occupational scales

occupational scales

Measures of the prestige, status, social standing and/or social class position of different occupations. Mainly used in the study of SOCIAL STRATIFICATION and SOCIAL MOBILITY, occupational scales are constructed in one of four ways – the intuitive, relational, constructed and reputational – all of which are based upon the premise that it is possible to arrange occupations hierarchically through similarities of market and status situation. In intuitive approaches, the researcher simply ranks occupations on the basis of his or her subjective assessment of their social standing in the community. In relational approaches, occupations are ranked on the assumption that people mix with others of broadly similar social standing to themselves. In constructed approaches, a number of different factors (such as income and levels of education) are used to rank occupations. In the reputational approach a group of people, chosen at random, are asked to rank occupations according to their perceived standing in the community and the social ranking of each occupation is then calculated on the basis of the replies.

Probably the occupational scale most widely used in the UK is the Registrar General's Classification, devised, using the intuitive approach, for use in the 1911 CENSUS and extensively modified for use in subsequent censuses. To use this schema details are needed of each individual's precise job title, employment status (self-employed/ employer/employee), industry of employment and educational qualifications. In its original form this had five SOCIAL CLASSES:

  • Class I (senior professionals) comprised doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc.;
  • Class II (intermediate occupations) comprised teachers, nurses and managers;
  • Class III comprised all people in skilled occupations, both white-collar and blue-collar;
  • Class IV comprised semi-skilled workers such as agricultural workers and machine moulders;
  • Class V consisted of labourers and others in unskilled occupations. In 1961, Class III was subdivided into Class IIIN (white-collar workers such as clerks and shop assistants), and Class IIIM (manual workers such as underground workers in mines, welders and carpenters).
  • The main advantage of using the Registrar General's classification is that a detailed list of occupational titles is regularly produced, giving each occupation a number determined by its social class position, industry and employment status. These codes can then be combined to form the six social classes. In 1961 the Registrar General introduced a new form of coding in which occupations are assigned to 17 socioeconomic groups which can be further combined to form an alternative schema:

  • Class 1, professionals;
  • Class 2, employers and managers;
  • Class 3, intermediate and junior non-manual;
  • Class 4, skilled manual, foremen and own account;
  • Class 5, semiskilled and personal service;
  • Class 6, unskilled manual.
  • Further changes were introduced into the Registrar General's schema in 1981 in which occupations are coded in such a way as to make the schema comparable with the International Standard Classification of Occupations.

    Historical data, such as that obtained from the 19th-century census enumeration books, cannot be coded using the Registrar General's classification because of the amount of detail necessary. However, Armstrong (1972) demonstrates how the 1951 classification can be adopted for use by historical sociologists.

    One of the problems with the Registrar General's Occupational Scale is that, since it was constructed using the intuitive approach, it cannot easily be used to test sociological theories. For example, it cannot be used to identify the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. One attempt to overcome this problem has been made by GOLDTHORPE and Llewellyn (1977) who devised their own social class schema based upon the work of Hope and GOLDTHORPE (1974). The Hope-Goldthorpe Scale was constructed using the reputational approach, with occupations precoded according to the Registrar General's 1971 Classification, and then combined into 36 distinct, hierarchically arranged groups with similar levels of'social desirability’, and with separate categories for employers, managers, professionals, the self-employed, technical, white-collar, agricultural, supervisory and manual workers. These categories are recombined by Goldthorpe and Llewellyn into seven social classes. Class I, high-grade professionals, managers, administrators and large proprietors; Class II, lower grade professionals and managers, and higher grade technicians; Class III, routine non-manual workers; Class IV, small proprietors and the self-employed; Class V, lower grade technicians and supervisors of manual workers; Class VI, skilled manual workers; Class VII, semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers. The Hope-Goldthorpe schema was devised to study the occupations and social class positions of men so its use in studies of women's employment has been questioned.

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