Survey Variable: Ranked Reasons for Status Difference

Asking people to select the reasons that they think status differences in society exist allows us to see the list of factors that the think play any part in driving inequality, but it does not tell us what they think the most important reasons are. The process of identifying the key factors is more cognitively challenging than identifying all factors because it entails comparing the importance of those factors with each other. Respondents were asked to do this after they selected all the factors that they think drive status difference in society. The survey asked them rank to the top three from the reasons they selected, and the results are presented in Figure 1 (above, using weighted data).[1]

Since respondents were only asked to rank the reasons they selected previously, there is a notable relationship between the selected and ranked results. The reason for status difference that tends to be ranked highest, background (ranked first by two fifths (41.0%) and second by one in eight (13.0%), panel D), is also the reason that was selected by the largest number of people. Similarly, the second and third highest ranked reasons were also the second and third most selected: hard work (ranked first by a quarter (24.6%) and second by approaching a fifth (18.5%), panel B) and ambition (ranked second by a quarter (24.1%) and first by approaching a fifth (18.1%), panel E). Finally, the three lowest ranked items are also the three that were least selected: luck (ranked first by one in twenty-five (4.3%) and second by one in ten (9.2%), panel A), inequality (ranked first by one in twenty-nine (3.5%) and second by one in fourteen (7.1%), panel F), and inevitability (ranked first by one in twenty-nine (3.5%) and second by one in thirty-six (2.8%), panel C).

Despite the similarity between the selection and ranking results, the latter tell us something new: what people think is the most important reason for status difference in society when forced to choose between explanations. It is quite clear from the results that the prevailing view is that background is the most important driver of status difference, followed by hard work, ambition, luck, inequality between groups, and finally the inevitable existence of status differences. Within these overarching trends, there are many people who prioritise hard work, ambition, and even the less-selected explanations, over background. However, two thirds (66.0%) of people rank background in their top three (the equivalent figures for hard work and ambition are 55.9% and 52.6%). It remains to be seen whether any of these explanations are related to each other, for instance if people who prioritise hard work also prioritise the other individual-based explanation of ambition, and this will be investigated subsequently.

Variable namespr_ssl_b, pr_ssh_b, pr_ssv_b,
pr_ssb_b, pr_ssa_b, pr_ssq_b,
pr_sso_b, priv_reasonrankles_luck,
Number of cases1,405
Number of categories2-3
Categories to code as missingNone
Cases to code as missingNone
Recoded variable namespr_rsl_cir, pr_rsh_cir, pr_rsv_cir,
pr_rsb_cir, pr_rsa_cir, pr_rsq_cir,
Number of cases1,405
Number of categories5
New and old categoriesThe binary and original ranking
variables (respondents saw
differently worded ranking
questions depending on how
many reasons they selected)
were combined to create the
new ranking variables. If a
respondent did not select an
explanation for status difference,
they were coded as 0 (‘Not
selected’) on the new variable. If
they selected an explanation but
did not place it in their top three
then they were coded as 1
(‘Selected but not ranked’). Those
who ranked an explanation were
coded as 2 (‘Ranked third’), 3
(‘Ranked second’), or 4 (‘Ranked
first’), meaning that higher values
on the new variable equate to
higher rankings of that explanation
for status difference in society.
Details of the original and recoded reasons for status difference in society variables.

[1] See also Table A1.

Published by joegreenwoodhau

Joe Greenwood-Hau is a Lecturer in Politics in the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh, where his teaching focuses on Introduction to Political Data Analaysis and he is wrapping up the Capital, Privilege and Political Participation in Britain and Beyond project.

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