Saturday, December 01, 2012

Occupations by social class

Half Sigma's post describing teaching as the quintessential middle class occupation naturally made me wonder what, precisely, the most middling profession is. HS writes:
Teaching is not the highest class of profession, but I don’t really characterize it as blue-collar. I have always considered teaching to be the quintessential middle-class occupation. “Top” college graduates aspire to upper-middle-class occupations, so that’s why they aren’t interested in teaching.

Evidence of teaching being almost as low class as nursing is that a lot of teachers are married to cops (according to an online forum).
It's important to make a distinction between the phrase "middle class" and the middle of the class continuum. There are four major classifications of social class in the contemporary US--upper class, middle class, working class, and lower/under class. There are of course gradations within these four (upper middle class, middle upper class, lower middle class, etc), but these are the four the GSS uses, and they're the four I'm going to employ here. As the breakdown is basically 5%-45%-45%-5%, respectively, to be solidly middle class is to be of 'greater' social status than being somewhere between middle and working class is to be. It is the latter position that actually constitutes the middle of the social scale.

The following table lists occupations and occupational groupings by self-assessed social class on a 1-4 scale, the higher the number, the higher the class. The mean is 2.47 with a standard deviation of .64:

Doctors, veterinarians, dentists, and pharmacists3.15
College/university lecturers and professors2.90
Architects and engineers2.90
Authors, writers, and journalists2.87
Religious practitioners2.83
Sculptors, painters, actors, and other artists2.81
Computing professionals2.81
Government officials2.77
Sales and finance workers2.73
Operations department managers2.68
Sales representatives2.67
Human resources workers2.67
Real estate agents and appraisers2.63
Government workers2.63
Policemen and firefighters2.58
Retail/wholesale managers2.58
Office department managers2.58
Mail carriers and sorters2.55
Social workers2.50
Secretaries and other office clerks2.50
Military personnel2.49
Equipment technicians2.49
Retail salespeople2.49
Bank tellers2.47
Teaching assistants2.46
Life sciences workers2.40
Hairdressers and beauticians2.40
Certified nurse assistants2.36
Childcare workers2.36
Medical assistants2.33
Waitresses and bartenders2.29
Store stockers2.26
Machine operators2.26
Construction workers and carpenters2.25
Truck drivers2.24
Sewers and knitters2.23
Building maintenance workers2.21
Personal care workers2.20
Domestic help2.18

With doctors and lawyers at the top, it passes the smell test!

Indeed, teaching is more of a middle class occupation than nursing is (evincing the fact that while class and income tend to move in the same direction, the correlation is certainly imperfect), but both professions are in the top half of the distribution. That's hardly surprising since both require college degrees and consequently are closed to most of the population.

Bank tellers are the most middling. Other Joe and Jane Americans include those in the military, techs, retail salespeople, and teaching assistants. Those sorts of jobs may strike readers here as distinctly 'prole', but we don't tend to associate with a representative sample of the public on a regular basis. I recall Charles Murray once quipping about how academics and intellectuals errantly tend to think of truck drivers as the bottom of the (white) social spectrum when in reality it descends a lot lower than that.

GSS variables used: CLASS, ISCO88. If interested in the specific codes used for each of the occupational categories, I'll gladly send the excel file--it's too tedious to list out here, though.


Steve Sailer said...

The GSS should use a 5 point scale with upper middle class coming between upper class and middle class. That would also be more symmetrical, with middle class right in the middle.

Noah172 said...

What would be interesting is to find Census/BLS stats on the median income of these occupations, note where such medians fall in the total US income distribution, and see how well a ranking of those occupational median incomes correlates with the list of class perceptions in this post.

Steve Sailer said...

Lawyer 2.98
Domestic help 2.18

Americans really do like to think of themselves as all being middle class.

Audacious Epigone said...

Yes, it's remarkable that over 90% of Americans see themselves as either working or middle class.

Audacious Epigone said...

And happy birthday good sir!

Anthony said...

Lower class or "underclass" won't have occupational codes, unless there's an occupational code for "living off welfare".

Half Sigma is using Paul Fussell's class breakdown, which has changed somewhat since Fussell wrote Class. Most people will consider Fussell's "High Proles" as middle class, and even a lot of "Mid-Prole" jobs require a 4-year degree for new entrants, and so would be considered "middle class" by most people.

The popular breakdown seems to be:
Upper - really rich
Middle - needs a 4-year degree (or more) for one's job
Working - regularly employed in a job not needing a degree
Lower - primarily living on welfare or illegal activity

Half Sigma does a pretty good synopsis of Fussell's system here.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I'm not sure the sculptors and artists would have rated so high if they had been rated by others instead of their own estimation. Heh. Though I suppose that could apply to a lot of folks on the list.