Original Article

Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 71-89

First online:

Measuring Subjective Social Status: A Case Study of Older Taiwanese

  • Noreen GoldmanAffiliated withOffice of Population Research, Princeton University Email author 
  • , Jennifer C. CornmanAffiliated withSchool of Public Health, Department of Health Systems and Policy, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
  • , Ming-Cheng ChangAffiliated withCenter for Population and Health Survey Research, Bureau of Health Promotion, Department of Health

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Despite widespread use of measures of social status and increasing interest in the relationship between social status and health, the variables used to denote social status are often inappropriate for use with older populations. This article examines responses to a recently developed measure of subjective social position, known as the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status. The instrument asks respondents to use ten rungs of a ladder to position themselves socioeconomically relative to other people in their country and, separately, in their community. These questions were incorporated into a recent national survey of middle-aged and older adults in Taiwan. The objectives of the analysis were to gain a better understanding of how such subjective assessments are formed (i.e., to explore the contribution of social, economic, and cultural factors in the determination of position within a social hierarchy) and to assess the potential utility of the ladder instrument in social science and health research. This article compares results from Taiwan with those derived from subjective measures of social status in Western populations. The findings support use of the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status as a measure of subjective social status among the older population and suggest that using it may provide further insights into the social gradient in health.


Ladder Social gradient Social status Subjective social position Taiwan