How Social Class Affects Life Chances

Table of Content

In modern western society, individuals seek to obtain the desirable commodities defined by their culture. These commodities include healthcare, education, occupation, holidays, housing, and social activities. However, these commodities are not equally distributed, making the struggle to obtain them challenging. The opportunities an individual has to obtain their fair share of these commodities are referred to as their life chances.

The German sociologist, Max Weber (1864 – 1920), proposed that a person’s life chances are determined by three factors: economic factors, status, and power. According to Weber, having a better economic situation, higher status, and greater power results in better life chances. He also suggested that these three elements do not necessarily align and can be combined to rank individuals within a society. This concept of stratification has been adapted in various ways to measure social class in modern times. An individual’s position on this scale of stratification can have an impact on various aspects of their life.

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Education lies at the core of various forms of social stratification, including the ranking of occupations based on skill level or qualifications by the Registrar General’s scale. Education, like other valuable commodities, is influenced by an individual’s life chances and has a significant impact on many desirable aspects of society. Access to higher education is usually determined by economic factors, as wealth enables the purchase of superior private education and resources essential for academic achievement. The correlation between wealth and social class, which is determined by occupation, becomes evident when statistics consistently demonstrate that students from upper middle class backgrounds attending independent schools have a higher likelihood of being accepted into prestigious universities. Thus, social class profoundly affects educational opportunities.

The level of education an individual achieves often determines the occupation they can attain. Typically, those with university degrees fill Class 1 and 2 occupations. Additionally, a child’s career path is often influenced by their father’s occupation, which also determines their social class. This correlation can be attributed to how social class impacts a child’s education.

In addition, low levels of education can define an individual’s working conditions. Those with limited qualifications may have to accept unfavorable working conditions due to financial constraints. Similarly, individuals from disadvantaged social backgrounds or lower classes who possess fewer qualifications are more likely to experience unemployment.

Employers prioritize specialized skills over low qualifications and are more inclined to make redundant those who lack valuable skills. Occupation plays a central role in an individual’s life as it provides the income that is crucial in a capitalist society.

Good health is crucial for everyone’s well-being, and economic factors can affect one’s health. Those in lower social classes with less education and income often struggle to afford sufficient healthcare. Unlike the privileged classes who can access private healthcare services like BUPA, most people rely on the failing NHS. Being a member of BUPA ensures individuals avoid long waiting lists and cancelled appointments common in the NHS, leading to faster recovery when they become ill. Unfairly, access to healthcare can impact income as those unable to afford private healthcare are more likely to lose their jobs due to extended illnesses.

Aside from the essentials, life chances have an impact on even the smallest aspects of an individual’s daily life. Holidays, although considered a luxury, vary significantly based on life chances. The disparity in income levels determines the quality of vacations one can afford – higher income individuals can enjoy better holidays compared to their lower income counterparts. While those belonging to lower social classes are limited to local holidays, the wealthier classes can afford international travel. Even within this group, some may only be able to afford package holidays while the affluent can enjoy more flexible and longer trips. The duration and frequency of vacations also hinge on life chances. Individuals with higher occupational status or at a higher level have the privilege to take longer and more frequent holidays as they often delegate their responsibilities to those in less senior positions.

The restrictions placed by the three elements and various factors on a person’s position in society are often quite limiting. Social class has an impact on one’s economic situation, status, and power, which in turn affect their opportunities in life. It is evident that these opportunities are interconnected and can also influence an individual’s economic situation, status, and power. For instance, someone who has access to higher education can secure better employment and higher income, thereby improving their financial circumstances and enabling further self-improvement. Consequently, as these three elements shape an individual’s societal standing, they can find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle where every action has repercussions on other aspects of their life. Consequently, achieving social mobility becomes highly challenging.

Social stratification can result in the formation of distinct social groups among different classes. Individuals belonging to different social classes often reside in specific areas based on their economic status or job requirements. The middle class typically inhabits suburban regions, whereas the working class predominantly lives in inner-city neighborhoods. This geographical division affects not only their occupation but also their social network since co-workers from similar backgrounds tend to work and live nearby. Additionally, friends exert influence over various aspects of an individual’s life, including recreational pursuits. They frequently introduce one another to new activities; nevertheless, financial constraints may restrict access to certain hobbies that demand greater financial resources.

Interconnection is vital for an individual’s life opportunities. Language proficiency is greatly influenced by education, as higher levels of education result in improved linguistic abilities through academic accomplishments. Additionally, individuals who achieve higher education often come from socio-economically privileged backgrounds determined by their family’s income, which in turn can be influenced by the parents’ occupation and educational attainment. Without any of these factors, it becomes unattainable to accomplish the others.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the equality of life chances for all members of society. It is crucial to break the cycle that perpetuates financial disparity in order to achieve equality in any aspect of life. The welfare state contributes by redistributing wealth and opportunity, ensuring equal access to education and similar levels of occupation and income. However, higher social classes have the advantage of being able to purchase these opportunities, which hinders this goal. As a result, public services and the welfare state try to compensate for these inequalities but are limited by the enormity of their task. Consequently, social class becomes pivotal in determining life chances, with individuals at the bottom consistently missing out on their fair share of opportunities.

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How Social Class Affects Life Chances. (2017, Jul 22). Retrieved from

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