Counting the Working Class for WorkingClass Studies: Comparing Three OccupationBased Definitions


  • Colby King



Working class, occupations, industries, quantitative analysis, definitions, identification, new economy, labor market


A wide variety of definitions of the working class are in use across disciplines and even within working-class studies (Cohen 2001; Zweig 2001; Metzgar 2003; Wilson 2016; Wilson and Roscigno 2018). Responding to Zweig’s (2016) call to maintain continuity in thinking about the working class in working-class studies by recognizing that ‘the working class continues to exist in capitalist societies, within capitalist class dynamics, in which the organization of production underlies material, cultural, and political experience’ (14), I delineate several definitions of the working class and take a close look at three operationalizations of the working class by occupational aggregations, one each suggested by Metzgar (2003) and Cohen (2001) and one I define, inspired by Florida (2002). Using 2017 American Community Survey data, I compare the demographics and geography of the working class through each of these definitions. I illustrate that by many definitions, the working class is a broad and diverse group of workers who live and work in rural, urban, and suburban places, while inequalities both within the working class and between it and other social classes remain pressing issues for investigation. This paper provides a guide for understanding definitions of the working class that will be useful for working-class studies scholars from all disciplines, regardless of methodologies.