A question of perspective: A study of occupational social prestige ranking by type of education required and individuals’ educational experience and political orientation in Switzerland

University of Bern

Lead researcher: Prof. Dr. Stefan Wolter

Duration: 01.11.2016 – 31.10.2018

Vocational education and training (VET) often suffers from a lack of social standing among students and their families. Parents have been shown to discard vocational education because of social status maintenance considerations. How adults perceive the social prestige of occupations might therefore be key in understanding the reasons of the image deficit of VET. While the existing literature on occupational prestige ranking stresses the role of the salience in science or the training intensiveness of occupations for the perception of their social prestige, it fails at accounting for the distinct types of knowledge involved and the variety of the skill content of occupations. As we argue here, the type of knowledge (academic vs. vocational) certified through the education system is reproduced at the occupational level through various dimensions of the skill content of occupations that might be key in addressing this question. More precisely, differences in the salience of physical tasks and cognitive skills should be particularly relevant. We contribute to the literature by analyzing a unique data set in Switzerland, a country characterized by a well-established and -functioning vocational education and system, based on a survey of adults’ perception of the social prestige of occupations requiring academic or vocational education. As we show, occupations requiring vocational education are in average assigned a lower social prestige, all other things being equal. Disentangling this effect using several dimensions of the skill content of occupations, we find that the sophistication of skills performed within occupations, whether manual or intellectual, clearly improve the social prestige of the occupations investigated. At the individual level, women and tertiary graduates are more likely to perceive occupations salient in problem-solving skills as more prestigious. In addition, the closer the political belief system of respondents to either extreme of the political spectrum, the less likely they are to assign social prestige to occupations according to their educational requirements.

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