A new scale for measuring socioeconomic status in educational research: Development and validation of the Australian Socioeconomic Index 2006 (AUSEI06)

Year: 2009

Author: McMillan, Julie, Jones, Frank, Beavis, Adrian

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper introduces a new occupational status scale, the Australian Socioeconomic Index 2006 (AUSEI06), which can be used to explore a wide range of equity issues relating to educational aspirations, early school leaving, access to higher education, literacy and numeracy levels, and other aspects of educational access, achievement, and attainment. AUSEI06 was developed in response to the introduction of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The scale provides a simple means for educational researchers to convert ANZSCO codes into more sociologically meaningful occupational status scores.

The aims of this paper are fourfold: to outline AUSEI06’s theoretical underpinnings; to describe the development of the scale; to validate it for use in educational contexts; and to offer some practical suggestions for its use.

AUSEI06 is a socioeconomic index. The scaling of occupations is based upon the assumption that occupations provide the means of converting a person’s human capital (education) into material rewards (income). That is, the relationships between education, occupation, and income are conceptualized in terms of a simple causal chain whereby educational effects on earnings are mediated, as far as possible, by occupational attainment.

Data from the 2006 Census were used to generate the AUSEI06 scale. An iterative scaling algorithm, first developed for the International Socioeconomic Index (ISEI), was used to scale occupations in such a manner as to maximize the indirect effect of education on earnings (via occupation) while simultaneously minimizing its direct effect on earnings. The resultant AUSEI06 scale ranges from zero to 100, with labourers at the bottom of the scale and medical practitioners at the top.

Data from the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) and the Negotiating the Life Course (NLC) project were used to validate the AUSEI06 for use in educational research. Concurrent validity was assessed by examining whether AUSEI06 was related to a range of educational outcomes in an expected way. Consistent with previous research, the results suggest that access to educational resources, school achievement, educational aspirations, school completion, obtaining a post-school qualification, and the type of qualification obtained are associated with the socioeconomic characteristics of a person’s family when they were growing up as measured by AUSEI06.

In summary, AUSEI06 provides a means for educational researchers to convert ANZSCO codes into occupational status scores. In the past, parental occupational status has been linked with the educational outcomes of their offspring. Validation results suggest that family background, as measured by AUSEI06, continues to be related to these outcomes.