Survey Variable: Selected Reasons for Status Difference

Figure 1. See also Table A1.

A key component of perception of privilege is the attribution of reasons for inequality in society. Those who prioritise structural explanations for differences between people’s statuses, such as background and inequality, can be said to perceive privilege. On the other hand, those who emphasise individual reasons, such as ambition and hard work, are not perceiving the role of privilege in society or are perceiving it less. To get at these explanations, the Privilege and Participation survey included an extended battery of questions about the reasons for people having different statuses in society, the first of which asked respondents to select as many reasons as they wished.

Figure 1 (above, using weighted data) shows that background is the most popular explanation for status differences in society, and is selected by approaching three quarters of people (72.9%). This structural explanation is followed in popularity by two individual explanations, each of which is selected by six in ten people: hard work (61.9%) and ambition (60.4%). Falling below half of people, two fifths (42.0%) indicate that luck plays a part in driving status difference in society, more than a quarter (27.6%) indicate a role for inequality between groups, and a fifth (20.0%) think that status difference is inevitable.

Although a structural explanation (background) is the most popular, the small group who select the other structural explanation (inequality) means that, overall, people are more likely to select the two individual explanations (hard work and ambition) for status difference in society. Nevertheless, it is clear that multiple explanations are prevalent, and even the explanations suggesting a locus of control beyond humans (luck and inevitability) are selected by sizeable minorities. The prevalence of multiple explanations is further indicated by Figure 2 (below, also using weighted data), which shows how many explanations people select. More than six in ten people (62.5%) select between two and four explanations (excluding ‘other’) whilst approaching a quarter (23.5%) select zero or one, and one in seven (14.0%) select five or six.

Thus, people tend to entertain multiple explanation for status difference in society but restrict themselves to a few rather than endorsing all or almost all of them. This, and the prevalence of both structural and individual explanations, suggests that at least some people are willing to entertain both kinds of explanation. This can be tested when we look into which explanations tend to be selected by the same people but, in the meantime, we can turn to people’s rankings of the reasons.

Figure 2. See also Table A2.
Variable namespr_ssl_b, pr_ssh_b, pr_ssv_b,
pr_ssb_b, pr_ssa_b, pr_ssq_b
Numer of cases1,405
Number of categories2
Categories to code as missingNone
Cases to code as missingNone
Recoded variable namespr_ssn_c
Number of cases1,405
Number of categories7
New and old categoriesCategory 1 (‘Yes’) on each of the original
variables was counted as 1 (i.e. that reason
for status difference in society is selected),
with category 0 (‘No’) counted as zero. As
such, 0 on the new variable indicates no
reasons for status difference in society
were selected (though these people may
have selected ‘other’), whilst 6 indicates
that all six of the (substantive) reasons
were selected.
Details of the original and recoded binary reasons for status difference in society variables.

Published by joegreenwoodhau

Joe Greenwood-Hau is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Government & Public Policy at the University of Strathclyde, where he works on the Capital, Privilege and Political Participation in Britain and Beyond project.

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