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The likelihood of a child succeeding in life is still largely determined by their family's income and social position. The social circumstances which encourage these inequalities must be identified in order to enhance Britain's goal of equality for all. This essay will begin by introducing the debates which centre on this topic. It will then go on to examine four key domains which affect a Childs future life chances: family income, education, class status and family background and the impact these have on future life chances before concluding on the topic.
The concept of life chances was originally introduced by Max Weber (1978) who believed that factors such as a families low economic position, status and power were interlinked and together, presented the risk of poorer life chances for children in the future. In current literature, life chances signifies the opportunities which are available for people to improve there quality of life in the future, this could be through access to quality education. The central role that parents play in there child's life chances is illustrated in research by Keane and Wolpin (1997) which showed that 90% of the variation in lifetime chances and welfare, can be attributed to the inequality in skills at age 16.This finding suggests that a child's life chances is mostly related to the social circumstances and decisions that there parents make, from there birth to there 16th birthday.
There are a variety of ways that parents influence there children's future. This can be directly for example: well educated parents, all things remaining constant, will most likely provide a more intellectually stimulating home-life compared to those parents who left school early. Other influences will be more indirect: better-educated parents are subsequently also likely to have higher than average incomes and consequently be able to finance educational excursions, or in other ways to provide life enhancing experiences for their offspring. Some of these additional opportunities will be cumulative, reinforcing other positive characteristics, while others may serve to compensate for some forms of disadvantage.
Some people believe that it is strictly genes that affect our opportunities in life. Research focusing on the causal relationship between genes and subsequent IQ, are inconsistent, varying between 0 to 80%. Recent research, has suggested that genetic and environmental factors are not distinct determinants of intelligence and life chances. Instead it is the interaction between these two factors which gives rise to a child's intelligence and future outcomes. The role that nurture has to play in developing intelligence is clearly demonstrated from data published by Feinstein (2003) concentrating on the Inequality in early cognitive developments of British children. The data suggested that the social circumstances of the family influenced future educational attainment. Those children brought up in families with low Socio-economic Status (SES) with attainment levels ranked as low, at 22 months, were also prone to have low attainment at age ten. On the other hand those children from a high SES background were likely to show high attainment at age ten, even if their attainment was ranked as low at 22 months. This data suggests that it is nurture and the social circumstances of the family which influences the future chances of these children and not their initial genetic abilities.
Mayer (1997) notes that children who are born into low income families also seem to have less success than those children whose parents have more money. Children from low income families tend to: score lower on measurers of cognitive ability, are more likely to drop p out of school, to have behavioural problems and essentially earn less in later life. This is drastically demonstrated in a 1970 British cohort survey showing that at age 26, young adults experience an earnings penalty of 9% if they were brought up in a household with an income below half the average (after controlling for educational attainment) This suggests that a disproportionate amount of young people from poor backgrounds are observed at the lower end of the earnings distribution when they are in work. Further research in the US by Isaac (2007) which focused on the intergenerational aspect of income, focusing on families economic position and how this is influenced by that of there parents: He found that of the children born to parents in the bottom fifth of the economic distribution, 42 percent remain in this section as adults with only 23 percent rising to the second fifth, meanwhile 32% of children born to parents at the top of the income distribution remain at the top, with only 23 percent moving downwards to the second fifth.
From this research alone it is clear to see the future income of children is influenced to some extent by there parents social circumstances. One possible reason for this difference is that of social class. The role of Social Economic Status (SES) is well-documented in the literature concerning life chances. Using the National Child Development Studies and the British Cohort study, Carneiro et al (2007) and Blanden et al (2006) illustrated that there is clearly a strong relationship between a child's social and cognitive abilities and their parents' SES.
This has been demonstrated by Fienstein (2003) who found that those children who were originally brought up in low socio economic status family, who also scored poorly on cognitive tests at an early age were more likely to remain with low scores as they progressed through the life course, however those children from a higher socio economic status with low scores were much more likely to catch up. These results from the NCDS and the BCS do allow for informative feedback However in order to test the validity of these findings it is very important that these relationships are tested throughout generations. This recent research has been carried out by Sylva et al (2007) who analysed data from a recent programme the Effective Pre-School and Primary Education (EPPE) programme which aimed to test children's cognitive attainment (reading and mathematics) from that age of three to the end of Key Stage 2. This study illustrated that even in recent times the socio economic status of parents is till having huge influences on there children's mathematics and reading skills from the age of three to then end of key stage 2.
This data shows that there is a clear relationship between the SES of parents and the subsequent development and life outcome of there children. Families with a low socioeconomic status very often lack the required social, financial and educational supports that typify families with high socioeconomic statuses. Those families from poor backgrounds are also likely to have inadequate access to resources within the community that promote and support children's development and school readiness. Education plays a major role in helping children to acquire the skills required for acquiring jobs, at the same time as introducing specific virtues that stratify people from high SES to lower SES. It is one of the most influential factors in persisting intergenerational characteristics as there are strong patterns and inequalities between socio economic status and educational achievement. The study by the Sutton trust report (2002) found that of the richest fifth of the population 44% of young people had a degree, compared with only 10% from the poorest fifth. Those from high income groups are still over four times as likely to graduate as those from low income groups. These inequalities in degree acquirement persist across diverse income groups,
The social economic status of a family can affect children in various ways. One way in which it affects the future outcomes of children is that of social capital, this refers to the social connections and attendant norms and values, including aspirations. Families are a key foundation for social capital. Middle class families are likely to have greater access to social capital than working class families: the social networks of the middle class tend to be more diverse than those of the working class with more extensive weak ties with e.g. former colleagues, acquaintances and friends of friends. These parents can give their children access to these networks of weak ties and associated information and other support. Middle class children also have further opportunities to develop social networks at university and elsewhere and to carry this on in further generations (Aldridge, 2001)
Students from low SES backgrounds who attend poorly funded schools do not perform as well as those from a high SES. Seyfried (1998) stated that low SES students tend to score up to 10% lower on the national assessment of educational programs than those students from Higher SES. This difference has been explained by Eamon (2005) as the low SES of these families prevents access to quality and essential resources which subsequently leads to stress and conflicts within the home this inevitably affects a Childs ability to perform well in educational settings.
The relationship between educational attainment and SES also holds for secondary school students. Bradley and Taylor (2004) analyse Youth Cohort Studies data and find that young people whose parents are in highly skilled (particularly professional) occupations are more likely to obtain good exam results than young people whose parents have lower skill levels.
The role models and influences of the home are significant and Berliner (2005) attempts to point out that SES is a much larger problem than people like to think. Arguing that socio economic status is just one aspects of a long list of integrated and intergenerational effects this can have on the family and the individual. The social circumstances at home are a huge predicator of later life chances.
Nearly a quarter of all children now live with single parents and the numbers of lone mothers have trebled since the 1970s (Office for National Statistics). This vast change in family structure is one key factor which is influencing achievements over recent years. Increasing numbers of children are being brought up in step families or in lone parent families. And although the key factor in developing to the best potential is having a loving family environment. This increase in kin lone parents is increasing the likelihood of poverty in the future. (Cabinet Office) 'At-home good parenting' has a bigger effect on children's achievement at primary level than differences in quality of schools, evident across all social classes and all ethnic groups. Evidence from Demo and Acock (1991) suggests that children from mother only families seem to experience various disadvantages such as higher truancy rates, lower levels of education and more delinquent activity. All of these factors are likely to effect them in the short term and more problematically in the long term effecting there life long chances
Emrish and Francesconi (1997) carried out a study into the affect of single parenthoods on future outcomes. Approximately two in five of the young adults had spent a period of time in a single-parent family. These children tended to obtain poorer educational attainments especially young men.The study found that among men, the probability of children from single parent families is 18% compared to that of a 22% chance for those living in an in tact family. One of the most influential reasons for this was that single-parent-families tended to have fewer economic resources available. This difference wasn't as high for females and this identifies the differences which need to be considered.
A further social circumstance of those who live in high SES backgrounds is that they are more likely to have parents who themselves went through to higher education. There exists considerable evidence for the inter-generational effects of parents' education on children. Feinstein (1999) stratifies children based on their parents' educational qualifications and assesses their progress over time. He uses the BCS and finds that: Children whose parents both have at least A-levels are 14 percentage points higher in the distribution of test outcomes measured at the age of 22 months than those whose parents have no qualifications, and seven percentage points higher than those whose parents are in the middle education group (who have some qualifications, but do not both have A-Levels or higher).
Although it seems as though social circumstances of the family have a huge impact on the life course and life chances of an individual. It is important to understand that Individuals still have the autonomy to act on their own choices and free will. It is important to remember that people can make a decision to change there future outcomes regardless of there families societal circumstances which have been guiding them.
One very interesting concept is how some individuals react to the adversity that they face in social circumstances from birth. Resilience' means the strategies that people use to cope with adversities, such as income poverty, violent conflict, class differences and education inequalities. There has been a range of research investigating whether the disadvantages presented to those children from poor social circumstances can be overcome in the future. Research into resilience has identified a range of individual attributes and social contexts associated with high levels of resilience in children throughout there life course with various levels some from the individual, some from relationships and community resources. Although there are social circumstances which can put children at high risk of certain life outcomes at birth it can be argued that with the correct relationships and support these can be overcome to intervene in the intergenerational concept of life chances. Some individuals appear to thrive despite sharing the characteristics and conditions of high risk inequalities(e.g., Anthony 1987; Rutter 1985; Werner and Smith 2001(Masten 1994; Masten, Best and Garmezy 1990).
Bernard (2004) analysed research into this matter looking at both qualitative and quantitative research and found that children consistently manage to overcome the social adversities they are presented with in the family and go on to lead positive lives. Most research into this area suggests that on average 70 to 75% of children who seem at risk of intergenerational affects tackle these and go on to lead healthy and positive lives. (Bernard 2004). One study by Werner and Smith (1982) followed a group of 700 children born in Kauai (Hawaii) in 1995 using a longitudinal study. With data collected at six different ages, showed that despite having been challenged with a variety of high risk factors as they grow up they still went on to achieve positive outcomes in adulthood. This research contradicts to some degree the statement your life chnaces
The research in this area highlights the importance that an individuals agency and resilience can have on the way people go on to lead there life course, independent of the social circumstances to which they were born into. Therefore life chances are in part affected by the social circumstances to which you are born into and these circumstances are likely to present risk factors for future achievement however there is always a degree of choice and independence in overcoming the intergenerational affects.