How Your Occupation, Education, Income and Net Worth Determine Your Social Class

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2007-07-1422

Earlier on, I discussed some pretty compelling facts about social and economic class. This time around, I wanted to go through an actual example of identifying one’s social class or at least get a closer look at America’s system. Honestly, we aren’t a class-sensitive society here so I was curious to see how our social structure was supposed to be configured.

How Social Class Is Determined, An Example

If you haven’t seen this already, then check out this most awesome interactive graphic from the New York Times entitled “How Class Works”. I spent a bit of time just putzing around with it. By entering a profile, this tool can tell you what social class your entry falls under. So then I entered a familiar profile — one that pretty much described most people I knew.

I selected the occupation that is close to my heart: systems analyst, computer software engineer, and so forth. Education: a Bachelor’s Degree. Income: the standard $100,000 for the computer based job (technically, salary amount depends on where you live). Wealth: the amount that is typically amassed by someone in their middle age. So what did it return?

My Selected Choices Yielded:

Occupation: 77th percentile
Education: 91st percentile
Income: 93rd percentile
Wealth: 85th percentile
Average: 86th percentile


Components of Social and Economic Class

As for how income ties with education, here’s a graphic showing how computer scientists and mathematicians are mapped out:

Income and Education

The distribution shows that if you’re a college graduate in the field of science or mathematics, you’ll likely earn a decent income. This also suggests that it may not be necessary for you to have a higher education to get the best pay out of a technical job.

In contrast, you’ll see that the statistics for the legal profession garnered via this tool support the fairly common assumptions that judges and lawyers make a good living and that relative to other professions, they’re a highly educated bunch. Well this just tells me that frugal law students may not need to be so frugal one day.

One other point: I was amused that even within job categories, a class-sensitive ranking exists for jobs within the same realm. Even roles and positions of similar nature fell into some kind of social hierarchy:

Similar Jobs That Varied In Class Ranking

Database Administrator: 83rd percentile
Computer Software Engineer: 77th percentile
IT Analyst: 73rd percentile
Computer Programmer: 65th percentile

Does this mean that if I were a mere “computer programmer” then I shouldn’t be as highly regarded as a “database administrator”? This exercise makes me realize how job status can be a sensitive thing. How often do you give yourself a more flattering title when participating in some kind of social ice breaker? When people ask you what type of job you do, do you puff up your chest and say you’re a “computer architect” instead of a “systems designer”? Or how about an “account manager” instead of a “sales person”? It looks like you can inflate your status simply by changing the label of the job you have. It’s surprising to me that there’s some kind of hierarchy in place even among similar sounding positions even though the job isn’t much different across these labels. If you have skills in various domains, it may serve you well to use the right title whenever the opportunity arises.

So maybe you can try out the tool to see what else you can gather. You may be able to find out a cooler name you can use in lieu of your job title.

Copyright © 2007 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Minimum Wage July 14, 2007 at 5:52 pm

What if you’re all over the map? Does averaging out your scores produce a meaningful result?

My education (bachelor’s degree) is 91st percentile, but my occupation, income, and wealth are all within the range of 18-22 percentile, giving me an average 39th percentile. But is
this metric meaningful in any way?

MoneyChangesThings July 14, 2007 at 6:28 pm

Of course each couple is an intermarriage – so does the couple’s composite average = their class?
Check this out, to get a global comparison of your income vis-a-vis the rest of the planet

Silicon Valley Blogger July 14, 2007 at 7:55 pm

@Minimum Wage,

I don’t want to be presumptuous here but I think your scores of:

* 91st percentile for education
* 18th-22nd percentile for occupation, income and wealth

show you have quite a lot of potential to raise your status with time. Since you have a strong education to back you, you’ve got a great chance of moving up the socio-economic ladder, so to speak. I also think that the numbers are reflective of reality: even an average that is raised by one component shows that your education is valued and is worth something in society.

If you’d be willing to share, I’d be interested to hear your story. I see you comment here a lot (and in other finance blogs). I’m curious to know what your educational background is and what your actual job is, and why is it that there’s such a discrepancy between your educational background and your current job or career?

@MoneyChangesThings, yes I think it’s simplistic but the supposition works: I believe that you’d take into consideration the “average” backgrounds of people in a household, so members of a couple can have varying, even contrasting social levels that all work out into some kind of merged result.

Minimum Wage July 15, 2007 at 6:54 am

I’m a boomer with nothing which could be considered career-related experience, so I don’t think I have much potential which can be realized at this point. (I’m twice as old as many of you, and people my age without career-related experience don’t get hired for good entry-level jobs.)

I had a plan: Get a liberal arts degree and go to law school. What I didn’t have was a backup plan.

I graduated at what was arguably the worst time, and in arguably the worst place: at the bottom of a recession in a very depressed Rust Belt economy. To give you an idea of how bad the regional economy was at the time, two-thirds of new graduates at my college were leaving the state for jobs elsewhere.

While I did not anticipate the emergence of cyberlaw, I completed a minor in CS, thinking that some computer background might be useful to a lawyer because it was such a rarity at the time. (If it ever became in demand, I had a First Mover edge, as others would need time to get up to speed.)

By the time I graduated (high inflation at the time), law school was out of financial reach, and my liberal arts degree was by itself not very useful, considering the time and place.

I probably could have interviewed with and been hired by EDS at the time, but I had a negative perception of them and looked elsewhere. (Huge mistake!)

The emerging PC diminished the usefulness of my mainframe skills, and I didn’t have the financial resources to keep up. (I didn’t even have a PC until 1992 when I went to a trade show and bought enough parts to assemble an AT.) Completely lacking any OTJ IT experience, my rusty COBOL skills were insufficient to get me any Y2K work.

So I’m feeling stuck in a dead-end menial job and don’t see any good options left.

Silicon Valley Blogger July 15, 2007 at 10:39 am

Minimum Wage,
I believe there’s always a way, especially in the age of the internet. I come away inspired by what fellow bloggers have done with regards to their “alternative income” schemes. With the resources on the web, there must be something out there that could be a fit for you. A lot can be done for free with minimal expertise in technology. Even the senior citizens in my family are getting into the action!

shelly July 15, 2007 at 1:05 pm

very neat figure-out-your-class site – thx for sharing. I found to be neat as well to figure out your overall compensation package vs. the rest of the pack

Minimum Wage July 17, 2007 at 11:50 am

Let me ask you this: I have an idea for selling something. I’d like to set up a website where people can click and buy. (I already have something to sell.)

Setting up a website from scratch is a project. (I learned HTML 10+ years ago but didn’t keep up with the newer stuff.) There are lots of website builders out there – are there any you’d recommend? Any suggestions on a course of action?

PHP MySql Programmer / Developer July 21, 2007 at 5:55 pm

This article looks at class in a way that fails to explain that class is a function of class. Whatever class you are born into will determine what class you will stay in. If your parents are undereducated and you live in a poor part of town you will be cast into that life. If you folks are wealthy and educated it is more than likely you will also be well educated and wealthy.

We live in a cast system where mobility is the exception not the norm.

Matt July 26, 2007 at 10:06 am

PHP MySql Programmer, did you actually read the article before spouting off? Because, it does indeed address class as a function of class, under the heading ‘income mobility’. An no, your assertion that mobility is the exception is not correct. The study shows that generally only about 25% of people born in a class stay in that class, with the exception of the top and bottom classes, where about 50% stay, because they only have one direction in which they can move. For the middle class, where they have just as much room to move up as they do down, about 25% stay in the middle class, 25% drop one class, 25% go up one class, 12.5% go up two classes, and 12.5% go down two classes.

On another note, the rankings for this tool in the education department seem a bit skewed. Approximately 30% of students go on to earn a Bachelor’s degree these days, yet having one places you in the top 9% in this study.

Mommy Koz May 4, 2009 at 5:36 am

I came over from Bobo’s Carnival… I’m constantly fascinated by discussions and articles about class. I admit I’m not surprised to see that NYT doesn’t have an occupation category for “stay at home mom”. 😉

kosmo @ The Casual Observer November 17, 2009 at 7:13 am

Well, I’d say that “database administrator” is not a casual distinction from “computer programmer”. They are positions with very different skill sets. A good computer programmer would not typically be able to immediately become a database administrator with an equal level of competence (nor would the DBA be able to seamlessly shift to a programmer job).

Amusingly, very few of the people on my team actually have degrees in a computer related field. I have degrees in Accounting and Marketing, we have some hard science degrees (biology pre-med and such). We all have tinkered with computers since we were kids, but took a detour in our college years. The computer field tends to be fairly meritocratic, though.

@PHP MySql – You may be surprised to see how frequently people move up into another class. I grew up on a small farm outside a small town. Neither of my parents attended high school, and with eight kids in the family, money was always tight or non-existent. It wasn’t easy to put myself through college with zero assistance from family, but I did it. At age 34, where am I? Somewhere between upper middle and top 5th. (I’m not exactly sure where those breakpoints are).

Am I some sort of grand exception to the rule? I don’t think so. My wife had a similar leap, as did quite a few of my friends. The access to education today has made it easier than ever to push yourself upward. Sure, there’s a price to be paid to get into the game, but at least you can get a ticket.

Silicon Valley Blogger November 17, 2009 at 10:40 am

Interesting thoughts on class mobility. While I think that it can take a lot of work to climb up the social ladder, it may be just as much work to try to stay where you are, once you’re up there. Unless one is uber-wealthy, falling off one’s high horse seems too easy to do. It usually just takes one generation before things change and a family’s standing shifts.

Mrs Casanova November 17, 2009 at 3:23 pm

This was very interesting to read, I can appreciate the visuals as I am a visual learner. Do you think this is true for just the U.S. or do you think Canadians and Europeans think this way as well?

Red November 17, 2009 at 11:18 pm

The study shows that generally only about 25% of people born in a class stay in that class, with the exception of the top and bottom classes, where about 50% stay, because they only have one direction in which they can move.

Red November 17, 2009 at 11:21 pm

To give you an idea of how bad the regional economy was at the time, two-thirds of new graduates at my college were leaving the state for jobs elsewhere.

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