The Occupation Test

Print this list of occupations or copy them onto a sheet of paper.  Put a check mark next to each profession in which you know someone well enough to talk to, even if you are not close to him or her. Indicate whether that person is a relative (R), friend (F), or consequential stranger (CS). Then scroll down to see what it all means and how your answers compare to national samples.
administrative assistant 
baby sitter
computer programmer
factory operator
middle school teacher 
personnel manager 
police officer 
production manager 
security guard 
taxi driver


What It All Means

The above list was used in a survey of 3,000 employed or previously employed adults, aged 21 to 64, conducted by sociologist Nan Lin who devised the method (and graciously allowed it to be reprinted in the book). Theoretically, the more people you know up and down the occupational ladder, the greater your ability to access information and resources.

Best-known: Nurse–nearly 70% of the respondents knew at least one.

Somewhat well-known: 45% or more respondents listed a hairdresser, lawyer, police officer, computer programmer, or middle school teacher.

Not very well-known: Fewer than 20% knew a taxi driver, CEO, production manager, or a congressperson.

Least known: Hotel bell boy (2.7%)

How diverse is your social convoy?

On the low side (meaning you probably don’t have a very diverse social convoy): Knowing people in five or fewer occupations. Slightly more than 2% of those surveyed didn’t know people in any of the occupations.

Average: Knowing people in six or seven occupations.

Above average:  Around a third knew people in eight or more occupations. No one knew people in all 22 jobs–19 was the upper limit.

What About Your Consequential Strangers?

Sorting your contacts into columns shows how you know those people. Adapting Lin’s method in this way, sociologist Bonnie Erickson found that weaker ties–consequential strangers–”give substantially greater access” to a variety of occupations and therefore to people in different economic classes. In a study of the security industry (using a different and slightly short list), people had relatives in “only about two” occupations, friends in twice to three times as many job categories as relatives, and weak ties in twice as many classes as friends. You’ll probably find that your list is heavy on consequential strangers, too.

9 Responses to “The Occupation Test”

  1. Andrew Says:

    I found the list excellent. It covers a broad range of possibilities in which I am acquainted with someone in more than half the categories.

  2. Chuck Adams Says:

    Hi…..well I just blew away the national norm…….I know someone in all 22 occupations. Then again I’ve lived in this town for 17 years and don’t just sit at home. I’m an extrovert so it probably isn’t fair. Very good reading though…..rather hard to put down once you get started…..


  3. melinblau Says:

    Glad you all liked this. Barbara Green, the New York City bus driver whom I interviewed in the book (Chapter 3) also scored a 22, and I used her as an example of someone who moved up the ladder because her job exposed her, and gave her connections to, to all sorts of people.

  4. bernie hoban Says:

    pretty cool! I knew everyone but a farmer, I knew farmer in the dell but now I only have a dell computer!

  5. melinblau Says:

    I’m not surprised, Bernie, among other reasons, because of the kind of work you do.

  6. Andrea White Says:

    I was very surprised. I knew people in all categories. For someone who is pathologically shy, this is not bad. If we use the definition of stranger we use with the kids: someone who has not been to dinner at the house at least 3 times, a good amount were CS. It doesn’t seem to cover it.

  7. melinblau Says:

    Andy, your definition of a “not-stranger” meets a more rigorous standard than my “consequential stranger” which is anyone who falls in that vast territory along the relationship continuum between complete strangers–people you know nothing about and with whom you have no history–and intimates (close friends and family). Admittedly, that’s a very broad group, and as I explain in the book, there are different types of consequential strangers within that range. Some are closer to the stranger end of the continuum, such as fleeting relationships (an occasional handyman). Some are “anchored” to a particular place (the gym) or activity (golf), And some, whom you spend a lot of time with (co-workers) or are very important to you (mentors), fall much closer to the “intimate” end of the relationship continuum.

    That said, everyone has a different yardstick for intimacy. I remember a friend commenting about how surprised she was to hear her husband refer to an army buddy he served with in Vietnam and whom he now talks to maybe every four years as his “best friend.” Obviously, life-threatening circumstances can create a bonds that would transcend time and frequency of contact, but it’s also possible that his yardstick for intimacy is different from hers. And in your case, I can see setting a stricter standard for “stranger” when talking to children.

  8. Consequential Strangers » Blog Archive » Do You Have Culture Smarts Says:

    […] is my social convoy?  Do you I people up and down the  occupation ladder? To find out, take the Occupation Test.   You’ll see that in national samples, the highest scorers know people in 19 of the 22 […]

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    […] something different to the table–and to each other’s lives.  That’s why the Occupation Test, has a range of jobs, up and down the socio-economic ladder.  As sociologist Bonnie Erickson, […]

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