Qual Quant (2011) 45:623–639
The conceptualisation and measurement of occupational
hierarchies: a review, a proposal and some illustrative
Erzsebet Bukodi · Shirley Dex · John H. Goldthorpe
Published online: 16 October 2010
© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010
Abstract Occupational data are central to much research in the ﬁeld of social stratiﬁcation.
Yet there is little consensus on how such data are most appropriately classiﬁed and scaled. We
evaluate occupational scales currently in use on the basis of a fourfold typology. This cross-
classiﬁes scales, on the one hand, according to whether they are intended to be ‘synthetic’ or
‘analytic’ and, on the other, according to whether they are based on ‘subjective’ or ‘objective’
data. Focusing chieﬂy on issues of validity, we argue that scales of the analytic-objective type
are those which, for most purposes, can be used to best advantage in stratiﬁcation research.
We illustrate our argument by applying scales of occupational earnings and occupational
status in analyses of the worklife occupational mobility of men in Britain, using the data-set
of the National Child Development Study.
Keywords Occupational scales · Worklife occupational mobility
It would be widely accepted that individuals’ occupations are of major importance in
determining—and can in turn usefully index—the positions that they hold within forms
of social stratiﬁcation. In research that is in any way concerned with stratiﬁcation, occupa-
tional data are routinely collected. However, there is far less consensus on how such data are
most appropriately classiﬁed and scaled. In this paper, we aim to review the present situation
and to suggest a way forward.
Two preliminary points need to be made. The ﬁrst is that the concept of occupation already
involves some degree of abstraction. What we call ‘occupations’ are categories that bring
E. Bukodi (
) · S. Dex
Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education, University of London,
20 Bedford Way, London WC1H OAL, UK
J. H. Goldthorpe
Nufﬁeld College, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK