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How posh would you say you are on a scale of 1 to 10?

December 13, 2011
Tower block

‘Socio-economic group’ (SEG) is the proxy that the market research industry uses for social class, and in the crudest sense the industry wants to know your class because they want to know whether the rich people see things differently to the poor people.  It is good for commercial organisations to know this information so that they can tell what kind of people might buy their products, and it is good for public sector organisations to know it so they can tell who is (or should be) using their services. 

As I’ve said in a previous blog post, “Researchers collect demographic information (population characteristics) from respondents to check that their sample is representative of a given population, and to segment the findings to see whether different groups of people react differently to questions than others.  This means that any demographic information that you give a researcher will be analysed along with 50+ others (usually many more!) and will not be looked at separately.  Refusing to provide demographic information limits the value of a person’s input into a survey because their responses cannot be segmented.”

Although it sounds a bit controversial when you write a whole blog post about it, social class is just one of many demographic segments (along with age / gender / ethnicity / whatever) that a researcher might look at to identify useful and interesting patterns in the data.  

When you’re doing a survey you can’t just ask someone what their class is though, or say ‘How posh would you say you are on a scale of 1 to 10?’.  You’d get a very subjective response and when you’re dealing with hundreds of respondents you need a system that is as consistent as possible in order to be able to get a useful result.  So back in the day the National Readership Survey invented the SEG system based on occupation and it is still widely used as a practical proxy for class / wealth / poshness / lifestyle.

So how does it work?  In total there are six SEGs – A, B, C1, C2, D and E.  These are defined as follows (or see this link for more detail):

  • A – Higher managerial, administrative, professional e.g. Chief executive, senior civil servant, surgeon
  • B – Intermediate managerial, administrative, professional e.g. bank manager, teacher
  • C1– Supervisory, clerical, junior managerial e.g. shop floor supervisor, bank clerk, sales person
  • C2 – Skilled manual workers e.g. electrician, carpenter
  • D – Semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers e.g. assembly line worker, refuse collector, messenger
  • E – Casual labourers, pensioners, unemployed e.g. pensioners without private pensions and anyone living on basic benefits

Researchers find out which of these you are by asking you a complicated series of questions at the end of a questionnaire, based on the occupation of the main income earner in your household. The questions usually go something like this:

What is the occupation of the main income earner in your household?  

What is the industry / type of company that they work in?

What is their position / rank / grade in the organisation?

What qualifications do they have? (i.e. degree / apprenticeship)

How many staff are they responsible for?

NOTE TO INTERVIEWER: CIRCLE SOCIAL GRADE  – A B C1 C2 D E

This can usually only be done in a face-to-face or telephone interview to get the correct level of detail and as it is a bit of a judgement call, and interviewers are trained in covertly allocating SEG based on your answers.  The interviewer has to ask a lot of questions about the occupation of the main income earner because some job titles can be very vague and span several SEGs.  For example:

  • A Consultant could be a Doctor, a business advisor, or a mobile phone salesperson.
  • An Engineer could be chartered, skilled or unskilled. 
  • A Chief Executive could be the boss of a multi-national organisation, the boss of a local charity, or a sole trader.

So that interviewers can get the SEG right there is even a book that interviewers can buy called ‘Occupation Groupings: A Job Dictionary’ which lists pretty much every job title with a SEG against it.

So what do we do when we have allocated you to a SEG?  Well your SEG will be tacked on to the end of the data you have provided, meaning that it can be used to see whether people in different SEGs answered the questions differently.  This helps us to interpret the findings and make recommendations about what our client should do next.   Researchers don’t look at individuals and questionnaires though, they look at data tables and sub-groups containing many tens or hundreds of respondents.  They don’t even necessarily look at each SEG individually.  When doing the analysis researchers might group SEGs in a few different ways, for example:

  • AB, C1, C2, DE (generally ends up a fairly even split across the population)
  • ABC1, C2DE (allows you to look at the responses of the well off against the not so well off)
  • BC1C2 (allows you to look at the responses of ‘ordinary’ people)

As a result we researchers can answer important questions such as who is more likely to buy a product or who is more worried about an issue.  We don’t have any interest in looking at your questionnaire and saying “Oh look, Ruth Stevenson from Edinburgh is a Social Grade B”, but instead use the information to build up a picture of a target market so we can tell our client something practical like “Aim your advertising at young BC1 Males in urban areas”.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Joeph permalink
    July 2, 2016 9:28 pm

    I am a retired Classics teacher (grammar school) now living on my state pension. Obviously well educated, hence category B, though now on “benefits” (E). So in which group do I belong?

    • July 21, 2016 11:55 am

      You’re a complex one! Technically those living on the state pension would fall into group E as you say, although I believe (and having searched online I’m having trouble substantiating this) I think most would classify a retired person into the Socio-Economic Group that they were in before they retired…

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