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How Social Class Affects Life Chances

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Introduction

November 2001 Alfie Stroud 11W How Social Class Affects Life Chances The individual in modern western society strives to achieve or obtain the things that are labelled as desirable by their culture. These commodities may be cultural or economic and range from healthcare, education and occupation to holidays, housing and social activities. As with all commodities, these things are rarely distributed equally, and so the struggle to achieve or obtain them can be a difficult one. A person's opportunities to obtain their fair share are known as their life chances. The German sociologist, Max Weber (1864 - 1920), identified three elements which determine a person's life chances; economic factors, status and power. The healthier your economic situation, the higher your status and the greater your power, the better your life chances. Weber also argued that these three elements do not necessarily go together, and so members of a society may be ranked when each of the three elements is combined. This method of stratification would be altered and adjusted to form various modern day methods of measuring social class. An individual's position on this scale of stratification may influence many aspects of his or her life. At the heart of all methods of social stratification is education. ...read more.

Middle

Vital to every person's survival is health, but even this can be influenced by an individual's economic factors. Those in lower classes, with lower levels of education and a lower income will very rarely be able to afford the kind of healthcare that the higher social classes can. Private healthcare companies like BUPA are a luxury available only to those with the economic standing, while the majority of the population is forced to rely on the failing NHS. BUPA members need not suffer the waiting lists and cancelled appointments of an NHS patient, and when they fall ill will generally recover sooner. Unfairly, access to healthcare can also have an effect on income, with those unable to afford private healthcare being more likely to lose their job through long-term illness. Aside from the essentials, life chances can effect even the most minor day to day aspects of an individual's life. Holidays are merely luxuries, but vary greatly according to life chances. Firstly and most obviously, those on higher incomes can afford better holidays than those on lower incomes. While the lower social classes may be resigned to holidays in and around their own country, higher classes can afford to travel abroad. Even then, some may only be able to afford a package holiday, while the wealthier can go on less restricting more open and longer holidays. ...read more.

Conclusion

Language is very often defined by education - those with a higher level of education will often, through academic achievement, learn to improve linguistically. Those who achieve higher levels of education often come from more privileged backgrounds, which is defined by their family's income, which relies on the parent's occupation which in turn can rely on the parent's education. Without one of these commodities another becomes impossible. In recent years it is true that the life chances of all members of society are becoming more equal. If we are ever to see equality in any aspect of life, the cycle of life chances that keeps the rich rich and the poor poor has to be broken. This is one of the consequences of the welfare state - the redistribution of not only wealth, but opportunity too. If all members of society had access to the same levels of education, they could be capable of achieving the same levels of occupation and income, however the ability of the higher classes to buy these things is blocking the way. Thus it has been left to public services and the welfare state to make up for these inequalities as best they can. Inevitably however, this is a task too large and neither is able to function properly. Accordingly, social class comes to define life chances with those at the bottom never receiving their fair share of the opportunities. ...read more.

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