attainment of goods and services (such as education and health care), as well as access to information and social resources. Prior research has noted the relationship between socioeconomic disparities and health or achievement outcomes (citation). Advocating for improved access and changes to material and structural factors that impact health and wellbeing is also an important advocacy tool, and can promote policies and programs that can help reduce socioeconomic disparities.

Gradient approaches (relative status and inequality)

Gradient approaches view socioeconomic status as a continuous variable, where an individual or group can be compared to others. Allowing for comparison is important, as differences in socioeconomic status are related to improved or worsened health.

Class models (hierarchies of power and privilege)

Social class-based conceptualizations of SES view inequalities as a form of social and political power that allows some groups to succeed at the expense of other groups. These inequalities also serve to reinforce privilege, wealth and power. Research in this area examines how institutions, policies, networks and communities create and maintain socioeconomic inequities, as well as how dominant cultural beliefs justify these inequities. Focusing on social class also shifts the focus away from individual attitudes and behaviors, and instead attends to structural and institutional factors reinforcing prejudice and discrimination.

Definition of Subjective Social Status (SSS)

SSS is defined as one's perception of their social class relative to others (Diemer et al., 2013). Measures of SSS are usually subjective, and take into account a person's judgment of their human, social and cultural capital. It is important to note that SSS assessments do not necessarily need to accurately account for one's economic position — rather, they are focused on understanding an individual's perceived social standing.

Date created: 2015

Socioeconomic status is the social standing or class of an individual or group. It is often measured as a combination of education, income and occupation.

Examinations of socioeconomic status often reveal inequities in access to resources, plus issues related to privilege, power and control.

Adapted from APA’s Socioeconomic Status Office publications

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