University and college lecturers retain their place at the top of the tree following a reclassification of social class this week.
They share the rarefied atmosphere with university researchers, who are present either because they are likely to move into an academic job or because they are professional scientists. Doctors, teachers, librarians, social workers and the clergy are also included in the uppermost class.
The new classifications are based on employment status plus the terms and conditions under which people work. The scale discriminates between employers, the self-employed and employees, who are divided by the nature of their job conditions. These include career prospects, the length of notice required, whether employees are paid a salary or wage and whether they are offered a company pension and health insurance.
David Rose, professor of sociology at the University of Essex, who conducted the review, said: "The old classification was based on occupation only and went back to the 1920s. Seventy years on, the manufacturing sector forms a declining part of the economy while the service sector forms an increasing part. Very different jobs are now dominant: coal miners are now less common than shop assistants. The old system was based on manual skills that are no longer a meaningful way of discriminating between occupations."
The new classification is not based on skill but on employment conditions and relations, which Professor Rose says are central to describing the socioeconomic structure of modern societies.
Women have done well out of the review, according to Professor Rose.
"In the uppermost class, the proportion of women has quadrupled to 11 per cent, compared with 14 per cent for men," he said. "However, two thirds of class seven (the lowest working class) are also women. This shows that the archetypal working-class job is not coal miner but cleaner." An eighth class covers the long-term unemployed.
The government uses social class to help explain variations in health and social behaviour, as well as attitudes in society. All government statistics will use the new classifications from 2001.
However market researchers are likely to continue using a separate definition of social class, which divides people mainly according to income. Under this scheme only university professors make it into the top grade A; lecturers and readers are B, and researchers could be either A, B or C1 depending on their exact job definition.