The Effect of Occupational Status on Health: Putting the Social in Socioeconomic Status

High status occupations support positive health outcomes through providing access to both material and psychosocial resources. However, common measures of occupational status, such as occupational prestige scores, are primarily associated with the material dimensions of status, like income, and fail to capture cultural esteem that inhabiting certain occupations can provide. Drawing on Weberian conceptions of status and a body of social psychological research on the measurement of cultural meaning, we argue that measuring peoples’ ratings of their occupations on three dimensions—evaluation (good/bad), potency (powerful/weak), and activity (active/inactive)—provides a status indicator that more fully captures both material resources like income and psychosocial resources like esteem that are associated with health. Using a nationally representative longitudinal health and wellbeing survey of 940 American law enforcement officers collected between 2020 and 2022, we evaluate the predictive ability of evaluation, potency, and activity (EPA) ratings across thirteen measures of health and wellbeing. We find that EPA ratings were significant and positive predictors of eleven of thirteen outcomes with stronger effects for mental health outcomes compared to physical health outcomes. EPA ratings were more predictive than more commonly used occupational prestige scores. We conclude that EPA ratings are better predictors of health outcomes than occupational prestige scores and so may allow health researchers to better understand the relationship between occupational status and health.