Social Class Variation in Risk: A Comparative Analysis of the Dynamics of Economic Vulnerability

Christopher Whelan, Bertrand Maitre

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    23 Citations (Scopus)


    A joint concern with multidimensionality and dynamics is a defining feature of the pervasive use of the terminology of social exclusion in the European Union. The notion of social exclusion focuses attention on economic vulnerability in the sense of exposure to risk and uncertainty. Sociological concern with these issues has been associated with the thesis that risk and uncertainty have become more pervasive and extend substantially beyond the working class. This paper combines features of recent approaches to statistical modelling of poverty dynamics and multidimensional deprivation in order to develop our understanding of the dynamics of economic vulnerability. An analysis involving nine countries and covering the first five waves of the European Community Household Panel shows that, across nations and time, it is possible to identify an economically vulnerable class. This class is characterized by heightened risk of falling below a critical resource level, exposure to material deprivation and experience of subjective economic stress. Cross-national differentials in persistence of vulnerability are wider than in the case of income poverty and less affected by measurement error. Economic vulnerability profiles vary across welfare regimes in a manner broadly consistent with our expectations. Variation in the impact of social class within and across countries provides no support for the argument that its role in structuring such risk has become much less important. Our findings suggest that it is possible to accept the importance of the emergence of new forms of social risk and acknowledge the significance of efforts to develop welfare states policies involving a shift of opportunities and decision making on to individuals without accepting the 'death of social class' thesis.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)637-659
    Number of pages23
    JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
    Issue number4
    Early online date25 Nov 2008
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2008

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science


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