Enhancing the state of the art

Following the Grais Report, in 1999 Eurostat established an Expert Group to make recommendations for an ESeC. This Group, most of whom are involved in this proposal, and consisting of academics and statisticians from six member states and the ILO, made many detailed recommendations for the construction of an ESeC (see Feasibility Report). Most importantly, the Group recommended that:

  • An ESeC should have a clear conceptual base. For employees, it should follow the EGP schema in distinguishing categories in terms of variations in employment relations and conditions.
  • In measurement terms, an ESeC should be categorial (nominal).
  • Operationally, an ESeC should be constructed from Eurostat’s harmonised variables for occupation, status in employment, activity status and establishment size.
  • An ESeC should be demonstrably valid and reliable as a comparative measure and for user purposes.

We have already discussed point 1 above. In terms of enhancing the state of the art, here we concentrate on points 2-4. First, however, we address the issue of the need for and potential uses of an ESeC in relation to the objectives of Priority 7.

Comparative analysis of many aspects of the health, living conditions and economic situation of Europe’s population, seeking to understand variation between member states, is hampered by the lack of an agreed harmonised and validated classification of socio-economic positions. In attempts to overcome this deficit, academic analysts have had to undertake costly, time-consuming and difficult research aimed at developing such tools for one-off projects. The time is now right to build upon a number of recent developments (in which most of the partners have been involved) to create and validate a harmonised classification of socio-economic positions for comparative socio-economic analyses across the European Research Area. Through such analyses an ESeC will help us to understand how socio-economic positions relate to relevant key social indicators, variables and social domains. These comprise not only the sixteen indicators identified for Eurostat’s statistical harmonisation programme (see Østby et al 2000 and Everaers 1998), but also those analytic benefits of an ESeC identified by National Statistical Institutes (NSIs) and experts (see Grais 1999). These include the improvement of social statistics for the purposes of international comparison and dialogue.

Among the areas relevant to the knowledge based society where the ESeC should prove to be a useful discriminatory analytic tool for both policy and academic purposes are: fertility, mortality, morbidity, consumption, social behaviour, education, equal opportunities in age, gender and ethnicity, labour market processes, income, social exclusion, social stratification, social reproduction, mobility and various cultural practices. In all of these areas, a common classification will facilitate a Europe-wide perspective on the effect on life-chances of social organisation, in the sense of structural position in the labour market, its significance and whether it is changing in importance over time.

An ESeC would thus make an indispensable contribution to the strengthening of the ERA in both the social science and policy fields. At the practical level an ESeC could be used to provide tabulations for both comparative and national purposes relating to key variables such as income, health status and education. The ESeC will be a vehicle through which we may monitor social structure and social change, one of the most crucial purposes of social statistics. In particular, given that politicians generally are concerned with the impact of social and economic policy on different social groups, an ESeC will prove a useful diagnostic tool in this regard. It will also allow academic researchers to explore issues relating to social justice and social inequality. How are social inequalities generated? How might inequalities be reduced? To begin to tackle these questions, we need a classification that is authoritative through having an appropriate conceptual basis for reflecting labour market positions, a crucial aspect of social organisation. All these issues are of obvious relevance to the central policy and scientific debates in Priority 7 concerning the knowledge based society.

We can now consider the potential impact of an ESeC.