User Note on Composite Measure of Occupational Standing

The IPUMS provides several composite measures of occupational standing, including SEI, HWSEI, NPBOSS50, and NPBOSS90. These variables are referred to as "composite measures" because they combine 2 or more measurable dimensions of occupations. There are two main methodologies to derive composite measures: (1) prestige-based scale and (2) pure socioeconomic scale. Prestige-based scale is a weighted sum of the occupational income/earnings and education, in which the weight is determined by regressing prestige ratings on occupational income/earnings and education. Pure socioeconomic scale, on the other hand, do not use prestige data, and give equal weight to occupational income/earnings and education.

There is significant debate about the usefulness of composite measures of occupational standing. Some scholars have argued that such measures are scientifically obsolete, particularly when used in research studying inter-generational occupational mobility and gender differences in occupational stratification. These works have suggested that researchers needing to quantify occupational strata should instead rely on dimension-specific measures, such as the occupational wages/earnings or education.

For this reason, IPUMS additionally provides a variety of dimension-specific measures of occupational education, occupational income/earnings, and occupational prestige. The dimension-specific occupational standing variables in the IPUMS include OCCSCORE, ERSCOR50, ERSCOR90, EDSCOR50, EDSCOR90, PRESGL, and PRENT.

We strongly urge researchers to familiarize themselves with the debates surrounding the use of these variables. In particular, the works listed below outline the major issues to consider when using composite measures of occupational standing.


Boyd, Monica. 2008. "A Socioeconomic Scale for Canada: Measuring Occupational Status from the Census." Canadian Review of Sociology 45(1): 51-91.

England, Paula. 1979. "Women and Occupational Prestige: A Case of Vacuous Sex Equality." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 5(2): 252-265.

Hauser, Robert M. and John Robert Warren. 1997. "Socioeconomic Indexes for Occupations: A Review, Update, and Critique." Sociological Methodology 27: 177-298.

Hodge, Robert W. 1981. "The Measurement of Occupational Status." Social Science Research 10: 396-415.

Nakao, Keiko. 1992. "Occupations and Stratification: Issues of Measurement." Contemporary Sociology 21(5): 658-662.

Nam, Charles B. 2000. "Comparison of Three Occupational Scales." Florida State University, Center for Demography and Population Health, Working paper.

Nam, Charles B. and Monica Boyd, 2004. "Occupational Status in 2000: Over a Century of Census-based Measurement." Population Research and Policy Review 23: 327-358.

Powers, Mary G. (Ed.) 1982. Measures of Socioeconomic Status: Current Issues. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Warren, John Robert, Jennifer T. Sheridan, and Robert M. Hauser. 1998. "Choosing a Measure of Occupational Standing: How Useful Are Composite Measures in Analyses of Gender Inequality in Occupational Attainment?" Sociological Methods & Research 27(1): 3-76.

Darity Jr., William A. (Ed.) 2008. "Occupational Status." Pp. 26-28 in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2nd edition. Detroit: Macmillan Reference.