Goldthorpe class scheme

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A categorization which allocates individuals and families into social classes, devised mainly by the English sociologist John Goldthorpe. The scheme is used increasingly widely throughout Europe, Australasia, and North America, notably in the study of social mobility and in the analysis of class more generally. Because of its complex genealogy it is variously referred to in the literature as the Goldthorpe, Erikson-Goldthorpe, EGP (Erikson-Goldthorpe-Portocarero), and CASMIN (Comparative Study of Social Mobility in Industrial Nations) typology.

For the Oxford Social Mobility Study of England and Wales in the early 1970s, Goldthorpe developed a sevenfold scheme, the categories of which were said ‘to combine occupational categories whose members would appear, in the light of the available evidence, to be typically comparable, on the one hand, in terms of their sources and levels of income, their degree of economic security and chances of economic advancement [market situation]; and, on the other hand in their location within the systems of authority and control governing the processes of production in which they are engaged, and hence in their degree of autonomy in performing their work-tasks and roles [work situation]’ (see Social Mobility and Class Structure in Modern Britain, 1980). The subsequent requirements of conducting comparative research involving nations having occupational structures quite different from that found in Britain led Goldthorpe and his colleagues in the later CASMIN Project to subdivide some of the original class categories. In a series of revisions to the initial framework, routine non-manual employees were subdivided into clerical (higher) and personal service (lower) categories; the petite bourgeoisie of own-account workers was separated into its constituent elements of small proprietors with employees, small proprietors without employees, and farmers and smallholders; and agricultural workers were distinguished from other rank-and-file semi-skilled and unskilled manual labourers. These amendments yielded the now standard elevenfold Goldthorpe class scheme shown in the table.As the categories of the schema have been refined over the years, so too have its conceptual and theoretical foundations. For example, in their report of the findings from the CASMIN Project, Erikson and Goldthorpe (The Constant Flux, 1992) state that the rationale of the schema is ‘to differentiate positions within labour markets and production units or, more specifically…to differentiate such positions in terms of the employment relations they entail’. For this reason it is important to distinguish between the self-employed and employees. However, within the fairly heterogeneous category of employee, it is also possible to make ‘meaningful distinctions’ according to differences in (what has now become) ‘the labour contract and the conditions of employment’. In their words, ‘employment relationships regulated by a labour contract entail a relatively short-term and specific exchange of money for effort. Employees supply more or less discrete amounts of labour, under the supervision of the employer or of the employer's agents, in return for wages which are calculated on a “piece” or time basis. In contrast, employment relationships within a bureaucratic context involve a longer-term and generally more diffuse exchange. Employees render service to their employing organisation in return for “compensation” which takes the form not only of reward for work done, through a salary and various perquisites, but also comprises important prospective elements—for example, salary increments on an established scale, assurances of security both in employment and, through pension rights, after retirement, and, above all, well-defined career opportunities’.


Subjects: Sociology.

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