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A Position with a View: Educational Status and the Construction of the Occupational Hierarchy


American Sociological Review

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The differentiation of occupations is of central concern to stratification scholars studying class and mobility, yet little is known about how individuals actually see the occupational landscape. Sociologists have long collected data on individual perceptions of where occupations stand relative to one another, but these data are rarely used to study the logics that individuals employ when categorizing occupations. Using the 1989 GSS occupational prestige module, we investigate how cognitive maps of the occupational hierarchy vary in terms of content and structure. The results show that maps are more homogeneous among individuals with more versus less education. This increased consensus arises, in part, because better educated respondents are more likely to set aside training-intensive occupations as a relatively elite set of occupations at the top of the hierarchy. In contrast, less educated respondents generate more gradational classification systems that are significantly less sensitive to training intensiveness as a basis for categorical distinction. This study contributes to our empirical knowledge of valuation and raises new questions about how individuals organize and navigate social structures.