Survey Variable: Selected Indicators of Status

Figure 1. See also Table A1.

How do people tell what other people’s statuses are? What indicators do they use to form their impressions of where someone sits in social hierarchies? The Privilege and Participation survey asked about this topic for the first time, with all respondents being shown a list of indicators of status to choose from. These ranged from those that are commonly used by governments and social scientists, such as education, occupation, and income, to others that we can discern about people almost as soon as we meet them, such as their appearance and dress, and how they speak. People could select as many indicators as they wanted, and the results are shown in Figure 1 (above, using weighted data).

The most popular indicator of status is education, which is selected by two thirds of people (66.5%), and is closely followed by occupation (63.5%), income (61.0%), and location of residence (59.6%). Thus, people tend to opt for the indicators of status that are already used extensively in the study of inequality and in commentaries on society, perhaps in part because those indicators more readily come to mind due to their widespread usage. However, people are far from exclusionary in their selections and almost half (49.0%) select how people speak as an indicator, whilst around two fifths select each of appearance and dress (42.5%), pastimes and interests (41.5%), and who people know (38.1%). Finally, people’s possessions and their ideas are the least selected indicators, but even these are chosen by around a third of people (32.8% and 32.3% respectively).

The willingness of people to sustain multiple indicators of status is also shown when we count how many indicators they select, as shown in Figure 2 (below, also using weighted data). Approaching six in ten (58.8%) people indicate that they think between three and six of the eleven indicators can be used to tell the status of others. A further quarter (24.7%) go higher, selecting between seven and eleven of the indicators, which means that only around one in six (16.6%) select two or fewer indicators. Overall, people tend to choose a low-to-middling number of indicators of other people’s statuses but they overwhelmingly use multiple indicators, with more than eight in ten (83.5%) selecting at least three. Within these, they tend towards established indicators of status such as education, occupation, and income. However, they also often make use of cultural indicators such as speech, appearance and dress, and pastimes and interest, the first two of which allow impressions of others to be drawn more quickly than is the case with any of the other indicators.

Figure 2. See also Table A2.
Variable namespr_sia_b, pr_sis_b, pr_sii_b, pr_sic_b,
pr_sip_b, pr_sij_b, pr_sie_b, pr_siw_b,
pr_sil_b, pr_sim_b, pr_sio_b
Numer of cases1,405
Number of categories2
Categories to code as missingNone
Cases to code as missingNone
Recoded variable namespr_sin_c
Number of cases1,405
Number of categories11
New and old categoriesCategory 1 (‘Yes’) on each of the original
variables was counted as 1 (i.e. that
indicator of status is selected), with
category 0 (‘No’) counted as zero. As such,
0 on the new variable indicates that none
of the substantive indicators of status were
selected (though these people may have
selected ‘other’), whilst 10 indicates that all
ten of the (substantive) indicators were
Details of the original and recoded binary indicators of status 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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