Occupational standing through time

Alexander Fishkov, Ph.D. student Computer Science

One’s occupation is often associated with a certain level or group in society. This “general standing” or prestige of an occupation is often studied by sociologists. There is a significant debate about whether it can be broken down to individual characteristics like expected salary and education level or training to perform the job or if it requires an analysis of much more complex characteristics.

Measuring occupational standing

One of the first attempts to quantitatively assign scores to occupations was Duncan’s Socioeconomic Index. Using a small subset of labeled occupational titles from a 1947 National Opinion Research Center (NORC) survey, the author constructed scores for all Census (1950) occupations based on the education and income levels of Census respondents. Since then, other surveys attempting to rate a set of occupational titles were conducted and socioeconomic indices were calculated in a similar manner.

Another approach to quantitatively measuring occupational standing does not use any external information besides Census data. The Num-Powers-Boyd index measures occupational status based on the median education level and the median income of an individual. This intuitive interpretation of the index of an occupation equals the percentage of a population in an occupation with education and income levels below that occupation. This index weights education and income contribution equally. Although the use of such indices is still a topic of discussion among professional sociologists, this simple and clear interpretation can be understood by everyone.

Calculations on historical data

Following the original paper, calculations were performed by Minnesota Population Center and are available through IPUMS. This allows us to compare the score of each occupation across many years.

According to this index, surgeons, dentists, lawyers and podiatrists hold the top positions (and have for quite some time). Optometrists, veterinarians and physicists consistently hold high positions as well. Pharmacists also emerged as a high-ranking occupation in the early 2000s. Apart from physicists and lawyers, the top positions are consistently held by jobs related to the medical industry.

Architects were notable from the 50s to 70s but then dropped out of the top ten. Mathematicians seem to see swings in status. From the 60s to the 90s the profession was near the top, then briefly from 2005 to 2008 and again from 2013 onward.

Using the data, we can plot a distribution of respondents by occupation status index intervals. It is essentially a normalized histogram. Occupations from the top 20 chart all had a score above 95, meaning that less than 5 percent of working people held these positions in 2015. Additionally, we present the top occupations by the number of workers for each 10-point Num-Powers-Boyd index interval.

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About Alexander Fishkov

Alexander Fishkov, Ph.D. student Computer Science

Alexander is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science. He currently holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Applied Math. He has experience working for industry major companies performing research in the fields of machine learning, data mining and natural language processing. In his free time, Alexander enjoys hiking, Nordic skiing and traveling.

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