The Effects of Social Class on Life Chances

1. Introduction

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.

7. Conclusion

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.

Frequently Asked Questions


How does an individual's ascribed social class position at birth affect their life chances?

An individual's ascribed social class position at birth can affect their life chances in a number of ways. For instance, individuals who are born into higher social classes tend to have greater access to resources and opportunities, which can give them a leg up in achieving success later in life. Additionally, those who are born into lower social classes may face more challenges and obstacles throughout their lives, such as limited access to education or employment opportunities.

What are some of the factors that contribute to an individual's ascribed social class position?

There are a variety of factors that contribute to an individual's ascribed social class position. Some of these include one's family background, race/ethnicity, and gender. Individuals who come from wealthier families or belong to certain racial/ethnic groups tend to be assigned to higher social classes, while those from poorer families or minority groups are typically assigned to lower social classes.

How might an individual's ascribed social class position impact their access to education, employment, and other opportunities?

An individual's ascribed social class position can impact their access to education, employment, and other opportunities in a number of ways. For example, individuals from higher social classes may have greater access to resources that can help them succeed in school or land a good job. Additionally, those from lower social classes may find it more difficult to obtain the same level of education or employment due to structural barriers such as poverty or discrimination.

What are some of the ways in which an individual's ascribed social class position can shape their life experiences?

An individual's ascribed social class position can shape their life experiences in a number of ways. Those from higher social classes may enjoy greater levels of comfort and privilege, while those from lower social classes may experience more hardship and struggle. Additionally, individuals' life experiences may be shaped by the way they are treated by others based on theirsocial class status; for instance, those from upper-class backgrounds may receive preferential treatment while those from lower-class backgrounds may be subjected to prejudice and discrimination.

Are there any benefits to belonging to a particular social class?

There can be both positive and negative aspects to belonging to a particular social class. On the one hand, individuals from higher social classes may enjoy greater levels of privilege and opportunity. On the other hand, those from lower social classes may face more challenges and obstacles in life. Additionally, social class can also impact one's sense of identity and self-worth; for instance, individuals who come from upper-class backgrounds may feel a sense of entitlement or superiority, while those from lower-class backgrounds may feel inferior or unworthy.

Does everyone have equal opportunity regardless of their ascribed social class position?

While everyone does have the potential to achieve success regardless of their ascribed social class position, it is important to acknowledge that there are structural barriers in place that make it easier for some people to succeed than others. Individuals who are born into higher social classes tend to have greater access to resources and opportunities, which gives them an advantage over those from lower social classes. Additionally, even if an individual from a lower social class is able to overcome the obstacles they face and achieve success, they will likely still experience discrimination and prejudice based on their social class status.


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