Turning their backs on the ‘ladder of success’? Unexpected responses to the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status

Publication authors

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


Subjective social status measures a person’s perception of their social class relative to other people and has theoretically and empirically been positively associated with health and wellbeing. A widely used measure of this construct is the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status, which asks people to report their social status by placing themselves on a ladder which represents the social hierarchy of their society or community; the scale has been used with many different populations across many countries. In this research note, we describe two cases where we encountered unexpected reactions to the MacArthur Scale that we believe highlight (a) the salience of relative social status for people’s wellbeing in contemporary society and (b) the concomitant sensitivities raised by measuring this subjective experience. We discuss the implications of these observations for future research.