How Standardized is Occupational Coding? A Comparison of Results from Different Coding Agencies in Germany

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Abstract

As occupational data play a crucial part in many social and economic analyses, information on the reliability of these data and, in particular on the role of coding agencies, is important. Based on our review of previous research, we develop four hypotheses, which we test using occupation-coded data from the German General Social Survey and the field test data from the German Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. Because the same data were coded by several agencies, their coding results could be directly compared. As the surveys used different instruments, and interviewer training differed, the effects of these factors could also be evaluated.

Our main findings are: the percentage of uncodeable responses is low (1.8–4.9%) but what is classified as “uncodeable” varies between coding agencies. Inter-agency coding reliability is relatively low κ ca. 0.5 at four-digit level, and codings sometimes differ systematically between agencies. The reliability of derived status scores is satisfactory (0.82–0.90). The previously reported negative relationship between answer length and coding reliability could be replicated and effects of interviewer training demonstrated. Finally, we discuss the importance of establishing common coding rules and present recommendations to overcome some of the problems in occupation coding.

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