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A better way to measure a young adult’s socioeconomic status

Socioeconomic status is an important metric for public health researchers. Take tobacco, for instance: People who earn less money, have lower levels of education and work blue-collar jobs are much more likely to smoke and suffer from tobacco-related diseases.

Researchers typically use objective standards to assess socioeconomic status (SES), such as annual income and education level. The downside of these measures is that they do not always accurately reflect a person’s status. This is particularly the case for young adults, who may still be financially dependent on their parents, and have often not concluded their education or realized their full earning potential. 

Asking young adults about their socioeconomic status may yield more accurate data

Young adulthood is also a critical developmental period when people establish behaviors that can affect their lifelong health, so public health researchers need accurate ways to measure SES during this time. 

A recent study from Truth Initiative® published in Journal of Public Health Management and Practice found that what might be a better way to capture the socioeconomic status of young adults is simply to ask them. 

Researchers found that questioning young adults about their view of their current and future socioeconomic standing captured their status better than objective measures. In fact, among young adults between ages 18 and 24, a person’s subjective view of their socioeconomic standing was a stronger predictor of health outcomes than objective measures.

“Our research revealed that asking young adults, particularly those under the age of 25, about their socioeconomic status may yield more accurate data than standard measures,” said Dr. Elizabeth Hair, vice president of evaluation science and research at Truth Initiative and one of the study’s authors. “Understanding this will help us conduct more accurate research and design better policies to tackle the continuing challenge of health inequality.”