The Journal of Social Psychology, 1986, 126(2), 261-262.



School of Social Studies, South Australian Institute of Technology


School of Sociology, University of New South Wales

LIPSET (1960) PROPOSED that the working class tended to be authoritarian in their social attitudes. Support for this proposition has been largely confined to studies employing the F Scale, a measure widely regarded as outdated and lacking in validity (Altmeyer, 1981). Another problem is Lipset's apparent assumption of cross-cultural uniformity.

A modern alternative to the F Scale as a measure of authoritarian attitudes, Rigby's (1982) General Attitude towards Institutional Authority Scale (GAIAS), has recently been developed to assess degrees of approval or disapproval of institutions notable for the exercise of authority such as the police, the army, the law, and the teaching professions. The scale's validity and internal consistency have received extensive confirmation (Rigby, 1984a); it has also been shown to be sensitive to cross-cultural differences in attitudes to authority (Rigby, 1984b; Rump, Rigby, & Waters, 1985).

In a previous study (Ray & Furnham, 1984) using the 16-item version of the GAIAS with a sample of 96 subjects in Southeast England, a correlation of -.311 (p < .05) was found between the GAIAS and occupational status (coded as 1 = manual, 2 = nonmanual). That study provided some support for the Lipset (1960) hypothesis. However, in a comparable study conducted in Australia (Ray & Lovejoy, 1983) with a sample of 102, the corresponding correlation was .188 (n.s.). The difference between these correlation coefficients was significant, z = 3.55, suggesting that the cross-cultural relationship between social class and occupation may vary. This possibility was examined using three further samples in Australia.

Sample 1 was obtained in the city of Sydney, New South Wales, and consisted of a random cluster sample of 100 people interviewed on their doorsteps by an experienced interviewer. Sample 2, gathered in the city of Adelaide, South Australia, consisted of 289 respondents to a questionnaire posted to 1000 people whose names and addresses were drawn randomly from the registered voter lists. Sample 3 also consisted of Adelaide respondents (N = 385), constituting a convenience sample interviewed by social work students. All the respondents completed the GAIAS and provided information about their occupations.

The reliability of the GAIAS, as indicated by coefficient alpha, was adequate for each sample: .87 (Sample 1), .77 (Sample 2) and .84 (Sample 3). Correlations between the GAIAS and occupational status were: Sample 1, .022 (n.s.); Sample 2, .174 (p < .05); Sample 3, .091 (n.s.). The correlations did not differ significantly from each other at the .05 level or from the correlation of .188 obtained in a previous Australian study (Ray & Lovejoy, 1983). However, each of the correlations differed significantly (and in the same direction) from the reported correlation of -.311 for the British study (Ray & Furnham, 1984): For sample 1, z = 2.37 (p < .05); for sample 2, z = 4.17 (p < .001); for sample 3, z = 3.57 (p < .001) . Thus support for the Lipset (1960) hypothesis using the GAIAS was confined to the British sample. The relationship between occupational status and attitude to authority obtained in Britain differed significantly from that in Australian studies, and was consistently opposite in direction. The relationship proposed by Lipset clearly lacks generality, and appears to vary cross-culturally.


Altmeyer, R. A. (1981). Right-wing authoritarianism. Winnepeg, Canada: University of Manitoba Press.

Lipset, S. M. (1960). Political man. New York: Doubleday.

Ray, J.J. & Furnham, A. (1984) Authoritarianism, conservatism and racism. Ethnic & Racial Studies 7, 406-412.

Ray, J.J. & Lovejoy, F.H. (1983). The behavioral validity of some recent measures of authoritarianism. Journal of Social Psychology, 120, 91-99.

Rigby, K. (1982). A concise scale for the assessment of attitudes towards institutional authority. Australian Journal of Psychology, 34, 195-204.

Rigby, K. (1984a). Acceptance of authority and directiveness as indicators of authoritarianism: A new framework. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 171-180.

Rigby, K. (1984b). The attitudes of English and Australian college students towards institutional authority. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 41-48.

Rump, E. E., Rigby, K., & Waters, L. K. (1985). The generality of attitudes toward authority: Cross-cultural comparisons. Journal of Social Psychology, 125, 307312.

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