Examining individual social status using the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status: Findings from the Born in Bradford study

Publication authors

Rachael H. Moss, Brian Kelly, Philippa K. Bird, Kate E. Pickett



Subjective social status is how a person perceives their social class relative to other people and has frequently been associated with people’s health and well-being. A frequently used measure of subjective social status is the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status that depicts social status as a 10 rung ladder, asking individuals to rank themselves on this ladder relative to other people, either in their local neighbourhood or wider society. The Born in Bradford’s Better Start birth cohort study aims to understand the lives, relationships, wellbeing, and social and economic circumstances of pregnant women and their children in three inner city areas of Bradford, UK. Pregnant mothers were asked to report their subjective social status, using the MacArthur subjective social status scales, comparing themselves to other people in their local neighbourhood and in England as a whole. This paper explores the characteristics of the women who gave responses, examines associations between the MacArthur subjective social status measures and other subjective and objective measures and looks specifically at the characteristics of women who reported either very low or very high subjective social status. On average, women reported that they had a higher social status compared to others within their local neighbourhood (mean ladder rung = 6) and, although participants were from areas of Bradford with very high levels of deprivation, 23% placed themselves on the top three rungs, 8–10. Respondents reported that they had an average social status when comparing themselves to people in all of England (mean ladder rung = 5) and 13% placed themselves on the top rungs 8–10. These findings raise important questions about the interpretation of the MacArthur scale of subjective social status.