Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Thoughts around social class: Addendum Part I

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Re-reading Thoughts around social class: Part I, I notice two (or three) points that benefit from expansion:

Firstly, I discussed socio-economic status just in terms of income and education, forgetting that profession/job/whatnot is normally a separate third leg.* I suspect that this third leg is not that important to my discussion, having less practical potential effects and, indeed, being more a matter of status for most people (after adjusting for income and education as separate factors). However, for the sake of completeness, this third leg goes the same way as the other two in my anecdotal examples: Contrasting me and my sister, I worked in various qualified positions in software development, including several variations of developer** (often as “senior”), architect, business analyst, and consultant, while she has spent a significant part of her life unemployed and (if I understood my step-father correctly) has finally found work as a personal-care assistant—with the same parents, we differ considerably on all three legs. My father’s mother was a nurse***, while my mother’s mother was some type of hospital orderly, which puts them in the approximate same area of work, but at different levels of competence, of status, and in the hierarchy; my father’s father was a teacher**** and even substitute principal, while my mother’s father was an ambulance driver*****—with parents differing on all three legs, my parents landed on roughly the same level.

*Which is not to say that these three legs are necessarily a universal definition. The concept is inherently ambiguous.

**There is a lot of title confusion in the world of IT, so take the title with a grain of salt. For instance, I once, switching employers, went from being a “software engineer” to being a “software developer”, with virtually no change in my actual work.

***Due to the difference in country and time, I am uncertain how her role compared in detail to that of a modern nurse with a certain qualification, e.g. a U.S. “registered nurse”. However, she had the title (“sjuksköterska”) and the formal education of the day to go with it. Also: Bear in mind that the career paths available to women of her (born 1914) generation were more restricted than today, implying that being a nurse was close to the ceiling for a woman in medicine. (Whereas a nurse of either sex, today, is implicitly someone short of being a physician.)

****Here too, the profession was more prestigious than today, albeit for other reasons than with women and nursing.

*****Had he been working today, he would probably have been qualified and classified as some type of EMT; however, in my understanding, these roles were not very developed at the time and the actual “loading” of patients and driving of the ambulance were the core tasks. It should be added, however, that he was active both with the Salvation Army and some type of union work (I am unaware of the details), appears to have been highly regarded in both roles, and might have scored well on a “fourth leg”.

Secondly, in my excursion on children, I discuss the degree of assistance that is appropriate. The topic of education is not relevant to that discussion; however, without mentioning education, the text is potentially misleading: An important overall theme is a reasonable degree of equality of opportunity and a high degree of social mobility. A wide availability of reasonably priced and reasonably high-quality education is vital to this—anyone with the right brain* should be able to get whatever level of education he desires. This could require additional measures, e.g. free or cheap state** schools of various kind, subsidized student loans, encouragement of scholarships, and similar.***

*This is an important restriction: Common ideas like that everyone needs more education, that anyone with the right degree can do the job well, that it is college that creates the great mind, whatnot are highly misguided. It would be in the best interest of both society and the individual to reduce the college-going proportion of the population, restore the quality of the education, and make a diploma the type of proof of ability that it should be. Similarly, chances are that e.g. the “no child left behind” attitude has done more harm than good to the overall school system, trying to force an impossible improvement on the untalented and reducing opportunities for the talented in the process.

**Private institutions must be allowed to set their own prices and admission criteria. This will cause some remaining inequality of opportunity, e.g. in that the rich can afford to pay for Harvard and the poor cannot. Still, this is far less negative than a situation in which only the rich can afford college at all. (And must be put in relation to the rights of the private colleges and the people behind it.) Further, without the right brain, money is not enough. (Of course, a high-reputation college that admits and graduates students mostly based on money is not inconceivable—but how long would its reputation remain high?)

***Assuming that we work within something resembling the current system. I am very open to changes, and like to note that education already is available at a low cost even in the U.S.—the diploma is the expensive part… Some restriction on type of education might be sensible, e.g. in that studies for professional qualification are subsidized, whereas other studies are not, seeing that the former (a) are more important for equality of opportunity, (b) bring more value to society; while the latter is more of a personal satisfaction/development/whatnot issue. The latter does not require a diploma and can be taken care of outside of college. Indeed, my own “extra-mural” studies would easily cover a (sufficiently tailored) B.A. in “liberal arts”/“general studies”. (However, more detailed thought on the restrictions might be necessary, both with an eye on those who target an academic career and the difficulty of judging what education has what benefit. For instance, I have heard claimed that English is a better major than journalism for those who want to be journalists, despite the difference in professional orientation.)

Thirdly, parenthetically, a more explicit comparison between my parents might be beneficial. However, due to the great differences in choices and developments, going beyond “roughly the same level” is tricky. The one is an orange and the other an apple—but neither one is a grape or a melon.

Excursion on the changing status of professions:
Re-reading the early footnotes, I am struck with the change of status of professions (over-lapping with one sub-topic I intend to include later). My aforementioned move from “software engineer” to “software developer” is coincidental in this regard, but it does illustrate an on-going devaluation of software development: With the great need for developers, too many incompetents have been let in, and the idea of a software engineer seems to have gone down the drain, be it with regard to status, qualifications, or approach. Following current trends, I would not be surprised to see the profession move to a similarly low status position as teaching within one or two decades—this especially as teaching still tends to be a regulated profession, while software development is not. (The other way around would have been better…)

Remark on the rest of this series:
I suspect that there will be some delay with the remaining parts, because I have problems finding a reasonable structure for what I want to say—to the point that I cannot even tell whether there will be two, three, or four parts in all…

Written by michaeleriksson

October 23, 2018 at 5:14 am

One Response

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  1. […] number of points-to-be-expanded have been removed. The previous installments include at least [1], [2], [3]. Further texts might or might not be added (“Hornblower”, probably; the removed […]

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