Skip navigation links

Dec. 27, 2012

MSU professor provides ‘social class for dummies’

Social class has been linked to health, college attainment and other important outcomes, but the best ways to define and measure social class are still unclear to many, a Michigan State University scholar argues.

Matthew Diemer, associate professor in MSU’s College of Education, says social class can help address problems such as unemployment and academic achievement gaps if more is known on how to measure the socioeconomic factors at play – skills researchers in education and psychology typically lack, he says.

In his paper “Practices in Conceptualizing and Measuring Social Class in Psychological Research,” published in the December 2012 issue of Analyses of Social Issues and Policy, Diemer provides a guide on assessing social class, from federal poverty levels to people’s perceptions about whether they are “working class” or “middle class.”

“We have a very unequal society and there are different ways to explore that – even though there is a natural resistance to thinking about it,” Diemer said. “Yet we know it affects physical and mental health, quality of school you attend, vocational outcomes and much more.”

Diemer argues that in previous research, scholars comparing a sample of lower-income African-Americans to higher-income whites may attribute differences in college attainment, for example, to race without considering the confounding or separate role of social class.

Research shows social class is a contributor to the racial achievement gap, but it is given less attention than it deserves.

“If we are serious about closing achievement gaps, we need to also be thinking about social class,” Diemer said. “People tend to know that social class matters, but they don’t know how it matters.”

Diemer and his co-authors provide in-depth tables covering how to measure socioeconomic status – which broadly includes job status, income and education – and subjective social status, or how people perceive their own social standing in relation to others.

To view the article, visit

By: Matthew Diemer