Socioeconomic status, sometimes shortened to SES, is a classification indicating the close relationship between a person’s social status and his financial standing. Assumptions about this status are not necessarily founded and can conflict with other beliefs, but communities still tend to organize and analyze themselves based on it. Using this classification has both advantages and disadvantages.
Points of Assessment
People who try to determine socioeconomic status look at the three interrelated factors of income, education and occupation. Income tends to go up as the level of education increases, in part because higher education provides individuals with the skill sets necessary to enter occupations that provide higher pay. Earnings go down as the education level drops. The result is that, in general, those who have less education have less income and a subsequently lower standing.
Levels and Related Risks
Experts divide SES loosely into low, middle and high levels. A strong correlation exists between lower standing and many risk factors such as diabetes and arthritis. Mental issues also increase. It is unclear in many instances whether these issues are the result or the cause of the lower standing. It is possible for people to move from one level to another many times over the course of their lives.
The Cluster Effect
Most of those in various divisions of socioeconomic status tend to cluster together. This might be due at least in part to the fact that people of similar income level, occupation and education can relate to each other’s daily successes and failures. The cluster effect also might occur because people tend to settle where prices are in line with their income, particularly when it comes to rent. Some people compare socioeconomic status to issues such as race because of these apparent divisions of people.
Associations and Idealistic Conflicts
People tend to see being in a higher socioeconomic level as being positive, perhaps because of the known decrease in health risk factors. Psychologically speaking, the idea is that going up levels means an easier life. Individuals also assume that those in higher levels have better skills or intelligence. The tendency therefore is for people to want to go up levels rather than down.
None of these associations or assumptions are necessarily true. Even people in higher levels can suffer from genetic disease, for example, and some people inherit their funds or happen to get lucky with a single marketable idea. Many individuals who have a lot of money are not happy. Some even shun their financial security for things they consider more important, such as living simply for better spiritual fulfillment.
Assumptions about SES can be in conflict with other ideals of a given society. A community might work to provide aid to members of the low level, for example, thereby closing class gaps. The principles behind capitalism, however, say that the best entrepreneurs and businesses naturally rise to the top and that classes therefore are inevitable.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Looking at socioeconomic status has both benefits and drawbacks for communities. Critics of the classification assert that people associate significant stereotypes for each of the three SES groups. These stereotypes might lead to profiling or problematic, erroneous assumptions in projects and endeavors. An example is to assume that, when a school in a poorer and less socially advantaged area fails, it is the fault of the school’s staff. Even within the different SES groups, some individuals do not fit the generally accepted trends.
Advocates of SES assignment claim that it might reveal which areas or individuals are most in need of social aid and other programs. If crime is lower in an area with higher SES, for instance, then the police department can focus resources elsewhere. This translates to greater efficiency and decreased instances of fraud, which saves money. The community leaders also spend only where need is verifiable.