socioeconomic status and its impact on health are in the mainstream of public health thinking. this text discusses two paradigms utilized in assessing socioeconomic status in epidemiologic studies. one paradigm refers to prestige-based measurements and positive differentiation among social strata. this paradigm is characterized by classifications assessing social capital and the access to goods and services. the other paradigm refers to the classification of social deprivation and negative differentiation among social strata. the proposal of state-funded reposition to the mostly deprived social strata is acknowledged as characteristic of this paradigm. the contrast between these paradigms, and their potential interaction and debate are discussed. fostering reflection on methodological strategies to assess socioeconomic status in epidemiologic studies can contribute to the promotion of health and social justice.