Friday, September 30, 2016

Two roads diverged

I'm taking a break from contemporary affairs in order to follow up on an obscure post from the early days of this blog.  In 1951, a Gallup poll asked "Which of these two jobs would you personally prefer a son of yours to take--assuming he is equally qualified:  a skilled laborer's job at $100 a week or a white-collar desk job at $75 a week?"  and a parallel question about preference between "a college professor's job at $4,000 a year or a factory foreman's job at $6,000 a year?" 66% chose the laborer's job over the white-collar deck job, and 56% chose a foreman over the professor.

What factors influenced the choice?  Two obvious possibilities are education and one's own job.  People might like their sons (or hypothetical sons) to do what they had done, so more educated people would tend to favor the jobs that required more education, and people would tend to prefer jobs that were similar to their own.  Both of those turned out to be true.  Here is a comparison by occupation, showing the percentage favoring the white-collar job for each pair.

                       Desk Job     Professor
Professional            45%           63%
Farmer                  23%           30%
Business                38%           39%
White Collar            47%           58%
Blue Collar             26%           36%
Service                 28%           32%

Another obvious possibility is income, although I'm not sure about what to expect, but Gallup didn't ask about it then.  There were no clear differences by race or gender, but there was a difference by the size of the community:  the larger the town, the more likely people were to prefer the white collar job.

                       Desk Job       Professor
under 2,500              26%            34%
2,500-10,000             28%            44%
10,000-100,000           35%            42%
100,000-500,000          34%            42%
over 500,000             39%            51% 

The difference by size of town remained statistically significant even after controlling for education and income.  As for why, my thought is that people who lived in larger places might have wider frames of reference--they would be aware of a wider range of careers and occupations--and would tend to think about prospects for advancement rather than just the immediate pay difference.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

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