Lessons in Measuring SES for Syrian refugees in Armenia

By Elize Manoukian,
CRRC-Armenia Volunteer

As a result of a concerted effort by the Armenian government, humanitarian aid organizations, and resilient individuals and families, successful economic integration has been a reality for many of the 22,000 Syrian Armenians who initially sought refuge in Armenia since the outset of the brutal and unending Syrian Civil War (GIZ, 2016). The unexpected arrival of migrants has completely changed the fabric of Armenian urban life, infusing visible energy and human potential into the nation’s densely-packed capital, Yerevan.

The experiences of Syrian-Armenian immigrants residing in Armenia’s outer regions, however, appeared within a blindspot. This group is smaller and more isolated--current estimates suggest as few as 2% of asylum seekers live in Armenia’s regions--subsequently, much less is known about their economic and social needs, and how to facilitate their opportunity. Following CRRC-Armenia’s previous GIZ-funded research on the economic needs of Syrian Armenians in the capital, a project is currently underway to learn more about the economic and social integration process as it is experienced outside of Yerevan. Through data collection on the lived experience for the 400 Syrian Armenians who have settled in rural areas, future interventions can be developed that better target individuals and families who have fallen outside the current reach of aid and assistance.

One critical part of this research is a survey of the socio-economic status (SES) of Syrian Armenians living in the regions. This begs the question as to which measurement scale should be used by researchers to conceptualize SES for a refugee population. Furthermore, what if this community is striving to integrate within the economic context of a developing nation, and has varying and uneven experiences of integration?

To develop a survey, CRRC looks to the expanding field of study of SES research methodologies and approaches from international research. These conceptual approaches deconstruct the gold standard for measuring SES-occupation, education, and income--to better reflect the particularities of the refugee experience. For example, a gradient approach to SES, one that observes socioeconomic status as related to worsening employment, would more accurately reflect better account for how a refugee fleeing a country for political reasons might accept work that is not commensurate with the level of education attained in their home country.

The case study of Syrian Armenians refugees offers a myriad of examples in which a multi-fold dynamic of SES indicators--such as gender and economic opportunity available within the host country (or lack thereof)--come into play. In Syria, for example, many families could sustain themselves with one male, “breadwinner” per household. In Armenia, which still retains the Soviet model of a two-breadwinner household, being a two-earner family is frequently not a choice but a necessity; in the post-Soviet space, to opt out of this model risks poverty. This presents the challenge of overcoming the economic exclusion of Syrian Armenian women, some who face serious difficulties adjusting to the realities of a two-earner model economy.

In conclusion, we found that there is no one measure that can concretely determine SES; Instead, researchers must rely on thorough, and specifically defined survey questions that assess the unique needs of the population, and carefully adjust the theoretical dimensions of the study to capture and describe stark differences that can exist within the same “community” at the same or different times. Collecting this information can greatly improve our understanding of the context in which refugee SES operates, allowing us to more accurately reflect the trauma of poverty, gendered and income inequalities, integration challenges for youth, women, and the elderly, as well as other barriers to the economic and social success of Syrian Armenians who have sought refuge in Armenia. Shining a light on these blind spots will not only lend nuance to the discussion of integration of Syrian Armenian refugees, but will directly guide efforts to build safer and stronger communities for the world’s most vulnerable.


  1. “ARMENIA ECONOMIC REPORT 2016- ANNUAL TOPIC: ECONOMIC INTEGRATION OF DISPLACED SYRIAN PERSONS IN ARMENIA.” Edited by ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND RESEARCH CENTER (EDRC), Http://Syrarbi.am, Deutsche Gesellschaft Für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Nov. 2016, syrarbi.am/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/AER-2016_Eng-.pdf.
  2. “Measuring Socioeconomic Status and Subjective Social Status.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/class/measuring-status.aspx.
  3. Uzelac, Ana, and Jos Meester. “The Effects of Syrian Armenian Economic Integration in Armenia.” Clingendael--Netherlands Institute for Human Relations, International Center for Human Development (ICHD) Armenia, Feb. 2018, www.clingendael.org/publication/effects-syrian-armenian-economic-integration-armenia.