MARKET RESEARCH: CLASS OF 2000 - In the run-up to the 2001 census, a new social classification system has been designed. But is it an improvement on the ABC1 model? Using a gallery of well-known faces, Karen Yates compares the two

By KAREN YATES, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 10 September 1999 12:00AM

Earlier this year, a new social classification system to rival the old ABC1 model was given the thumbs down by market researchers. An influential report concluded that although ABC1 was outdated and often too complicated - and therefore expensive - to apply, the new National Statistics Socio-Economic System was no better.

Earlier this year, a new social classification system to rival the

old ABC1 model was given the thumbs down by market researchers. An

influential report concluded that although ABC1 was outdated and often

too complicated - and therefore expensive - to apply, the new National

Statistics Socio-Economic System was no better.



By taking a look at the classification of Homer Simpson, Bianca Butcher

and friends - which was managed with help from Ian Forth, the director

of BMP DDB’s qualitative research unit, Q - we can see what different

results the two methodologies can achieve.



The Government commissioned the development of the NSSEC from David

Rose, professor of sociology at Essex University, because it wanted a

less class-based and more sensitive form of categorisation for the 2001

census. True to this aim, the NSSEC contains 30 categories under its

so-called long scheme, compared with ABC1’s six. Here we are using a

more manageable boiled-down version, with eight broad classes.



These eight, though, cannot be used in a strictly hierarchical sense -

as in A is high, E is low - because of categories like 8, which lump

very different people together because they have no job. One of the

reasons the NSSEC does not make a very good tool if you want to estimate

spending power is the large disparity in classes such as 8. Research by

Erhard Meier of IPSOS-RSL and Corrine Moy of NOP has revealed 3 per cent

of class 8s would come from the old category A.



Meier and Moy also looked at how the National Readership Survey results

would be applied under both systems, and found that the NSSEC was much

less sensitive to spending power. They concluded that ’for those who

want to use the Social Grade, we have still not found anything

better’.



MARGOT LEADBETTER, HOUSEWIFE, THE GOOD LIFE



Social Grade: A



Margot would fit in very comfortably at the Surbiton Golf Club as an A

under the existing social grade system because, being a full-time

housewife, she takes her status from the occupation of the head of the

household. Her husband, Jerry, works at a company making plastic toys

for cereal packets. As a senior manager, he - and therefore Margot -

would both be classified as an A.



NSSEC: class 8



Sadly for her social aspirations, Margot would plummet to class 8 under

the new system, since people are defined according to their own

employment conditions and relations. Joining her in this group would be

others who had never worked, such as students, and all the long-term

unemployed, including the disabled and those on social security.



HOMER SIMPSON, SAFETY INSPECTOR, THE SIMPSONS



Social Grade: C2



Homer works as a safety inspector at the nuclear power plant in his home

town of Springfield. Although his job is not very demanding, checking

things on a computer, heis classed as a skilled manual worker because of

the serious nature of his work. In the real world, he would have needed

training to do it, so we would class him as C2.



NSSEC: class 2



Homer gets an upgrade under the new system because his title of safety

inspector comes out as l4.1 under the long scheme, which is then under

class 2, or lower managerial and professional occupations.



There are 371 different unit groups for occupational classification, and

were he to be labelled something different, this would make a difference

to his class.



BIANCA BUTCHER, MARKET STALLHOLDER, EASTENDERS



Social Grade: C1



Since Bianca runs a market stall, she would be classed as a C. C1 is the

lowest of the non-manual grades, and C2 the highest of the manual. As

she runs a fashion stall, sometimes hiring additional help and always

having to spot trends and buy in the right styles in the right size and

proportion, we would judge her C1.



NSSEC: class 4



There is no argument here, for the socio-economic system has another

category which, like category 8, steps outside the old hierarchies.



Class 4 encompasses anyone who is a small employer or a non-professional

self-employed, or anyone who employs fewer than 25 people.



Again, like class 8, this group contains a wide diversity of income

levels, from the self-made millionaire with a great idea but few staff,

to the single market trader.



JIMMY CORKHILL, TEACHER, BROOKSIDE



Social Grade: C1



Jimmy, the reformed drug-addict, is now a teacher at the local tough

comprehensive school. Under the ABC1 system, this ex-petty thief could

improve his standing greatly through his new profession. Junior teachers

are classed as C1 but, as they gain experience and qualifications, they

rise through the ranks. In fact, because ABC1 was devised under the

social values of 50 years ago, should Jimmy become a headmaster, he

could make it to an A.



NSSEC: class 1



No argument here. All teachers zoom straight into category 1, regardless

of training, experience or salary. In fact, one of the biggest

differences between the two systems is the weighting at the top. Only 3

per cent of the population are classified as As, but 14 per cent will

fall into the new group 1, for higher managerial and professional

people.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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