Ruptures in Hungarian social structure: impacts of consumption, institutions and territorial differences

NKFIA, 2018–2022

Project leader: Imre Kovách 

Aims and background of the research

In the last years, research on social stratification gained new momentum. Researchers tried to argue in favour of the traditional, occupation based models and revitalizing class analysis (Huszár 2013a, b, Róbert 2013, Crompton 2000, 2008) or to find new aspects of social stratification in the context of social integration and disintegration (Atkinson 2010, Savage et al. 2013, Albert et. al 2016, Kovách et al. 2016; Kovách 2017). This research explored that the role of politics, spatial differences and institutions had been underemphasized in studies about social inequalities. The main objective of our research is to understand the role of these factors in social stratification and in creating social inequalities.

First, Although the scholarly debates on inequalities in the western societies gained much attention recently, there is hardly any research available on the Central and European Region. With the recent project we intend to include the Central and Eastern European aspect to this debate.

Second, there is growing empirical evidence that place and locality significantly influences social formations in the Hungarian society (Kovách 2012, Kovách et. al 2016, Csurgó-Megyesi 2016). The latest research directs our attention to the impacts of smaller and special spatial categories and to the interrelation of territorial differences with the inequalities in the institutional settings of the regions.

Third, the role of institutions seems to be equally important: These institutions are the main channels of creating or maintaining inequalities through redistribution, access to healthcare or education (Gerő-Kovách 2015, Csizmadia 2016). In an ageing society, health status becomes a more and more concerning problem. Thus, social inequalities cannot be understood without analysing the health-care system and the access to this system. In our research, we aim to understand, what is the relation between the social-economic status and health limitations and what are the socially and economically vulnerable groups that can be identified with respect to their health limitations?

Fourth, examining the role of the above factors, we should also examine social stratification. To understand the structure of the society we plan to deal with the theoretical task of clarifying the relationship between theories of social stratification, social class and labour market. The theoretically driven research also should be able to explain the differences between the empirical results based on the different approaches. In our research, we see this work as fundamental in understanding the nature of social structure and inequalities.

We emphasize two factors: The role of the labour market and consumption. Both of them have a well-known role in producing inequalities, however their role must be further examined. We aim to understand, in what extent social class can be measured by occupational and labour market characteristics and how the explored inequalities in employment conditions and their perceptions – in terms of working conditions and job satisfaction are related to the class structure and social stratification? Although the role of consumption in social stratification research is evident, we need to deepen our knowledge on the function of cultural and material consumption. Our aim is to study how exclusion from consumption contributes to creating and maintaining inequalities.

As a main ground of our research, we use the Microcensus conducted by the Central Statistical Office in 2016. The Microcensus provides an exceptional opportunity to perform a detailed, in-depth analysis impossible on other existing data.

The Microcensus is simply the largest available nationally representative sample (one million people) on which we are able to examine the questions proposed above. The main questionnaire, which includes many information on social status was supplemented with sub-questionnaires applied on sub samples of 50.000 and 100.000 people. Among these questionnaires, one deals with class status and social stratification and collects the necessary data to examine not only a strict class-scheme but multi-dimensional models of social stratification as well.

Thus, the existing research was not able to exploit the advantages of the sample size, although a large sample is necessary for several reasons:

  • First, to explore the impact of smaller territorial units on social inequalities and social stratification is only possible on a large sample providing enough cases for analysis in each territorial unit.
  • Second, there are processes which, are responsible for the creation of social groups but could not be explored due to the small number of cases, as the processes of non-institutional political and social participation, given types of consumption, or the new types of workfare.
  • Third, the examination of the middle class faced with serious challenges at least in the Hungarian case. Although we have detailed information about the lower strata of the society we do not have such an in-depth information about the lower and upper middle classes or strata. This is also due to the fragmented nature of these strata. There is agreement that Hungarian society has a well-defined upper stratum and lower third but there is no consensus on the nature of the groups between them. Each research has identified several groups of that “middle” which on the practical level also caused the fragmentation of data and a non-satisfying empirical base for further, more detailed analysis.
  • Fourth, the Microcensus includes a new occupational prestige survey. It makes possible to rely on new prestige scale that could be used as a distinct dimension of social stratification.


The novelty of the planned project is that:

  • It includes neglected factors important for creating social inequalities as politics, cultural consumption, institutions and spatial differences.
  • The analysis is based on an exceptionally large sample provided by the Microcensus and applies international and long-term comparison.


It is a multidisciplinary project inviting scientists from a variety of disciplines and approaches to contribute the project.