Potential Impact of ESeC

The ESeC project will result in a fully specified European Socio-economic Classification of which the end-users (Eurostat, the National Statistical Institutes of the existing EU members and of the new member states, as well as both academic and market researchers) will make direct practical use. This will lead to improved comparisons of survey and other data across official statistics within the European Statistical System. Thus, the strategic impact of the proposed project relates to its main objective – to strengthen the European Research Area by facilitating comparative analysis of the nature of social and health-related inequalities across the EU. The existence of a harmonised and validated social classification, specifically designed for comparative analysis, will shed light on the extent and nature of differences between countries as they seek to understand the nature of such inequalities in the emerging knowledge based society and to relate these to the distribution of education, training, social and health maintenance services. Further, it will promote research into indicators of inequalities thereby increasing our understanding of European society and providing the bases for policy formulation and support for decision making.

Added-value of this work at the European level

As the Grais report indicated, and as the work undertaken to establish the UK national socio-economic classification will attest (Rose and Pevalin, 2003), the value of a socio-economic classification at the national level is now well established. However, there is no such official classification available for use across the European Statistical System. Academics who have sought to undertake cross-national comparisons of social structure have been obliged to undertake their own work to develop such classifications. This work, whilst useful in identifying some of the problems associated with comparative analysis of national survey sources, has not been subject to the degree of rigorous testing required for validation. To address this issue, we have sought and secured the involvement of the principal academics who have undertaken such work in the past. This project affords all partners the possibility of bringing their prior knowledge and experience to bear on this problem in a systematic and co-ordinated fashion. The added value of a European-wide project is that it will bring together what has been a piecemeal and uncoordinated effort to generate a European research instrument of value to academics, statisticians and policy makers across an enlarged European Union.

Other national and international activities

Our project will build on the most recent academic and policy work in the area. In particular, we shall take advantage of research undertaken in the development of the UK NS-SEC in which three of the partners (ONS, UESSEX-ISER and WARWICK) were involved. We shall also take account of the methods used and problems encountered by the CASMIN project in which two partners participated (UNIMANN_MZES and SOFI). In addition, experts at INSEE and UNIMIB have extensive experience in the construction of national SECs. EUR has pioneered the use of SECs in the comparative analysis of health inequalities. Through our representation within RC28 (the social stratification committee) of the International Sociological Association and in the European Consortium for Sociological Research, we maintain close contact with other key researchers in relevant fields both in Europe and world-wide.

Contributions to standards

There are currently two important statistical standards in this area. These are the 1988 International Standard Classification of Occupation (ISCO88, the European Union variant), developed by Partner 3 for Eurostat (Elias and Birch, 1994), and the 1993 International Classification of Status in Employment, reviewed by WARWICK for the International Labour Office (Elias, 2000). The ESeC will build upon work already undertaken within member states and new member states to implement these two standards. Hence, the classification will be rooted within existing standards and, once validated, will have de facto status as a standard classification. We will work closely with the International Labour Office in this respect, given that the ILO has commenced work to appraise the 1998 Standard Classification of Occupation, with a view to revising this standard by 2008.

As noted earlier, Eurostat has developed an EU statistical harmonisation programme to which this project will be able to contribute an important new element. Given its previous investments in the development of an EU SEC, we would therefore expect Eurostat to adopt the ESeC as one of its harmonised EU variables. Apart from the benefits of providing a comparative SEC measure for the EU, the project will be of direct benefit to member and candidate states that do not have national SECs. The ESeC could serve either as a national measure or as the basis for developing a new national measure. We would not expect that ESeC would be superior to national classifications, however. Where national SECs already exist, we would anticipate that the relevant NSIs would continue to prefer these for purely national purposes.