Measurement of social position in surveys


FORS Guide Nº 10

How to cite

Tillmann, R. (2020). Measurement of social position in surveys. FORS Guide No. 10, Version 1.0. Lausanne: Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS. doi:10.24449/FG-2020-00010


This guide is addressed to scholars who collect, or simply use, information on social position. It presents the main concepts and schools of thought in the field, addresses the main decisions that have to be taken for the measurement of social position, and gives an overview of the various implementations of the concept in the surveys conducted by FORS.


When constructing a questionnaire, it is important to think about the following main elements:

  • What information is needed to construct the social classifications that the research intends to use? To this end, existing technical documents and questionnaires should be consulted. The minimum information to be collected being past and/or current occupation (or ISCO codes at a disaggregated level, 3 or 4 digits), the type of employment relationship (owners, self-employed, employee), and the number of employees for owners and self-employed.
  • What is the research reference population? In the case of the general population, the questionnaire will include questions about respondent’s last employment status if outside the labour market and/or spouse’s employment (see recommendation 1).
  • What is the unit of measurement and analysis? In the case of the household, information on all household members should be collected.
  • If social mobility plays a role, information on parents and/or on respondents’ social trajectory over the life course should be noted.

When analysing (secondary) data, it may be important to:

  • Use (existing) various social classifications and conduct sensitivity analyses.
  • Avoid, for example, using the level of education and the CSP-CH, since the level of education is included in the construction of the CSP-CH.


Copyright: © the authors 2020. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0)