Skip to main content

Do adults adjust their socio-economic status identity in later life


Previous research shows that socio-economic status (SES) identity, also referred to as perceived or subjective social status, is shaped by objective measures of status, socio-cultural influences and psychological attributes and predicts current and future wellbeing. Prior studies, however, have not examined whether older adults reassess their SES identity over time. In this study, we use two assessments of subjective social status measured six years apart in a sample of older Taiwanese adults to: (a) determine the degree to which respondents adjust their perceptions of social rank; and (b) identify the characteristics of individuals who are most likely to revise their assessments. We find that many older Taiwanese adults reassess their SES identity, but most respondents show small to moderate levels of change. Females, more highly educated respondents, and those who have a positive economic outlook tend to revise their subjective social status upward relative to their respective counterparts; those who become widowed during the period adjust their rankings downward compared with those who do not become widowed. These findings suggest that SES identity may be dynamic, highlighting the importance of collecting information on SES identity at multiple points in the lifecourse.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Jennifer C. Cornman, 113 Chapin Pl, Granville, OH 43023, USA. E-mail:
Hide All
Adler N. E., Epel E. S., Castellazzo G. and Ickovics J. R. 2000. Relationship of subjective and objective social status with psychological and physiological functioning: preliminary data in healthy white women. Health Psychology, 19, 6, 586–92.
Adler N. E., Singh-Manoux A., Schwartz J., Stewart J., Matthews K. and Marmot M. G. 2008. Social status and health: a comparison of British civil servants in Whitehall-II with European- and African-Americans in CARDIA. Social Science and Medicine, 66, 5, 1034–45.
Adler N. E. and Stewart J. with the Psychosocial Working Group. 2007. The MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health. Available online at [Accessed 30 March 2009].
Boey K. W. 1999. Cross-validation of a short form of the CES-D in Chinese elderly. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 14, 8, 608–17.
Chen X., Dai K. and Parnell A. 1992. Disaster, tradition and change: remarriage and family reconstruction in a post-earthquake community in the People's Republic of China. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, XXXIII, 1, 115–32.
Cheng S. T. and Chan A. T. 2005. The center for epidemiologic studies depression scale in older Chinese: thresholds for long and short forms. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 20, 5, 465–70.
Collins A. L. and Goldman N. 2008. Perceived social position and health in older adults in Taiwan. Social Science and Medicine, 66, 3, 536–44.
Crittenden K. S. 1991. Asian self-effacement or feminine modesty? Attributional patterns of women university students in Taiwan. Gender and Society, 5, 1, 98117.
Davis N. J. and Robinson R. V. 1988. Class identification of men and women in the 1970s and 1980s. American Sociological Review, 53, February, 103–12.
Demakakos P., Nazroo J., Breeze E. and Marmot M. G. 2008. Socioeconomic status and health: the role of subjective social status. Social Science and Medicine, 67, 2, 330–40.
Demo D. H. 1992. The self-concept over time: research issues and directions. Annual Review of Sociology, 18, 303–26.
Diehl M. 1999. Self-development in adulthood and aging: the role of critical life events. In Ryff C. D. and Marshall V. W. (eds), The Self and Society in Aging Processes. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 150–83.
Franks M. M., Herzog A. R., Holmbert D. and Markus H. 1999. Educational attainment and self-making in later life. In Ryff C. D. and Marshall V. W. (eds), The Self and Society in Aging Processes. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 223–46.
Franzini L. and Frenandez-Esquer M. E. 2006. The association of subjective social status and health in low-income Mexican-origin individuals in Texas. Social Science and Medicine, 63, 3, 788804.
Fricke T., Chang J. S. and Yang S. 1994. Historical and ethnographic perspectives on the Chinese family. In Thornton A. and Lin H. S. (eds), Social Change and the Family in Taiwan. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2248.
Gallin R. S. 1986. Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law: intergenerational relations within the Chinese family in Taiwan. Journal of Cross-cultural Gerontology, 1, 1, 3149.
Gallin R. S. 1994. The intersection of class and age: mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relations in rural Taiwan. Journal of Cross-cultural Gerontology, 9, 2, 127–40.
Goldman N., Cornman J. C. and Chang M. C. 2006. Measuring subjective social status: a case study of older Taiwanese. Journal of Cross-cultural Gerontology, 21, 1/2, 7189.
Goldman N., Weinstein M., Cornman J. C., Singer B., Seeman T. and Chang M. C. 2004. Sex differentials in biological risk factors for chronic disease: estimates from population-based surveys. Journal of Women's Health, 13, 4, 393403.
Good W. J. 1963. Word Revolution and Family Patterns. Macmillan Press, New York.
Goodman E., Huang B., Schafer-Kalkoff T. and Adler N. E. 2007. Perceived socioeconomic status: a new type of identity that influences adolescents’ self-rated health. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, 5, 479–87.
Hermalin A. I., Chan A., Biddlecom A. and Ofstedal M. B. 2002. Work, retirement and leisure. In Hermalin A. I. (ed.), The Well-being of the Elderly in Asia: A Four-country Comparative Study. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 231–93.
House J. S., Lantz P. M. and Herd P. 2005. Continuity and change in the social stratification of aging and health over the life course: evidence from a nationally representative longitudinal study from 1986–2001/2002 (Americans’ Changing Lives Study). Journals of Gerontology, 60B, Special Issue II, 1526.
Hu P., Adler N. E., Goldman N., Weinstein M. and Seeman T. E. 2005. Relationship between subjective social status and measures of health in older Taiwanese persons. Journal of American Geriatrics Society, 53, 3, 483–8.
Ikles C. 1993. Chinese kinship and the state: shaping policy for the elderly. In Maddox G. L. and Lawton M. P. (eds), Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics. Volume 13, Springer Publishing Company, New York, 123–46.
Kelley J. and Evans M. D. R. 1995. Class and class conflict in six western nations. American Sociological Review, 60, 2, 157–78.
Lee Y. T. and Seligman M. E. P. 1997. Are Americans more optimistic than the Chinese? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 1, 3240.
Li R. M., Xie Y. and Lin H. S. 1993. Division of family property in Taiwan. Journal of Cross-cultural Gerontology, 8, 1, 4969.
Marchenko Y. and Royston P. 2009. What is the Relation Between the Official Multiple-imputation Command, Mi, and the User-written Ice and Mim Commands? StataCorps, College Station, TX. Available online at [Accessed 21 January 2010].
Markus H. and Wurf E. 1987. The dynamic self-concept: a social psychological perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 38, 299337.
Ofstedal M. B., Chan A., Chayovan N., Chuang Y.-L., Perez A., Mehta K. and Hermalin A. 2002. Policies and programs in place and under development. In Hermalin A. I. (ed.), The Well-being of the Elderly in Asia: A Four-country Comparative Study. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 6599.
Pearlin L. I. and Schooler C. 1978. The structure of coping. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 19, 1, 221.
Radloff L. S. 1977. The CES-D scale: a self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measures, 1, 3, 385401.
Simpson I. H., Stark D. and Jackson R. 1988. Class identification processes of married, working men and women. American Sociological Review, 53, 2, 284–93.
Singh-Manoux A., Adler N. E. and Marmot M. G. 2003. Subjective social status: its determinants and its association with measures of ill-health in the Whitehall II study. Social Science and Medicine, 56, 6, 1321–33.
Singh-Manoux A., Marmot M. G. and Adler N. E. 2005. Does subjective social status predict health and change in health status better than objective status? Psychosomatic Medicine, 67, 6, 855–61.
Smith J. P. 1999. Healthy bodies and thick wallets: the dual relation between health and economic status. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 13, 2, 145–66.
Smith J. P. 2004. Unraveling the SES–health connection. Population Development Review, 30, supplement: Aging, Health, and Public Policy, 108–33.
StataCorp 2009. Stata Statistical Software: Release 11.1. StataCorp LP, College Station, Texas.
Sung L. S. 1981. Property and family division. In Ahern E. M. and Gates H. (eds), The Anthropology of Taiwanese Society. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 361–78.
Tsai S. L. and Chiu H. Y. 1991. Constructing occupational scales for Taiwan. In Althauser R. and Wallace M. (eds), Research in Social Stratification and Mobility: A Research Annual. JAI Press, London, 229–53.
Whitbourne S. K. 1999. Identity and adaptation to the aging process. In Ryff C. D. and Marshall V. W. (eds), The Self and Society in Aging Processes. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 122–49.
Wolf W. P. 1981. Women, widowhood and fertility in pre-modern China. In Dupaquier J. (ed.), Marriage and Adoption in China, 1845–1945. Academic Press, London, 139–47.
Woo J., Lynn H., Leung J. and Wong S. Y. S. 2008. Self-perceived social status and health in older Hong Kong Chinese women compared with men. Women & Health, 48, 2, 209–34.
Wright C. E. and Steptoe A. 2005. Subjective socioeconomic position, gender and cortisol responses to waking in an elderly population. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 30, 6, 582–90.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 6
Total number of PDF views: 2 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 218 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.