Socioeconomic Status & Housing

Why this is important: Socioeconomic status (SES)—a measure of individuals’ access to economic and other valued resources—has strong links with health. For example, low income and a lower level of education are associated with unhealthy behaviors (e.g., smoking and a sedentary lifestyle)1 and other risk factors for disease (e.g., high cholesterol and blood pressure);2 increased prevalence of chronic disease (e.g., obesity and some cancers); 2,3 and an increased risk of death.3 Like a ladder, these health risks tend to drop for each step up in SES; as SES increases, the risks for poor health outcomes decrease.4

The health impacts of SES can be long-lasting and powerful from an early age; individuals’ childhood SES can continue to affect their health into adulthood, even after taking their current adulthood SES into account.5 SES is also associated with child development outcomes, such as health status (e.g., birth weight, growth, and risk of injury or other health problems), cognitive performance and emotional well-being. 5 Importantly, the negative effects of low SES on health can be weakened through the presence of resilience factors, such as feelings of personal control and self-esteem, social support or positive role models, and stimulating environments and experiences.5,6 This suggests that social and public policy interventions to address socioeconomic issues in communities can make a difference for population health and quality of life.

Housing is also an important social determinant of health that impacts people’s ability to meet other fundamental needs, such as physical safety, adequate nutrition and stable employment. Unstable housing is associated with increased risk for illness and death.7 As recent national trends suggest, housing has become more scarce and less affordable in many places across the country, and there are implications for communities’ quality of life and well-being.

Definition: Socioeconomic status is defined as the “social standing or class of an individual or group.”8 SES is a multi-faceted measure that typically combines indicators such as individual or household income, work or occupational status and education.

The QoL Survey included some SES measures of household income, employment and education. Residents answered questions about their current household income level, financial situation, employment status (i.e., whether they were employed, out of work, unable to work or retired) and educational attainment. Residents were also asked about the stability and quality of their current housing, and any moves or other changes experienced within the last 12 months and the last five years.

Data Source: 1 Friestad C, Pirkis J, Biehl M, et al. Socioeconomic patterning of smoking, sedentary lifestyle, and overweight status among adolescents in Norway and the United States. J Adolesc Health 2003;33:275–8. 2 McLaren L. Socioeconomic status and obesity. Epidemiologic Reviews. 2007;29(1):29-48.; 3Adler NE, Ostrove JM. Socioeconomic status and health: what we know and what we don’t. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1999;896(1):3-15. 4 Adler, NE, Boyce, T, Chesney, MA, Cohen, S, Folkman, S, Kahn, RL & Syme, SL. Socioeconomic status and health: the challenge of the gradient. Am Psychol. 1993;49: 15–24. 5 Bradley RH, Corwyn RF. Socioeconomic status and child development. Annual Review of Psychology. 2002;53(1):371-99.; 6 American Psychological Association Task Force on Socioeconomic Status. Report of the APA Task Force on Socioeconomic Status. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2007. 7 Hatch, ME, Yun, J. Losing your home is bad for your health: Short-and medium-term health effects of eviction on young adults. Housing Policy Debate. 2021;31(3-5):469-89. Socioeconomic status. 8 American Psychological Association Website. Published June 2008. Updated June 2021. Accessed December 22, 2021.