ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Rethinking inequality in cross national comparison: indicators, scale conversions and methodological matters

Stefano Poli

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 3 - Law Building, Room 104
Date: 2012-07-10 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Last modified: 2012-04-10


The paper focuses on methodological matters concerning the exploration of inequality in a contemporary perspective with a cross-national analysis based on the European EU Silc dataset on living conditions. A main problem is the definition itself of contemporary inequality, more and more becoming a “classless inequality” (Pakulsky, Waters, 1996; Wright E. O., 2007), not necessarily depending only on economic dimension, but relying on multiple, hybrid and cross-cutting generators (social networks, education, gender, age, ethnicity), rather on traditional class stratification structures. Moreover, contemporary inequality is expression of heterogeneous individual chances in a “capability perspective” (Sen, 1973, 1999), considering the different individual access to the fulfillment of adequate levels of functionings, resources and choices toward individual well being and doing. Realizing a proper methodological operative definition (Marradi, 1980, 1988) of such concepts, is not an easy task for the researcher who is often limited in her/his efforts by the difficulties in adapting and combining the often few existing standard variables to become adequate proxy of the aforementioned properties of contemporary inequality. Indeed, frequently researchers have to relate to standard variables like gender, age, income, education or ethnicity to recreate proxies and indicators of the concepts, but not always the definitions administratively foreseen in official surveys are the ones the researchers would use. Even a standard “class” variable, like income, is not always adequately gathered to observe the real extent of personal economic dimension in term of social stratification. For instance, economic inequality assumes different perspectives if income is conceived individually or as equivalised income disposable for each member of the household (Breen, 2007).
Lastly, applying classifications and operative definitions especially in a cross national dimension is even more complex when shifting from economic dimension to status perspective, not only because it becomes more relevant the individual perception of own or other people’ status (re-proposing the limited heuristic relevance of “class” as a “paper” concept defined by the researcher, Bourdieu, 1987), but because status definition, especially for occupational ranking and prestige, involves also different cultural national perspective. To such purpose the paper will explore also the comparative use of different interational status and prestige scales, like SIOPS or ISEI (Ganzeboom, De Graaf, Treiman, 1992, 1995; Ganzeboom, Treiman, 1996, 2003), or the CAMSIS Cambridge Social Interaction and Stratification Scale, which explores different disposable versions at country level.

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