Survey Variable: Reasons for Own Status

In addition to their beliefs about the reasons for status difference in society, it also matters what people think are the reasons for their own status. Do they prioritise the same explanations for status difference in general as they do for their own status, or do they emphasise different things? After asking them to select and rank their top reasons for status difference in society, the survey asked respondents to rank the same set of reasons as explanations for their own status, picking at least their top three. The results can be seen in Figure 1 (above, using weighted data).[1]

By far the most popular explanation for own status is hard work (panel B), which is ranked as the most important explanation by half of people (50.0%) and in the top three explanations by more than four fifths (81.3%). No other explanation comes close to the popularity of hard work but the second favourite is ambition (panel E), which three in ten people (30.5%) rank second and more than half (56.0%) place in their top three. Background (panel D), which was the most popular explanation for status difference in society, is the third most popular explanation for own status, with approaching half of people (47.1%) placing it in their top three. Two fifths of people (41.7%) rank luck (panel A) in their top three explanations, more than a fifth (23.3%) do so for inevitability (panel C), and the least popular explanation for own status is inequality (panel F), which is ranked in the top three by one in ten people (10.6%).

There is one particularly important conclusion that we can draw from the above results: people are much less willing to emphasise structural explanation, and especially background, for their own status than for status difference more generally. Whereas background was the most popular explanation for status difference in society, it is pushed into third place by hard work and ambition in relation to own status. Those two explanations were the second and third most selected in relation to status difference in society, so the top three reasons are the same in both cases but the prioritisation changes sharply. Thus, it seems that people are keen to take the credit (or blame) for their own statuses by emphasising individual explanations, whilst also being willing to accept that background plays a part, just much less than they think it plays in general.

ariable namespriv_own_luck, priv_own_hardwork,
priv_own_inevitable, priv_own_background,
priv_own_ambition, priv_own_inequality,
priv_own_other, priv_own_backnot
Number of cases1,405
Number of categories8
Categories to code as missingNone
Cases to code as missingNone
Recoded variable namespr_roh_ir, pr_rov_ir, pr_rob_ir, pr_roa_ir,
pr_roq_ir, pr_roo_ir
Number of cases1,405
Number of categories8-9
New and old categoriesThe original variables were inverse
recoded so that higher values represent
higher ranking of an explanation. As such
the new and old variable values are:
– ‘Not selected’ (0) = ‘Skipped’ (8)
– ‘Ranked seventh’ (1) = ‘Ranked seventh’ (7)
– ‘Ranked sixth’ (2) = ‘Ranked sixth’ (6)
– ‘Ranked fifth’ (3) = ‘Ranked fifth’ (5)
– ‘Ranked fourth’ (4) = ‘Ranked fourth’ (4)
– ‘Ranked third’ (5) = ‘Ranked third’ (3)
– ‘Ranked second’ (6) = ‘Ranked second’ (2)
– ‘Ranked first’ (7) = ‘Ranked first’ (1)
In addition, following the ranking of
explanations, those who did not select
‘background’ were asked whether they
thought it had played any part in their
status (priv_own_backnot). Those who
selected ‘Yes’ (1) were coded as ‘Selected
when prompted’ (1) on the new ranking
variable for the ‘background’ explanation
(pr_rob_ir) and each of the other ranking
categories had their numerical value
increased by one. This means that the
background explanation ranking variable
alone has nine categories.
Details of the original and recoded explanation for own status variables.

[1] See also Table A1.

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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