Approximated Social Grade (ASG) was allocated to all usual residents in a household with a Household Reference Person (HRP) aged 16 to 64 years (46.7 million, 79.8% of all usual residents in households).
The grades calculated from census data include higher and intermediate managerial, administrative and professional occupations (AB), supervisory, clerical and junior managerial, administrative and professional occupations (C1), skilled manual occupations (C2), and semi-skilled and unskilled manual and lowest grade occupations (DE).
Census 2021 data showed that "C1" supervisory, clerical and junior occupations was the most common ASG for England and Wales, at 32.8% of all usual residents in households with HRPs aged 16 to 64 years (15.3 million people).
In England, 23.5% of people were classed as the highest social grade, "AB", compared with Wales at 19.6%.
The regions with the largest percentages of people classed as the highest social grade, "AB", were London (28.4%) and the South East (28.2%), whereas the North East (18.3%) and Yorkshire and The Humber (19.4%) had the lowest proportions.
The age groups in England and Wales with the largest proportions of the highest social grade, "AB", were aged 35 to 44 years (27.5% for females, 28.2% for males) and 45 to 55 years (24.4% for females, 25.8% for males).
Across England and Wales, people who identified in the "White: Irish" ethnic group category had the largest proportions of the highest social grade, "AB", (36.9%) and the smallest proportion of the lowest social grade, "DE", (13.7%) out of all the ethnic groups.
A person's age on Census Day, 21 March 2021, in England and Wales. Infants aged under one year are classified as zero years of age.
Approximated Social Grade
This is a socio-economic classification used by the market research and marketing industries to analyse spending habits and consumer attitudes. It is not possible to assign social grade precisely from Census 2021, although the Market Research Society's method provides a good approximation.
The ethnic group that the person completing the census feels they belong to. This could be based on their culture, family background, identity or physical appearance.
Respondents could choose one out of 19 tick-box response categories, including write-in response options.
People aged 16 years and over are economically active if, between 15 March and 21 March 2021, they were:
in employment (an employee or self-employed)
unemployed, but looking for work and could start within two weeks
unemployed, but waiting to start a job that had been offered and accepted
It is a measure of whether or not a person was an active participant in the labour market during this period. Economically inactive people are those aged 16 years and over who did not have a job between 15 March to 21 March 2021 and had not looked for work between 22 February to 21 March 2021 or could not start work within two weeks.
The census definition differs from the International Labour Organization definition used on the Labour Force Survey, so estimates are not directly comparable.
This classification splits out full-time students from those who are not full-time students when they are employed or unemployed. It is recommended to sum these together to look at all of those in employment or unemployed, or to use the four category labour market classification, if you want to look at all those with a particular labour market status.
Highest level of qualification
The highest level of qualification is derived from the question asking people to indicate all qualifications held, or their nearest equivalent. This may include foreign qualifications where they were matched to the closest UK equivalent.
A household is defined as:
one person living alone
a group of people (not necessarily related) living at the same address who share cooking facilities and share a living room, sitting room, or dining area
all sheltered accommodation units in an establishment (irrespective of whether there are other communal facilities)
all people living in caravans on any type of site that is their usual residence; this will include anyone who has no other usual residence elsewhere in the UK
A household must contain at least one person whose place of usual residence is at the address. A group of short-term residents living together is not classified as a household, and neither is a group of people at an address where only visitors are staying.
Household Reference Person
A person who serves as a reference point, mainly based on economic activity, to characterise a whole household.
National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NS-SEC)
The NS-SEC indicates a person's socio-economic position based on their occupation and other job characteristics.
It is an Office for National Statistics standard classification. NS-SEC categories are assigned based on a person's occupation, whether employed, self-employed, or supervising other employees.
Full-time students are recorded in the "full-time students" category regardless of whether they are economically active.
Classifies what people aged 16 years and over do as their main job. Their job title or details of activities they do in their job and any supervisory or management responsibilities form this classification. This information is used to code responses to an occupation using the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) 2020.
It classifies people who were in employment between 15 March and 21 March 2021, by the SOC code that represents their current occupation. The lowest level of detail available is the four-digit SOC code which includes all codes in three, two, and one digit SOC code levels.
Whether a household owns or rents the accommodation that it occupies.
Owner-occupied accommodation can be:
owned outright, in which the household owns all of the accommodation
owned with a mortgage or loan
part-owned on a shared ownership scheme
Rented accommodation can be:
private rented, for example, rented through a private landlord or letting agent
social rented through a local council or housing association
This information is not available for household spaces with no usual residents.
A usual resident is anyone who, on Census Day, 21 March 2021, was in the UK and had stayed or intended to stay in the UK for a period of 12 months or more or had a permanent UK address and was outside the UK and intended to be outside the UK for less than 12 months.Back to table of contents
The census provides estimates of the characteristics of all people and households in England and Wales on Census Day, 21 March 2021. It is carried out every 10 years and gives us the most accurate estimate of all the people and households in England and Wales.
Labour market data mainly refer to respondents' activity in the last seven days; this refers to 15 to 21 March 2021. In the unemployment and economically inactive groups, the four weeks a person has been looking for a job are from 21 February to 21 March 2021, and they must be able to start a job in the next two weeks, 21 March to 4 April 2021.
We are responsible for carrying out the census in England and Wales but will also release outputs for the UK in partnership with the Welsh Government, the National Records of Scotland (NRS) and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). The census in Northern Ireland was also conducted on 21 March 2021, whereas Scotland's census was moved to 20 March 2022. All UK census offices are working closely together to understand how this difference in reference dates will impact UK-wide population and housing statistics, in terms of both timing and scope.
The person response rate is the number of usual residents for whom individual details were provided on a returned questionnaire, divided by the estimated usual resident population.
The person response rate for Census 2021 was 97% of the usual resident population of England and Wales, and over 88% in all local authorities. The majority of returns (89%) were received online. The response rate exceeded our target of 94% overall and 80% in all local authorities.
Read more about person and question-specific response rates at local authority level in our Measures showing the quality of Census 2021 estimates methodology.
Comparing Approximated Social Grade (ASG) and National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NS-SEC)
Some differences in classification of socio-economic status for ASG and NS-SEC will be attributed to the difference in population, as ASG does not allocate a social grade for Household Reference Persons (HRPs) aged 65 years and over. Additionally, NS-SEC is solely based on the HRP's occupation, whereas ASG uses additional indicators of affluence, such as the HRP's highest level of qualification, car ownership, and tenure.
NS-SEC has a standardised method based on the Census 2021 questions related to occupation, economic activity, and employee relations (whether the respondent is classed as an employee, employer or self-employed). ASG uses advanced analytics techniques to identify which census variables, including those of NS-SEC, to best predict social grade for the working and non-working population in 2021.
For more information on how NS-SEC is classified, see our NS-SEC methodology.Back to table of contents
Comparability with the 2011 Census model
Approximated Social Grade (ASG) is broadly comparable between 2011 and 2021. The classification categories remain the same as 2011; however, the 2021 model was created using different algorithms and variables. In 2011, the census model was built using Chi-square Automatic Interaction Detection (CHAID) decision tree analysis. An improved methodological approach was adopted in 2021 using a newer, high-performance, Extreme Gradient Boosting (XGBoost) algorithm. XGBoost is also based on decision tree learning but can better cope with more complex decisions for smaller subgroups of Census respondents.
Other advanced analytics techniques were first used for selecting the best predictors of social grade and the most important variables were then included in the XGBoost model. More information on the 2011 and 2021 models can be found on the MRS social grade webpage.
Limitations of using census data to estimate Social Grade
Census 2021 was not designed to directly measure Social Grade, as this requires more comprehensive survey questions, typically carried out by a market research interviewer. Census data cannot use the more detailed six-way classification of Social Grade (A, B, C1, D, E), as it cannot differentiate between A and B, or D and E social classes with enough certainty. Therefore, this data is more useful to distinguish between middle- and working-class individuals across England and Wales, than to specify sub-groups, for example, those who are or were in professional occupations (belonging to category A) or unemployed (belonging to category E).
Retired people cannot be classified with as much certainty using Census 2021 data compared with social grading of other data sources. ASG may underestimate the grade of retired people, as it is based on their most recent occupation that they receive a pension from, rather than their past occupation with the highest grade. ASG uses a different model for retired people to overcome this, however this did not have enough accuracy for HRPs aged 65 years and over. Therefore, Household Reference Persons (HRPs) of retirement age (65 years and over) were not allocated a social grade and usual residents in households only receive a social grade if their HRP is aged 16 to 64 years.
Assigning the social grade of the HRP to the whole household has limitations. It is unlikely that all usual residents in multi-family or multi-generational households will have an identical social grade. For instance, students living with young professionals or working adults living with retired people. Therefore, ASG is a household estimate that does not predict an individual's social or financial circumstances.
Labour market quality information
Census 2021 took place during a period of rapid change. We gave extra guidance to help people on furlough answer the census questions about work. However, we are unable to determine how furloughed people followed the guidance. Take care when using these data for planning purposes. Read more about specific quality considerations in our Labour market quality information for Census 2021 methodology.
Standard Occupational Classification (SOC)
Census 2021 data were classified using the 2020 update of the SOC, while 2011 Census used the 2010 version. These two classifications are not directly comparable because of changes in the way many occupations were classified. More information is found in our SOC 2020 user guide.
Quality considerations, along with the strengths and limitations of Census 2021 more generally, can be found in our Quality and Methodology Information (QMI) for Census 2021.
Further information on our quality assurance processes is provided in our Maximising the quality of Census 2021 population estimates methodology.Back to table of contents
We are currently transforming population statistics. As part of this work, we're exploring how we might use administrative and other sources of data to estimate future population characteristics, such as social grade. Find out more about our proposed transformation of population and migration statistics and how you can take part in the consultation on our proposal in our Get involved web page.
One of the main objectives of this consultation is to understand user needs and their importance so that we can prioritise our research plans in the future. We are keen to hear people's views on our ambitious proposals for the transformation of our population and migration statistics. The consultation is open to anyone who uses the Office for National Statistics's (ONS's) data. This could include experienced users or those who are looking to use our data for the first time.Back to table of contents
Office for National Statistics (ONS), released 17 August 2023, ONS website, statistical bulletin, Approximated Social Grade, England and Wales: Census 2021
Contact details for this Statistical bulletin
Telephone: +44 1329 444972