Social Change and the Experience of Unemployment

By Duncan Gallie; Catherine Marsh et al. | Go to book overview

3
Unemployment in Work Histories

JONATHAN GERSHUNY AND CATHERINE MARSH


1. INTRODUCTION

The Stratification of Unemployment

There are two possible views of the social distribution of unemployment. In the first there is an unemployment 'underclass', made up of those who experience repeated periods of unemployment, starting from their first entry to the work-force, and spanning the whole of their working lives. The Social Change and Economic Life Initiative (SCELI) surveys do not suggest the existence of a substantial group of people who fall into this category. (The nature of our sampling frame, however, excludes the homeless and destitute.) In the second view, there is not an unemployment 'class', but simply a differential proneness to unemployment across the adult population. Unemployment, in this second view, is just one aspect of a broader process of stratification, systematically related to other aspects of people's economic positions--the higher the status in the occupational hierarchy, the less the susceptibility to unemployment. In our data we find strong evidence of this sort of stratification, at least for the historical period covered by our survey. We find, indeed, a substantial growth in the social stratification of unemployment.

The process of stratification works through a pair of linked mechanisms: the effect of the economic characteristics of the individuals' household of origin on the subsequent trajectory of economic positions, and the effect that economic position in turn has on proneness to unemployment. We see that people whose parents' jobs are relatively low in status and badly paid, and who have low levels of education, themselves take relatively low-

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