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What is a ‘socio-economic classification’?

The term ‘socio-economic classification’ (SEC) is merely a descriptive one. That is, it has no theoretical or analytic status whatever and so may be applied as a generic term for a variety of different measures designed to reflect how societies are stratified. Social stratification refers to social inequalities that may be attributed to the way a society is organised, to its socio-economic structure. SECs all share in common the idea that in market economies it is market position, and especially position in the occupational division of labour, which is fundamental to the generation of social inequalities. The life chances of individuals and families are largely determined by their position in the market and occupation is taken to be its central indicator; that is the occupational structure is viewed as the backbone of the stratification system.

The question then becomes how we use occupation as an indicator of social position in terms of an SEC. Two broad approaches exist, reflecting different aspects of inequality. First there are occupational scales which tend to measure the distributive aspects of inequality and, second, there are categorial schemas intended to measure relational as well as distributive issues.

Thus, social scientists have tended to become divided between those who favour categorial approaches to socio-economic classification and those who prefer continuous measures. That is, some favour SECs that divide the population into a discrete number of categories or social positions. Others prefer measures that allow for an unlimited number of graded distinctions between occupational groups which assume that differences between occupational groups can be captured in one dimension’ represented by a single parameter. ESeC is a categorial schema.