Because of an important consistency in the prestige ratings of occupations from respondents across various social groups, countries and over time, the roots of divergent perceptions of the social prestige of occupations have attracted little attention. Yet structural changes in modern economies, brought by rapid globalization and technological change, and the polarization of political life might have triggered a growing contestation of the traditional foundations of modern societies. We contribute to this important question by analyzing a unique data set in Switzerland based on a survey of adults’ perception of the social prestige of occupations. As our results indicate, respondents identifying with major or minor right-wing populist parties do not reject the dominant view of the prestige of occupations. Rather, adherence to radical political ideologies, whether at the far left or far right, correlates with a lower impact of the educational requirements of occupations on their perceived social prestige. Interestingly, individuals at the far left of the ideology spectrum also value autonomy at the workplace less, while voters of the New and Centre-Left put a stronger emphasis on problem-solving skills for the prestige of occupations.
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In modern societies, the mass media have also, by sharing with populist parties issues in a similar tone, contributed to the expansion of their domination in the political discourse (Mudde 2013).
This survey was developed by the Swiss Leading House on Economics of Education, a research program of the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation and a joint project between the University of Bern and University of Zurich and conducted by the LINK Institute.
Additional analyses were also conducted by retaining, instead of excluding, those respondents who gave the same rank twice to different occupations, and replacing, alternatively, one of both redundant ranks by the one missing among the ten that should have been assigned. This resulted in two additional distinct samples that were then used to test for the robustness of our results. Whether we used the original sample or one of both additional samples, the results remained similar (results available upon request).
Because only the level of education was available in the SLFS data set, each level had first to be transformed into the corresponding years of education based on official sources (retrieved from: http://www.edk.ch/dyn/11586.php).
For more information on the exact methodology, see Eurofound (2016).
Unfortunately, information at a more detailed level of occupational grouping was not available in the EWCS and PIAAC databases.
Since Switzerland did not participate in PIAAC and did not include enough observations at the occupational level to conduct the appropriate analyses, we were unable to derive indices only for Switzerland. This should however not be a problem, as Taylor et al. (2008) have shown that the skill content of tasks is rated similarly across countries.
Some occupations from the ranking list in our main data set were not present in the SLFS data as such because of a less detailed variable in the latter. As a result, in some cases, more general categories were used to compute the needed variables.
This category was unfortunately not available in a more detailed manner.
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Abrassart, A., Wolter, S.C. Rejecting education as the basis of the social prestige of occupations: the role of polarized political ideologies and parties in Switzerland. Acta Polit 58, 1–35 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-021-00230-7
- Educational requirements
- Occupational prestige ranking
- Political radicalization