Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology

, Volume 21, Issue 1–2, pp 71–89 | Cite as

Measuring Subjective Social Status: A Case Study of Older Taiwanese

  • Noreen Goldman
  • Jennifer C. Cornman
  • Ming-Cheng Chang
Original Article


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 


  1. Adler, N. E., Epel, E. S., Castellazzo, G., & Ickovics, J. R. (2000). Relationship of subjective and objective social status with psychological and physical health: Preliminary data in healthy white women. Health Psychology, 19, 585–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adler, N. E., & Ostrove, J. M. (1999). Socioeconomic status and health: What we know and what we don’t. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 896, 3–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baker, H. D. R. (1979). Chinese family and kinship. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Baxter, J. (1994). Is husband’s class enough? Class location and class identity in the United States, Sweden, Norway, and Australia. American Sociological Review, 59, 200–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cantril, H. (1965). The pattern of human concerns. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Centers, R. (1949). The psychology of social classes: A study of class consciousness. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Chao, P. (1983). Chinese kinship. London: Kegan Paul International.Google Scholar
  8. Chu, J. J. (1996). Taiwan: A fragmented ‘middle’ class in the making. In R. Robison & D. S. G. Goodman (Eds.), The new rich in Asia (pp. 205–2220). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Copper, J. F. (2003). Taiwan: Nation-state or province? (4th ed.) Boulder, CO: Westview.Google Scholar
  10. Cornman, J. C., Goldman, N., Weinstein, W., & Chang, M.-C. (2003). Social ties and perceived support: Two dimensions of social relationships and health among the elderly in Taiwan. Journal of Aging and Health, 15, 616–644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Crittenden, K. S. (1991). Asian self-effacement or feminine modesty? Attributional patterns of women university students in Taiwan. Gender and Society, 5, 98–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Davis, N. J. & Robinson, R. V. (1988). Class identification of men and women in the 1970s and 1980s. American Sociological Review, 53, 103–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Diamond, N. (1973). The status of women in Taiwan: One step forward, and two steps back. In M. B. Young (Ed.), Women in China: Studies in social change and feminism (pp. 211–242). Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan.Google Scholar
  14. Duncan, O. D. (1961). A socioeconomic index for all occupations. In A. J. Reiss (Ed.), Occupations and social status (pp. 109–138). New York: Free.Google Scholar
  15. Ekehammar, B., Sidanius, J., & Nilsson, I. (1987). Social status: Construct and external validity. Journal of Social Psychology, 127, 473–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Evans, M. D. R., Kelley, J., & Kolosi, T. (1992). Images of class: Public perceptions in Hungary and Australia. American Sociological Review, 57, 461–482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Featherman, D. L., & Stevens, G. (1982). A revised socio-economic index of occupational status: Application in analysis of sex differences in attainment. In R. M. Hauser, D. Mechanic, A. O. Haller, & T. S. Hauser (Eds.), Social structure and behavior (pp. 141–181). Boston: Academic.Google Scholar
  18. Fricke, T. E., Chang, J. S., & Yang, L. S. (1994). Historical and ethnographic perspectives on the Chinese family. In A. Thornton & H. S. Lin (Eds.), Social change and the family in Taiwan (pp. 22–48). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  19. Gates, H. (1981). Ethnicity and social class. In E. M. Ahern & H. Gates (Eds.), The anthropology of Taiwanese society (pp. 241–281). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Goldman, N. (2001). Social inequalities in health: Disentangling the underlying mechanisms. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 954, 118–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Goldman, N., Glei, D., & Chang, M. C. (2003). The role of clinical risk factors in understanding self-rated health. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 56, 148–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Goodman, E., Adler, N. E., Kawachi, I., Frazier, A. L., Huang, B., & Colditz, G. A. (2001). Adolescents’ perceptions of social status: Development and evaluation of a new indicator. Pediatrics, 108, E31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Goyder, J. C. (1975). A note on the declining relation between subjective and objective class measures. British Journal of Sociology, 26, 102–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Greenhalgh, S. (1984). Networks and their nodes: Urban society in Taiwan. China Quarterly, 99, 529–552.Google Scholar
  25. Grundy, E., & Holt, G. (2001). The socioeconomic status of older adults: How should we measure it in studies of health inequalities? Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 55, 895–904.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hermalin, A. I., Chang, M. C., & Road, C. (2002). Economic well-being: Insights from multiple measures of income and assets. In A. I. Hermalin (Ed.), The well-being of the elderly in Asia: A four-country comparative study (pp. 295–360). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  27. Hermalin, A. I., Liu, P. K. C., & Freedman, D. S. (1994). The social and economic transformation of Taiwan. In A. Thornton & H. S. Lin (Eds.), Social change and the family in Taiwan (pp. 49–87). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  28. Hodge, R. W., & Treiman, D. J. (1968). Class identification in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 73, 535–547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hu, P., Adler, N., Goldman, N., Weinstein, M., & Seeman, T. (2005). Relations between subjective social status and measures of health in older Taiwanese persons. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 53, 483–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ikels, C. (1993). Chinese kinship and the state: Shaping of policy for the elderly. In G. L. Maddox & M. P. Lawton (Eds.), Annual review of gerontology and geriatrics (pp. 123–146). Berlin Heidelberg New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  31. Jackman, M. R., & Jackman, R. W. (1973). An interpretation of the relation between objective and subjective social status. American Sociological Review, 38, 569–582.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kawachi, I., Kennedy, B., & Wilkinson, R. G. (Eds.) (1999). Income inequality and health, vol. I: The society and population health reader. New York: New.Google Scholar
  33. Kelley, J., & Evans, M. D. R. (1995). Class and class conflict in six Western nations. American Sociological Review, 60, 157–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kikkawa, T. (2000). Changes in the determinants of class identification in Japan. International Journal of Sociology, 30, 34–51.Google Scholar
  35. Kluegel, J. R., Singleton, R., & Starnes, C. E. (1977). Subjective class identification: A multiple indicator approach. American Sociological Review, 42, 599–611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kourvetaris, G. A., & Dobratz, B. A. (1984). Objective and subjective class identification among Athenians in Greece. Social Science Research, 66, 484–500.Google Scholar
  37. Lamley, H. (1981). Subethnic rivalry in the Ch’ing period. In E. M. Ahern & H. Gates (Eds.), The anthropology of Taiwanese society (pp. 282–318). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Lee, Y. T., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1997). Are Americans more optimistic than the Chinese? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 32–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Liberatos, P., Link, B. G., & Kelsey, J. L. (1988). The measurement of social class in epidemiology. Epidemiological Review, 10, 87–121.Google Scholar
  40. Marsh, R. M. (1996). The great transformation: Social change in Taipei, Taiwan, since the 1960s. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.Google Scholar
  41. Ministry of Education (2001). Educational statistical indicators, Republic of China. Taipei: Republic of China.Google Scholar
  42. Oakes, J. M., & Rossi, P. H. (2003). The measurement of SES in health research: Current practice and steps toward a new approach. Social Science & Medicine, 56, 769–784.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Ostrove, J. M., Adler, N. E., Kuppermann, M., & Washington, A. E. (2000). Objective and subjective assessments of socioeconomic status and their relationship to self-rated health in an ethnically diverse sample of pregnant women. Health Psychology, 19, 613–618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Preston, S. H., & Taubman, P. (1994). Socioeconomic differences in adult mortality and health status. In L. G. Martin & S. H. Preston (Eds.), Demography of aging (pp. 279–318). Washington, DC: National Academy.Google Scholar
  45. Simpson, I. H., Stark, D., & Jackson, R. A. (1988). Class identification processes of married, working men and women. American Sociological Review, 53, 284–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Singh-Manoux, A., Adler, N. E., & Marmot, M. G. (2003). Subjective social status: Its determinants and its association with measures of ill-health in the Whitehall II study. Social Science & Medicine, 56, 1321–1333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. StataCorp (2001). Stata statistical software: Release 7.0. College Station, TX: StataCorp.Google Scholar
  48. Taiwan Provincial Institute of Family Planning; Population Studies Center and Institute of Gerontology, University of Michigan (1989). 1989 Survey of health and living status of the elderly in Taiwan: Questionnaire and survey design (Comparative study of the elderly in Asia: Res. Rep. no. 1). Ann Arbor: Population Studies Center, University of Michigan.Google Scholar
  49. Taiwan Provincial Institute of Family Planning; Population Studies Center and Institute of Gerontology, University of Michigan (1997). 1996 Survey of health and living status of the elderly and middle aged in Taiwan (Comparative study of the elderly in four Asian countries, Taiwan aging studies series: Res. Rep. nos. 7-1 & 7-2). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Population Studies Center.Google Scholar
  50. Tsai, S. L. (1992). Social change and status attainment in Taiwan: Comparisons of ethnic groups. International Perspectives on Education and Society, 2, 225–256.Google Scholar
  51. Tsai, S. L., & Chiu, H. Y. (1991). Constructing occupational scales for Taiwan. In R. Althauser & M. Wallace (Eds.), Research in social stratification and mobility: A research annual (pp. 229–253). New York: Jai.Google Scholar
  52. Wang, H. Z. (2001). Ethnicized social mobility in Taiwan: Mobility patterns among owners of small- and medium-scale businesses. Modern China, 27, 328–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wang, T. Y., & Liu, I. C. (2004). Contending identities in Taiwan. Asian Survey, 44, 568–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Weinstein, M., Chang, M. C., Cornman, J., & Stark, M. (2004). Have Taiwanese sisters been subsidizing the education of their brothers? Journal of Population Studies, 29, 3–34.Google Scholar
  55. Yanaihara, T. (1929). Teikoku shugi-ka no Taiwan [Taiwan under imperialism]. Economic Research Center of Taiwan Bank.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Noreen Goldman
    • 1
  • Jennifer C. Cornman
    • 2
  • Ming-Cheng Chang
    • 3
  1. 1.Office of Population ResearchPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  2. 2.School of Public HealthDepartment of Health Systems and Policy, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New JerseyNew BrunswickUSA
  3. 3.Center for Population and Health Survey Research, Bureau of Health PromotionDepartment of HealthTaichungTaiwan

Personalised recommendations