Social class is a systems of ranking in which people are stratified on the basis of economic and social factors. It is determined by an individual’s occupation, income, education, and wealth. In capitalist societies, people are typically divided into upper, middle, and working classes. There is also a fourth category, known as the underclass, which consists of people who are unemployed or live in poverty.
The effects of social class on life chances have been widely researched and there is a general consensus that those in higher classes enjoy better life outcomes than those in lower classes. This is due to a number of factors, such as access to higher quality education and healthcare, as well as greater security and longevity.
However, it is important to note that social class is not static. Individuals can move up or down the class ladder over the course of their lifetime, depending on their achievements and circumstances. For instance, someone from a working-class background who gets a good education and earns a high income can become middle class. Conversely, someone from a middle-class background who loses their job and suffers from financial hardship can become working class.
It is also important to note that social class is not just about economic factors. It also includes cultural factors such as lifestyle, taste, and values. For instance, someone from a working-class background who adopts middle-class values and lifestyle (e.g., they start eating organic food and going to the theatre) would be considered “aspirational”.
2. Theoretical approach: functionalism
Functionalism is a theoretical approach that sees society as being like a human body. Just as the different parts of the body (e.g., the heart, lungs, etc.) work together to keep the body functioning properly, so too do the different institutions in society (e.g., the family, the education system, etc.) work together to keep society functioning properly.
According to functionalists, social inequality is necessary for society to function properly. They see it as motivating people to strive for success and preventing them from becoming lazy or complacent. In other words, social inequality provides the “ carrot and stick ” that motivates people to achieve their best.
3. Theoretical approach: Marxism
Marxism is a theoretical approach that sees society as being divided into two classes: the bourgeoisie (the rich) and the proletariat (the poor). The bourgeoisie own the means of production (e.g., factories), while the proletariat work in them for low wages.
Marxists believe that the bourgeoisie exploit the proletariat by paying them low wages while pocketing the profits. They also believe that social inequality is perpetuated by the education system, which they see as teaching children to accept their place in society.
4. Theoretical approach: post-structuralism
Post-structuralism is a theoretical approach that challenges traditional ideas about social class. It sees social class as being fluid rather than fixed. This means that individuals can move up or down the class ladder over the course of their lifetime.
Post-structuralists also challenge traditional ideas about poverty. They see it as being relative rather than absolute. This means that what one person considers to be poverty may not be considered as such by someone else.
5. Empirical evidence: United Kingdom
There is a wealth of empirical evidence to support the idea that social class affects life chances. In the UK, for instance, those from lower social classes are more likely to experience poverty and poor health. They are also more likely to be unemployed and to have shorter lifespans.
Those from higher social classes, on the other hand, are more likely to experience good health and to have longer lifespans. They are also more likely to be employed and to earn higher incomes.
6. Empirical evidence: United States of America
The effects of social class on life chances are also evident in the USA. A study by the Pew Research Center found that those from lower social classes were more likely to experience poverty and poor health. They were also more likely to have less education and to be unemployed.
Those from higher social classes, on the other hand, were more likely to experience good health and to have higher levels of education. They were also more likely to be employed and to earn higher incomes.
In conclusion, there is a wealth of evidence to support the idea that social class affects life chances. Those from lower social classes are more likely to experience poverty and poor health, while those from higher social classes are more likely to enjoy good health and longer lifespans.