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Indian Journal of Community Medicine

A New Instrument (Scale) for Measuring the Socioeconomic Status of a Family: Preliminary Study

Author(s): O.P. Aggarwal, S.K. Bhasin, A.K. Sharma, P. Chhabra, K. Aggarwal, O.P. Rajoura

Vol. 30, No. 4 (2005-10 - 2005-12)


Research questions: Can a new scale be developed for more accurate assessment of socioeconomic status of families in India? Hypothesis: The new instrument (scale) is useful for accurate assessment of socioeconomic status of families in India. Objectives: To devsie and test a new instrument to measure socioeconomic status of families in India. Design: Cross sectional community based study. Setting: Urban, rural, resettlement colony, slum and mobile groups. Participants: Families residing in the above areas. Study tool: Filling up of information about socioeconomic status using the newly developed scale. Results: By a process of random sampling, 2095 families in the National Capital Territory of Delhi were studied to find out their SES by using this scale. It was found that 31 families (1.5%) belonged to Upper high SES, 221 (10.5%) to High, 291 (14.2%) to Upper middle, 507 (24.2%) to Lower Middle, 745 (35.6%) to Poor and 294 (14.0%) belonged to Very Poor socioeconomic category. Conclusion: The instrument serves the purpose of categorizing the families in different socio-economic strata. However, it needs to be tested in other areas to determine its validity, reliability and utility. Key words: Socioeconomic Status, Scale, Income, Education.


The Socio-economic status (SES) is an important determinant of health and nutritional status as well as of mortality and morbidity. Socio-economic status also influences the accessibility, affordability, acceptability and actual utilization of various available health facilities. There have been several attempts to develop different scales to measure the socioeconomic status. The earliest attempts to find out the social class of an individual were from the standpoint of psychologists1,2. Cattell1 took five most important definers of social status namely prestige rating, intelligence quotient, income (annual), years of education and inter-correlated them with 25 occupations. Cantril2 described the American people into upper, upper middle, middle lower middle and lower social classes. He concluded that there is by no means a close one to one correspondence between each social class identification and income group identification. Warner et al3 used two methods called Evaluated participation and index of status characteristics to provide accurate measurement of social class. Evaluated participation comprised several rating techniques based on the proposition that those who interact in the social system of a community evaluate the participation of those around them and that the members of a community are explicitly or implicitly aware of their rankings and translate their evaluation of such social participation into social class ratings. The Index of Status Characteristics used occupation, source of income, house type and dwelling area, which are then rated on a seven point scale. Hollingshed et al4 placed individuals and families in classes based on Index of Social Position. This index used three indicators namely a) residential address of the household, b) the occupational position of its head and c) the years of school the head of the family had completed.

In Indian studies, the classification of British Registrar General based on occupation was tried earlier5. Later on Prasad's classification of 19616 based on per capita monthly income and later modified in 19687 and 19708 has been extensively used. Now a days Kuppuswami scale9 is widely used to measure the socio-economic status of an individual in urban community based on three variables namely education, occupation and income. The modification of Kuppuswami scale10 meant to determine the socioeconomic status of family based on education and occupation of head of the family and per capita income per month has also been widely used. Recently, Mishra et al have suggested an economic revision of Kuppuswami's scale in order to account for the devaluation of rupee11. In the rural areas, Pareekh12 classification based on nine characteristics namely caste, occupation of family head, educatiion of family head, level of social participation of family head, landholding, housing, farm power, material possessions and type of family. The present instrument is proposed to measure the socio-economic status of the family and is neither based on the individual nor on the head of the family. Unlike the commonly used Kuppuswami Scale and later its modification, the modified version of Kuppuswami Scale and Pareekh Scale, the instrument developed by us is applicable both for urban as well as rural families. Moreover, the instrument has been developed for all sections of the Society.

Materials and Methods:

A new instrument was developed by the authors, based on literature review, extensive discussion with sociologists, economists and anthropologists. It was pilot tested on a 5% sample in different socio-economic strata of the community before finalizing its contents, format and scoring. The instrument was validated against the only available and widely used Kuppuswami's modified scale of urban population. In the final form, the scale consisted of 22 items (see Annexure). Suitable weightage was given to each item and scoring for each item was based on a scale ranging from 3 to 9. Question 18 i.e. regarding the presence of non milch cattle or pets in the family was scaled on a 3 point scale and question 12 regarding living in the type of a house was scaled on a 9 point scale. The maximum aggregate score was 100. Based on the final score, the socio-economic states of the family is divided into six socio-economic categories, namely Upper high (combined score of more than 76), High (61-75), Upper Middle (46-60), Lower Middle (31-45), Poor (16-30) and Very Poor (combined score less than 15). In the present study, the instrument was used to assess the socio-economic status of all strata of the society. The study was carried out in five different strata namely the urban, rural, resettlement colony, slum/jhuggis and amongst those who were mobile and had no fixed living respectively. Data was collected by second semester undergraduate medical students.

Results and Discussion:

All the 22 individual questions (Items) were analysed. However, the results of first two questions are being discussed below:

Question (Item) 1 enquired about the monthly per capita income in rupees from all sources. It was calculated by dividing the total monthly income in rupees from all sources. The question was rated on a 7 point scale with scoring from 1 (for those having monthly per capita income less than Rs. 1000 per month) to 7 (for those having monthly per capita income more than Rs. 50000). Twenty eight (1.3%) of the families were having monthly per capita income more than Rs. 50000, 3.2% between Rs. 20000 to Rs. 49999/-, 7.4% from Rs. 10,000- 19,999/-, 1.4% between Rs. 5,000/- Rs. 9,999/-, 16.0% between Rs. 2,500-Rs. 4,999/-, 24.4% from Rs. 1,000/- Rs. 2,499/- and 36.2% were having monthly per capita income less than Rs. 1,000/-. The mean score obtained was 2.44.

Question 2 was regarding the educatiion of either the husband or wife who was more educated amongst them. This item was rated on an eight point scale with scores ranging from 0 (zero) to 7 amongst them. The mean score of all the respondents was 2.94. About 8% of the more educated spouse had professional qualifications with technical degrees or diplomas, 6.3% were post graduates (non technical including Ph.D), 13.0% were graduates, 14.3% had passed 10th but were not graduates, 14.5% had received primary education but had studied less than 10th class. 10.5% had attended school for at least one year but had not completed primary school education. Another 13.7% were just literates but no schooling while the remaining 19.8% were illiterates. Likewise analysis of the 22 items was done.

According to our study, 31 families (1.5%) belonged to upper high socioeconomic status, 221 (10.5%) belonged to high socioeconoic status, 297 (14.2%) upper middle, 507 (24.2%) lower middle, 745 (35.6%) poor and 294 (14.0%) belonged to very poor socioeconomic status. Among the urban areas, 61.4% families belonged to Upper high socioeconomic category, 37.9% to high and 0.7% to upper middle socioeconomic category. No family belonged to lower middle, poor or very poor socioeconomic status. In case of the 403 rural families studied, a majority i.e. 86.3% belonged to high, followed by 8.9% to upper high, 4.6% to upper middle categories. While no family belonged to lower middle or poor, only one family belonged to very poor socioeconomic status category. When the results were analyzed for families in the resettlement colonies, only 1.8% families belonged to very high socioeconomic status, 38.6% to high, more than half (56.4%) to upper middle and 3.2% to lower middle socioeconomic status. No family belonged to either poor or very poor category. Amongst the families residing in slums, no family had very high socioeconomic status, 17.3% belonged to high, 51.9% to upper middle, 24.8% to lower middle and 6.0% to poor and no family in the very poor category. In the families who had no fixed living place, or who were mobile, no family belonged to very hgih, only one belonged to high, 4.3% to upper middle, 42% to lower middle, 46.3% to poor and 7.2% to very poor socioeconomic status. That there is a gradual gradient in the socioeconomic status from very high to very low as we move from one end of spectrum i.e. urban areas to the other end of the spectrum i.e. those who have no fixed living place (mobile population), is evident from the results.


Since this type of instrument has been developed first time, the replicability and external validity of this scale need to be tested prior to its acceptance. Hence, it is recommended that other medical colleges should test it in their urban and rural field practice areas.


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Deptt. of Community Medicine, UCMS, Delhi-110095

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