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The European Socio-economic classification development project (ESeC)

A consortium of universities, research institutes and National Statistics Institutes (NSIs) across Europe has conducted a project to develop a prototype European socio-economic classification (ESeC).

It is intended that the classification tool will improve the quality of pan-European official statistics and aid statistical offices and researchers in the field of comparative research in human sciences.

The project ran from October 2004 to September 2006.

It was funded under the EU’s sixth framework programme priority 7 (citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society).

The Office for National Statistics was the project co-ordinator.

The 9 consortium partners were from the UK, France, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy and Ireland.

The partners had expertise and experience from their involvement in previous research carried out in the same topic area.

Project objectives

The project was designed to improve the state of the art in the classification of socio-economic positions.

The aim was to develop an ESeC for use in comparative European analyses relating to important policy issues.

Currently, there is no measure of social structure and social position for use in comparative European research.

The creation of an ESeC is intended to fill this void and thus to stimulate comparative and interdisciplinary research across EU member states.

By facilitating the analysis of primary Europe-wide data resources, it will allow researchers to address the gap in our understanding between the prevalence and distribution of quality-of-life issues such as educational and health inequalities, and broader social and economic inequalities.

That is, an ESeC will provide a fundamental and essential tool that will facilitate our understanding of the knowledge-based society, its consequences for social cohesion and, in particular, issues relating to social and economic inequalities.

Strategic impact

The development work is intended to result in an ESeC of which practical use will be made by Eurostat, the National Statistics Institutes of EU member states, and academic and other social researchers.

This will lead to improved comparisons of survey and other data across official statistics within the European statistical system.

The existence of a harmonised and validated classification will shed light on the extent and nature of differences between countries as they seek to understand the nature of social inequalities and to relate these to the provision of education, training, social and health services.

Further, it will promote research into indicators of inequalities, thereby increasing our understanding of European society and providing the bases for policy formulation and support for decision-making.

Project progress and future development

For Eurostat and EU NSIs to adopt an ESeC as a comparative measure of social position depends upon the production of a fully validated ESeC, for example, a measure that both captures the underlying conceptual dimension of employment relations and proves useful in the comparative analysis of societal problems across Europe.

The project has consisted of the following programme of work:

  • creation of an initial ESeC based on the EU standard for occupational classification

  • croduction of a statistical compendium, showing national variations in socio-economic indicators by ESeC categories

  • evaluation and revision of the initial ESeC

  • 7 cross-national validation studies of ESeC using suitable comparative data

  • review of the evidence from the validation studies

  • production of a web-based instruction manual for the ESeC

  • reaching out to interested parties, such as Eurostat, National Statistics Institutes and other academics and researchers

Activities included: a conference in early 2006 to examine the application and validation of the prototype classification, and assisting participant EU member and future member states in applying the prototype ESeC to their own national statistical resources, including a workshop in summer 2006.

Eurostat has recognised the importance of having a harmonised ESeC and is positive about the work of the project so far.

The project will result in a prototype ESeC, of which further validation will be necessary.

Eurostat is now considering the continued development of the prototype after the sixth framework programme project.

It is intended that a book will be published, covering:

  • a description of the ESeC and its conceptual basis

  • how it has been validated as a measure and can thus be relied upon for the purposes for which it has been designed

  • how well it works in describing and explaining the relationships between social class and key health, poverty and employment variables

  • how it may be used in research

Further information

Further information on this project can be obtained from the official ESeC website.

Alternatively, contact the project co-ordinator at ONS:

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