Socioeconomic status

The Importance of Socioeconomic Status in Research Design

There has been a lot of press lately* for a paper recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Paul Piff and three of his colleagues at UC Berkeley along with Stéphane Côté at the University of Toronto.  The paper – “Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior” – discusses numerous studies the authors conducted in order to better understand the behavioral differences between “upper-class” and “lower-class” people.  They conducted both in-situ research as well as laboratory experiments looking at such things as the likelihood of breaking the law and participation in unethical behavior.  As the title of their paper suggests, they concluded that upper-class individuals actually do behave differently in that they are more likely to break laws, cheat, and lie – that is, behave more unethically – than lower-class people and that this stems in part from their attitudes toward greed.

Socioeconomic status is an important factor which may carry a great deal of weight in health-related research but is largely ignored in other disciplines such as marketing research.  However the fact that one’s socioeconomic standing impacts their behavior and attitudes (e.g., toward greed) – and how they think – makes this a critical component in our research designs.

But what are the design elements that effectively measure socioeconomic status?  In 1958, Charles L. Vaughn published a paper in Public Opinion Quarterly titled “A scale for assessing socio-economic status in survey research.”  Back then, door-to-door interviews was the most likely mode of data collection and the “common method” for assessing socioeconomic status was (remarkably) by way of the interviewers’ subjective ratings of each respondent’s “dwelling unit” as well as Read Full Text