This refers to the aggregate distribution of occupations in society, classified according to skill level, economic function, or social status. The occupational structure is shaped by various factors: the structure of the economy (the relative weight of different industries); technology and bureaucracy (the distribution of technological skills and administrative responsibility); the labour-market (which determines the pay and conditions attached to occupations); and by status and prestige (influenced by occupational closure, lifestyle, and social values). It is difficult to attach causal primacy to any one of these factors; moreover, their role in shaping the occupational structure changes over time, as society changes. For example, during the early phase of European industrialization, the dominance of manufacturing made for a preponderance of manual occupations, while in recent times the shrinking of this sector, together with the growth in services, has made for an expansion of white-collar occupations. The distinction between manual and non-manual occupations has also become blurred.
The occupational structure is described and analysed by means of various classificatory schemes, which group similar occupations together according to specific criteria such as skill, employment status, or function. Such classifications are also used as a basis for the empirical analysis of economic and social class. See also industrial sector; occupational classification.