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How useful are microclasses ?. An analysis of detailed parental occupational differences and their effects on filial school attainment in Britain Professor Vernon Gayle & Dr Paul Lambert University of Stirling Modelling Patterns of Social Stratification

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how useful are microclasses

How useful are microclasses?

An analysis of detailed parental occupational differences and their effects on filial school attainment in Britain

Professor Vernon Gayle & Dr Paul Lambert

University of Stirling

Modelling Patterns of Social Stratification

ESRC NCRM Lancaster-Warwick-Stirling Node Sociology Strand Research Meeting

August 31st 2011 – 2nd September 2011, University of Stirling

microclass analysis

Microclass Analysis

Motivation: There might be extra insights somewhere between ‘big class categories’ and ‘individual occupations’?

Exciting debate emerging

Punch up between heavyweights…

For microclassesGrusky, Weeden and Jonsson

Against Goldthorpe and Erikson

Jonssonet al (2009) AJS; Grusky and Weeden (2005, 2006)

Erikson, Goldthorpe and Hällsten (2011)

microclass analysis1

Microclass Analysis

There might be extra insights somewhere between ‘big class categories’ and ‘individual occupations’?

For example, between the eight categories of an agglomerate scheme and the 371 administrative (and sociologically unorganised) occupational unit groups,could there be 80-120 microclasses defined by their professional cultures and practices?

microclass analysis2

Microclass Analysis

‘Microclass regime —The microclass approach shares with the big-class model the presumption that contemporary labor markets are balkanized into discrete categories, but such balkanization is assumed to take principally the form of institutionalized occupations (e.g., doctor, plumber, postal clerk) rather than institutionalized big classes (e.g., routine nonmanuals, proprietors)’

(Jonsson et al 2009 pp.982-983)

microclass reproduction

Microclass Reproduction

Mechanisms of Intergenerational Reproduction

(Jonsson et al 2009 Table 1 p.986)

Human capital

Occupation-specific skills (e.g. carpentry)

Cultural capital

Occupation-specific cultures and tastes

(e.g. aspirations, medicine, help with UCAS application)

Social networks

Occupation-specific networks

(e.g. doing ‘the knowledge’, job interviews, internships)

Economic resources

Fixed resources (e.g. farms, market stalls, business in general)

initial appeal

Initial Appeal

The initial appeal is the prospect of clearer resolution regarding

Occupation-Specific Human Capital

Occupation-Specific Cultural Capital

Other Occupation-Specific Mechanisms

First attempt (that we are aware of) to construct a British microclass scheme

Example (from Gayle and Lambert 2011)

general certificate of education

General Certificate of Education

The Education Reform Act 1988 led to rapid changes in the secondary school curriculum, and to the organisation, management and financing of schools

A major change for pupils was the introduction of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE)

GCSEs differed from the qualifications that they replaced

A new grading scheme was established and all pupils were entered for a common set of examinations

There were also changes in the content and format of examinations and assessment by coursework was introduced

School league tables are published (and targets are set)

A newsworthy item each summer

Previously only teachers, parents and pupils knew when exam results day was

general certificate of education1

General Certificate of Education

General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) introduced in the late 1980s

The standard qualification for pupils in England and Wales in year 11 (aged 15/16)

Usually a mixture of assessed coursework and examinations

Generally each subject is assessed separately and a subject specific GCSE awarded

It is usual for pupils to study for about nine subjects, which will include core subjects

(e.g. English, Maths and Science) and non-core subjects

GCSEs are graded in discrete ordered categories

The highest being A*, followed by grades A through to G (A* from 1994)

Arran Fernandez gained A* in Maths at age 8 !

why explore gcse attainment

Why Explore GCSE Attainment?

GCSEs are public examinations and mark the first major branching point in a young person’s educational career

Poor GCSE attainment is a considerable obstacle which precludes young people from pursuing more advanced educational courses

Young people with low levels of GCSE attainment are usually more likely to leave education at the minimum school leaving age and their qualification level frequently disadvantages them in the labour market

Low levels of qualifications are also likely to have a longer term impact on experiences in the adult labour market

Therefore, we argue that gaps in GCSE attainment are sociologically important

youth cohort study of england and wales

Youth Cohort Study of England and Wales

Major Longitudinal Study began Mid-1980s

Designed to monitor behaviour of young people as they reach the minimum school leaving age and either stay on in education of enter the labour market

Experiences of Education (qualifications); Employment; Training; Aspirations; Family; Personal characteristic & circumstances

Nationally representative; Large sample size; Panel data (albeit short); Possible to compare cohorts (trends over time)

Study contacts a sample from an academic year group (cohort) in the spring following completion of compulsory education

The sample is designed to be representative of all Year 11 pupils in England & Wales

Sample are tracked for 3 (sometimes 4) waves (called Sweeps) of data collection

We concentrate on the cohorts attaining GCSEs (1990 - 1999)

parental occupations and filial attainment

Parental Occupations and Filial Attainment

Extended analyses of the Youth Cohort Study of England and Wales

Overall trend

Increasing proportions getting the benchmark 5+GCSEs (A*-C)

Increasing mean number of A*-C grade GCSEs

Increasing mean GCSE points score


Female pupils outperforming male pupils


Some groups doing better than white pupils (e.g. Indians)

Other groups doing worse (e.g. blacks)

Parental Occupation

Observable gradient

Lower levels of GCSE attainment from those pupils with less occupationally advantaged parents

Exploring parental influences at occupational unit group (OUG) levelNational Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NS-SEC)

NS-SEC No. of SOC90 Occupations*

1.1 Large Employers and higher managers 10

1.2 Higher professional occupations 38

2 Lower managerial and professional occupations 78

3 Intermediate occupations 42

5 Lower supervisory and technical occupations 41

6 Semi-routine occupations 88

7 Routine occupations 74

Total 371

* Employees

Possible interesting variations within NS-SEC categories?


a. We suspect that the parental age profile might be consequential (e.g. younger mothers who are nurses are increasingly more likely to graduates).

McKnight and Elias (1998) 371 Database: Source UK Labour Force Survey 1994

microclass analyses

Microclass Analyses

Description of the composition of the microclasses

Summary results of GCSE attainment by microclasses

Examine some microclasses in detail (teaching and managerial)

Think about within-microclasses?

Sensitivity analyses with the microclass measure

Gelman and Hill (2007) style random effects


Examples of the Composition of Microclasses

Health ProfessionalsHealth Semi-Professionals

220 Medical practitioners 222 Ophthalmic opticians

221 Pharmacists / pharmacologists 340 Nurses

223 Dental practitioners 341 Midwives

224 Veterinarians 342 Medical radiographers

343 Physiotherapists

Workers in religion 344 Chiropodists

292 Clergy 345 Dispensing opticians

347 Occupational and speech therapists

Elementary and Secondary teachers 348 Environmental health officers

233 Secondary school teachers 349 Other health associated professionals

234 Primary school teachers

235 Special education

239 Other teaching (e.g. dance)

concl usions


There might be extra insights somewhere between ‘big class categories’ and ‘individual occupations’?

Microclasses are sociologically plausible

First attempt to construct a British microclass scheme

Extra explanatory power (for GCSE attainment) questionable?

Alternative operationalisations of micro classes

Many UK data sources now don’t include occupational unit group information so a microclass approach may be restricted?

Possibilities for primary data collection

Survey question with microclass lists (e.g. librarian, butcher etc)

Harry Ganzeboom has made this point previously

concl usions1


Parental occupations are important for GCSE attainment

Message to head teachers (on performance related pay) enrol the sons and daughters of dance teachers rather than publicans!

Unwillingness to collect parental occupational information (Govt and schools)

Free school meals a measure of social background (in research and league tables)

About 15% of pupils in state funded secondary schools

Unstable measure - panel data regularly reveals a high level of ‘income churning’ from year to year (for the UK see Jarvis and Jenkins 1997)

Possible end of Youth Cohort Study!