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Developing a measure of socio-cultural origins for the European Social Survey

Butt, S., Schneider, S. & Heath, A.F. (2016). Developing a measure of socio-cultural origins for the European Social Survey (2016/16). GESIS - Leibniz-Institut für Sozialwissenschaften, ISSN 2364-3773.


A person’s ethnic or socio-cultural background has been shown to be an important predictor of a range of social attitudes and behaviours. Ideally, therefore, we want to capture such information alongside other demographic variables in social surveys. However, gathering information about people’s socio-cultural origins as part of a cross-national survey is complicated, not least because of the need to capture complex variation in national, ethnic and other cultural groupings prevalent across countries: The socio-cultural composition of populations vastly differs across countries. The European Social Survey (ESS), a biannual survey of cross-national attitudes and opinions conducted in over 36 European countries since 2001, in 2014/15 trialled an approach to collecting data on socio-cultural origins based on a measure of respondents’ self-reported ancestry, i.e. family origins or descent. A questionnaire item was developed which involved countries fielding the item using a country -specific showcard and recoding responses into a newly developed European Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ESCEG) to create harmonised variables for comparative analysis. Following a thorough evaluation of the item’s performance it has since been decided to include the ancestry item, with some modifications, as a permanent addition to the ESS core questionnaire from Round 8 (2016/17) onwards. This report summarises findings from the evaluation conducted into the development and performance of the new ancestry item in ESS Round 7 and the recommendations made for the item’s further development and deployment. It also makes some suggestions on how to code derived variables for statistical analysis. The evaluation concluded that the item worked well across ESS countries and generated meaningful data on respondents’ socio-cultural origins. There were no significant problems with implementation reported. However, the evaluation also highlighted a number of ways in which the item could be improved especially as regards adaptation for different countries. These include improved guidance on translation, revisions to the harmonised code-frame, and more consistent treatment of sub-national socio-cultural groups. This evaluation report will be of interest both to researcher’s wishing to carry out substantive analyses using the new ESS ancestry measure and survey methodologists interested in lessons learned for the development of cross-national questionnaires and classifications.

Publication Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Additional Information: Any redistribution or modifications to this paper are not permitted.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
[thumbnail of GESIS-Papers_2016-16.pdf]
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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