IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Compared to whom? Subjective social status, self-rated health, and referent group sensitivity in a diverse US sample


  • Wolff, Lisa S.
  • Subramanian, S.V.
  • Acevedo-Garcia, Dolores
  • Weber, Deanne
  • Kawachi, Ichiro


Emerging research has revealed that subjective social status (SSS), or how people perceive their position in the social hierarchy, is significantly associated with multiple health outcomes. Yet few studies have examined how this association is affected by the person or group to whom respondents are comparing themselves. While previous studies have used distal referent groups when assessing SSS, scholars have suggested that individuals may prefer to make comparisons to those who share similar characteristics to themselves. Overall, there has been little empirical analysis assessing the health impact of comparing oneself to one referent group over another. Using a diverse, national US sample (n = 3644), this study explores whether the relationship between SSS and self-rated health is sensitive to the referent used for social comparison. Data are from respondents who completed the ConsumerStyles and HealthStyles mail surveys and who have assessed their SSS against four referents: others in American society, others of the same race or ethnicity, neighbors, and parents at the same age. Self-rated health was the dependent variable, while we controlled for household income, education, home ownership, race/ethnicity, and other covariates. In logistic regression models, SSS using each of the four referents was significantly associated with self-rated health, but the model using the referent of others in American society had the strongest association with self-rated health and was the most parsimonious. Findings validate previous studies which typically have used a more distal referent such as others in American society in exploring the SSS-health relationship. However, future work should explore whether this referent is salient to diverse population groups when making social comparisons. Researchers may also want to consider using SSS as an additional status measure since it may capture more subtle differences in the status hierarchy than traditional economic measures.

Suggested Citation

  • Wolff, Lisa S. & Subramanian, S.V. & Acevedo-Garcia, Dolores & Weber, Deanne & Kawachi, Ichiro, 2010. "Compared to whom? Subjective social status, self-rated health, and referent group sensitivity in a diverse US sample," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(12), pages 2019-2028, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:70:y:2010:i:12:p:2019-2028

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Adler, Nancy & Singh-Manoux, Archana & Schwartz, Joseph & Stewart, Judith & Matthews, Karen & Marmot, Michael G., 2008. "Social status and health: A comparison of British civil servants in Whitehall-II with European- and African-Americans in CARDIA," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(5), pages 1034-1045, March.
    2. Macleod, John & Davey Smith, George & Metcalfe, Chris & Hart, Carole, 2005. "Is subjective social status a more important determinant of health than objective social status? Evidence from a prospective observational study of Scottish men," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 61(9), pages 1916-1929, November.
    3. Oakes, J. Michael & Rossi, Peter H., 2003. "The measurement of SES in health research: current practice and steps toward a new approach," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 56(4), pages 769-784, February.
    4. Singh-Manoux, Archana & Adler, Nancy E. & Marmot, Michael G., 2003. "Subjective social status: its determinants and its association with measures of ill-health in the Whitehall II study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 56(6), pages 1321-1333, March.
    5. Bzostek, Sharon & Goldman, Noreen & Pebley, Anne, 2007. "Why do Hispanics in the USA report poor health?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 65(5), pages 990-1003, September.
    6. Dunn, James R. & Veenstra, Gerry & Ross, Nancy, 2006. "Psychosocial and neo-material dimensions of SES and health revisited: Predictors of self-rated health in a Canadian national survey," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 62(6), pages 1465-1473, March.
    7. Siahpush, Mohammad & Borland, Ron & Taylor, Janet & Singh, Gopal K. & Ansari, Zahid & Serraglio, Adrian, 2006. "The association of smoking with perception of income inequality, relative material well-being, and social capital," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(11), pages 2801-2812, December.
    8. Franzini, Luisa & Fernandez-Esquer, Maria Eugenia, 2006. "The association of subjective social status and health in low-income Mexican-origin individuals in Texas," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(3), pages 788-804, August.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Chunping Han, 2014. "Health Implications of Socioeconomic Characteristics, Subjective Social Status, and Perceptions of Inequality: An Empirical Study of China," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 119(2), pages 495-514, November.
    2. Nobles, Jenna & Weintraub, Miranda Ritterman & Adler, Nancy E., 2013. "Subjective socioeconomic status and health: Relationships reconsidered," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 82(C), pages 58-66.
    3. Adjaye-Gbewonyo, Kafui & Kawachi, Ichiro, 2012. "Use of the Yitzhaki Index as a test of relative deprivation for health outcomes: A review of recent literature," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(1), pages 129-137.
    4. Alexander Miething, 2013. "The Relevance of Objective and Subjective Social Position for Self-Rated Health: A Combined Approach for the Swedish Context," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 111(1), pages 161-173, March.
    5. Kwak, Kyunghwa, 2016. "An evaluation of the healthy immigrant effect with adolescents in Canada: Examinations of gender and length of residence," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 157(C), pages 87-95.
    6. Präg, Patrick & Mills, Melinda C. & Wittek, Rafael, 2016. "Subjective socioeconomic status and health in cross-national comparison," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 149(C), pages 84-92.
    7. repec:spr:soinre:v:136:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s11205-017-1559-7 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Fleuriet, K. Jill & Sunil, T.S., 2015. "Reproductive habitus, psychosocial health, and birth weight variation in Mexican immigrant and Mexican American women in south Texas," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 138(C), pages 102-109.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:70:y:2010:i:12:p:2019-2028. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.