DEI Toolkit: Income & Socioeconomic Status

Illustration of a pile of cash in front of a nice house.


Definition of income

1a gain or recurrent benefit usually measured in money that derives from capital or labor.

Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Definition of socioeconomic

1 : of, relating to, or involving a combination of social and economic factors.

Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Income is fundamentally the money we receive for the work we do, or, in its purest form, what we get paid. However, income is much more than that. It is often what determines the neighborhood we live in, the types of schools we have access to, what healthcare options we have. Our income shapes our interactions with the criminal justice system and determines what life in retirement will look like. It is clearly more than just the money we receive for the work we do.

A related concept is socioeconomic status, which is defined by sociologists as the social standing of an individual that has three key components: income, occupation and education. A person’s socioeconomic status is tied to a number of quality of life considerations and opportunities to get ahead. It also includes the ability to access power and important services related to health, stability and housing.

The dominant ideology in the U.S. holds that is it is possible to change your socioeconomic status over your lifetime, but research has shown that it is highly unlikely. This is largely due to discrimination related to race and gender, which negatively impact socioeconomic status and keep segments of the population in their current position.

Here’s why: We know that women and people of color face discrimination in their education and the in the workplace. This hinders their ability to advance, achieve leadership positions, and attain equitable pay. So if that’s the case, how can we expect them to simultaneously be able to advance their socioeconomic status? Of course, there are examples of people who have been able to advance despite the obstacles they have faced. But those are generally the exception and not the rule.

So what can we do as an organization? Well, we’re doing it through our work on workplace and economic equity, but we must keep pushing. When women get equal pay, their families and all of society thrive.