Socioeconomic Status & Education: Statistics & Impact

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  • 0:03 What Is SES?
  • 0:56 Low vs. Middle vs. High SES
  • 2:02 SES and Education
  • 4:54 Future of SES Changes
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

We hear about socioeconomic status often, but what does it mean when we talk about its relationship with education? This lesson will bring you up to speed as well as introduce relevant statistics about socioeconomic status and education.

What Is Socioeconomic Status?

Branimir and Ana grew up in Serbia. They have just immigrated to a large city in the United States. They're renting a house located in one of the poorer neighborhoods of the city, and they are looking for a school to send their children to. On one of the gazillion forms they have to fill out to enroll their children in school, there is a question about socioeconomic status. Like most of us, Branimir and Ana don't understand the term.

What is socioeconomic status, also called SES? It's really just a fancy way of saying where someone falls in the pecking order when social grouping (socio-), income (econo-), and education are all taken into account. When we add education to the mix, we're talking about two things: how someone's SES impacts his or her educational opportunities and how education impacts someone's SES. More about that later.

Low vs. Middle vs. High SES

While far from an exact term, socioeconomic status is usually divided into low, middle, or high status. It's easy enough to figure out that an adult who has no high school degree, earns low wages, and lives in an undesirable neighborhood would have a low socioeconomic status, or that the surgeon with a diploma from Harvard who lives in the swankiest area of town has high status. But where would you place a social worker with a master's degree who makes $35k and lives in only slightly better housing than the poor people she works with? What about the blue-collar worker who went to trade school and works a lot of overtime to pull in $100k a year but chooses to live in the very modest neighborhood he grew up in? SES is not always completely straightforward.

Branimir and Ana would most likely be classified as having low SES. Luckily, the couple is not too concerned about that right now; they are happy to have escaped the chaos and turmoil of their old country and view their new country as providing exciting opportunities. They're much more concerned about their children's socioeconomic status. Let's see what that looks like.

SES and Education

Like we talked about above, SES relates to education in two ways. A good education can mean the difference between living in poverty and making a good living; SES also influences the types of educational opportunities available to children. Let's first look at how education impacts SES.

How Education Impacts SES

After asking around, Branimir and Ana discover that the best way to positively affect their children's future is to make sure they get a college degree. U.S. Census Bureau data compiled from a 2006-2008 study shows that full-time workers with a four-year degree could expect to earn approximately 67% more on an annual basis than those with just a high school diploma. This means the more children get into college and have the skills to succeed there, the more income they will earn. But we also know SES impacts how prepared children are for college. Let's next look at how SES impacts education.

How SES Impacts Education

Have you ever heard of a catch-22? The term refers to a situation that doesn't seem to have a beginning or an end but rather continues to circle around. SES as it relates to education is definitely a catch-22 situation.

What's the best way to have students get into college? Have them attend a quality elementary and secondary school that prepares them for postsecondary education. What's the best way to get that? Move to a top school district or pay for private school - both of which require more income than our immigrant couple has at the moment. Here are a few things Branimir and Ana should consider, though:

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