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influential report concluded that although ABC1 was outdated and often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
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