Social Class in Market Research

The most common demographic classifications used in consumer market research and public opinion surveys are age, gender and region. For polling and national surveys, we construct samples which are representative of the popultion against age, gender and region. It is also common to segment samples by household income levels, or personal income.
Social grade definitions have been widely used in the UK market research industry for many years, but was first developed more than fifty years ago by the National Readership Survey.

Social Grade

Social Status



upper middle class

higher managerial, administrative or professional


middle class

intermediate managerial, administrative or professional

lower middle class

supervisory or clerical, junior managerial, administrative or professional
skilled working class
 skilled manual workers
skilled working class
 skilled manual workers
those at lowest level of subsistence
state pensioners or widows, casual or lowest grade workers
Benefits and Challenges with the Traditional Socio Economic Classification System
Given that the UK population and the socio economic environment has undergone dramatic change over the last fifty years, it has been necessary to amend and evolve the techniques for classifying social class. The method used by the National Readership Survey is still widely used, and most marketeers and researchers fall back to widely understood categories of ABC1. At the very least, it is familiar and has the benefit of being widely understood.
But it is not perfect by any means. The categories were originally rooted in categorising occupational groupings of the head of the household or chief income earner. As society has fragmented the pattern of the household has become more complex and diverse. Definitions of "professions" and high earning careers have also changed significantly, such that there is no longer a direct relationship between traditional professions and income levels. With such changes, many have argued that the older, established methods for classifying class have simply not kept pace with changes in society, and no longer accurately reflects society. From a targeting point of view, focusing on ABC1 is very borad - it represents the majority of the population. Hence, many marketers prefer to use bespoke segmentation strategies, or use alternative social class and geo-demographic categories, such as that developed by Experian (which combines data about gepgraphic location, incomes and social attitudes).
Developments Towards New Social Classifications
In the 2001 UK census a variation on social class categorization was used by the National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NC-SEC). This categorisation has 17 groups, collapsible down to 3 (Higher occupations, intermediate and lower occupations). Another version which is appropriate for more detailed analysis, has eight categories:
• Higher managerial and professional occupations
• Lower managerial and professional occupations
• Intermediate occupations (clerical, sales, service)
• Small employers and own account workers
• Lower supervisory and technical occupations
• Semi-routine occupations
• Routine occupations
• Never worked and long term unemployed

While this categorisation is perhaps an improvement, which reflects both a wider range of occupations and income groups, and reflects the reality of large numbers of long term unemployed, arguably it is too reliant on occupation status. Some critics argue that we should be using a combination of cultural identity, social attitudes and so called "cultural captial" as well as income and financial capital to construct social classification.
In April 2013 a new study undertaken by the BBC working with the London School of Economics, published a new Social Class of Classification, which combines cultural capital (cultural activities undertaken), social capital (level and type of social network) and economic capital (e.g. household income, savings and value of capital). The findings were based on a survey of 161,000 people in the UK (Great British Class Survey). This classification has 7 groups:

Group Name


the most privileged group in the UK, distinct from the other six classes through its wealth. This group has the highest levels of all three capitals
Established middle class
the second wealthiest, scoring highly on all three capitals. The largest and most gregarious group, scoring second highest for cultural capital
Technical middle class
a small, distinctive new class group which is prosperous but scores low for social and cultural capital. Distinguised by its social isolation and cultural apathy
New affluent workers
a young class group which is socially and culturally active, with middling levels of economic capital
Traditional working class
scores low on all forms of capital, but is not completely deprived. its members have reasonably high house values, explained by this group having the oldest average age of 66
Emergent service workers
a new, young, urban group which is relatively poor but has high social and cultural capital
Precarious proletariat
the poorest, most deprived class, scoring low for social and cultural capital
This appears to make a great contribution to social grade classification, not only by updating the classification with more relevant groups, but also the method of classification. This particular classification may not become the new de facto standard, but at the very least, it clearly moves the debate on to accept the complexity of social class beyond the narrow terms of reference of occupation. 

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