Background An association between socioeconomic status (SES) and the incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) has been found for younger and middle-aged individuals, but studies of this relationship in elderly populations are rare. Methods In a population-based cohort in southern Germany (KORA S4/F4: 1223 subjects aged 55-74 years at baseline, 887 subjects (73%) in the follow-up 7 years later) the identification of incident T2DM was based on oral glucose tolerance tests or on validated physician diagnoses. Regression models were fitted to predict incident T2DM and (pre)diabetes, respectively, with SES as the main independent variable. (Pre)diabetes here means incident T2DM or incident pre-diabetes. Results With five different SES measures (global Helmert index, income, educational level, occupational status, subjective social status), the diabetes risk of low SES groups was not significantly different from the risk of higher SES groups (ie, cumulative incidence 10% (low income), 9% (medium income), 13% (high income)). In subjects with normoglycaemia at baseline, (pre)diabetes incidence was more pronounced in lower SES groups, but almost all these associations were not significant. With measures of subjective SES stronger associations were found than with measures of objective SES. Conclusion There was no statistically significant association between objective SES and diabetes incidence in this elderly population. This might be due to a larger socioeconomic homogeneity of elderly populations and to a strong driving force for diabetes, which outweighed the influence of SES, and which was indicated by an adverse baseline metabolic profile in participants developing diabetes in the follow-up.