class theory is dead: season 6, episode 4

The January AJS has an article called “Microclass Mobility: Social Reproduction in Four Countries” by Jonsson, Grusky, DiCarlo, Pollak and Brinton. I call it “Buffy stakes another undead servant of Marx.” Allow me to explain…

If you aren’t familiar with recent debates in stratification research, a key issue is whether there really is such a thing as “big class” (e.g., the manual laborers) or if it really determines a lot about your life course. One alternative, pushed by many folks, is that industrial society is actually about sorting into occupations. The Jonsson et al. article is another shot in this war and they come out strongly in favor of occupational sorting as the prime mechanism behind the intergenerational transmission of inequality. They call it “micro-class.”

A clip from the abstract best summarizes the issue: “In new analyses of nationally representative data from the United States, Sweden, Germany, and Japan, the authors show that (a) occupations are an important conduit for social reproduction, (b) the most extreme rigidities in the mobility regime are only revealed when analyses are carried out at the occupational level, and (c) much of what shows up as big‐class reproduction in conventional mobility analyses is in fact occupational reproduction in disguise.”

It’s a nifty article, and it’s essentially a series of cross tabulations and log-linear models showing that much of inter-generational mobility is better described as occupation-occupation mobility. They call it “disguised” – if you look at only big classes, you miss important stuff, but if you break it down by small categories of people (occupations) you see “pockets” of non-mobility that dominate big class analyses. A more quant jock way to say is “mixture model” – there seem to be multiple processes happening to different populations, a direct refutation of the classical Marxist view.

The article also has a nice summary (lit review?) of how we think people generate advanatge to their kids and the digrams are winners. Methods wise, I also like how they were able to tease out some nice cross-national comparisons, yet reinforce the bottom line. Recommended.

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