Background Socioeconomic status (SES) has long been conjectured to be associated with the incidence and progression of chronic kidney disease (CKD), but few studies have examined this quantitatively. This meta-analysis aims to fill this gap. Methods A systematic literature review was performed using Medline and EMBASE to identify observational studies on associations between SES and incidence and progression of CKD, published between 1974 and March 2017. Individual results were meta-analysed using a random effects model, in line with Meta-analysis of Observational Studies in Epidemiology guidelines. Results In total, 43 articles met our inclusion criteria. CKD prevalence was associated with several indicators of SES, particularly lower income (OR 1.34, 95% CI (1.18 to 1.53), P〈0.001; I 2 =73.0%, P=0.05); lower education (OR 1.21, 95% CI (1.11 to 1.32), P〈0.001; I 2 =45.20%, P=0.034); and lower combined SES (OR 2.18, 95% CI (1.64 to 2.89), P〈0.001; I 2 =0.0%, P=0.326). Lower levels of income, occupation and combined SES were also significantly associated with progression to end-stage renal disease (risk ratio (RR) 1.24, 95% CI (1.12 to 1.37), P〈0.001; I 2 =66.6%, P=0.006; RR 1.05, 95% CI (1.01 to 1.09), P=0.012; I 2 =0.0%, P=0.796; and RR 1.39, 95% CI (1.09 to 1.79), P=0.009; I 2 =74.2%, P=0.009). Subgroup analyses generally confirmed these results, except in a few cases, such as an inverse association related to particular socioeconomic backgrounds and where results were adjusted by more disease-related risk factors. Conclusion Lower income was most closely associated with prevalence and progression of CKD, and lower education was significantly associated with its prevalence. Evidence for other indicators was inconclusive.