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Validating Adolescent Socioeconomic Status: Comparing School Free or Reduced Price Lunch with Community Measures

Nicholson L, Slater S, Chriqui JF and Chaloupka FJ. Spatial Demography, 2(1):55-65, 2014.

The use of free or reduced price lunch (FRL), as a measure of socioeconomic status (SES), has received mixed reviews in the literature. This study expands on the limited research on the validity of FRL as a measure of SES by examining the relationship between FRL and a series of community-based SES measures to determine whether FRL is an adequate proxy for adolescent SES. Data are from a nationally representative sample of 154 public high schools in 2010 from Bridging the Gap with corresponding school level data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) Common Core of Data (CCD) to obtain a measure of percent of students receiving FRL and using ArcGIS 9 software with the ACS 05-09, matched at the census block group level to construct measures of community SES. School zone level SES measures obtained include: median household income, percent of families in poverty, percent of families with children younger than 18 years in poverty, and the percent of all households in poverty. Data collected through community observations were used to construct a physical disorder scale. Percent FRL was strongly and significantly associated with the percent of families in poverty (r=0.67), percent of families with children younger than 18 years (r=0.67), percent of households in poverty (r=0.66), median household income (r=-0.60), and physical disorder (r=0.56) in the expected directions. Additionally, all community based measures of socioeconomic status were highly correlated with each other. The validity and limitations of FRL as a proxy for adolescent SES are discussed.

Read the complete article (PDF) from Spatial Demography

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