Life chances, signifies the opportunities which are available for people to improve their quality of life. The likelihood of a child succeeding in life is still largely determined by their family's social position. The social circumstances which encourage these inequalities can be direct or indirect and must be identified in order to enhance Britain's goal of ''greater equality for all''. Firstly it is important to introduce the debate which centres on this topic. Before then going on to examine the direct and indirect influences of social circumstances on future life chances: This will be contested with the idea that individuals are free agents who have the power to control their own lives. Finally considering the literature and ideas discussed a conclusion will be offered on this topic.
It can be argued that it is strictly our genetic make up which affects our opportunities in life however research such as that focusing on the causal relationship between genes and subsequent IQ are extremely inconsistent, varying between 0 to 80% which suggests that this is an unrealistic and unconfirmed view. On the other hand the central role that parents play in their child's life chances is postulated by Keane and Wolpin (1997) who illustrate that that 90% of the variation in life chances and welfare can be attributed to the inequality in skills at age 16, subsequently proposing that life chances are very much reliant on the decisions made by parents from the birth of their children to their 16th birthday.
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Recent research by Feinstein (2003), has suggested that neither genetic nor environmental factors are 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 from the NCDS and the BCS allowed for informative feedback that the social circumstances of the family does influence 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 although genetic abilities lay a foundation for future developments it is nurture and the social circumstances of the family which influences the future chances of these children.
There are a variety of ways in which parents can influence their children's future. One way can be though direct effects. For example: well educated parents, with all things remaining stable, are more likely to provide an intellectually invigorating home-life compared to those parents who left school prematurely.
It can be difficult to disentangle the many factors and processes that contribute to these increased risks. Education plays a major role in helping children to acquire the skills required for attaining jobs, at the same time as introducing specific virtues that stratify people from high SES to lower SES which will eventually determine there life chances. It is one of the most influential factors in persisting intergenerational characteristics. Although the causes of educational disadvantage are complex, many of the difficulties experienced by children are a direct consequence of their parents' income levels. A study by the Sutton trust report (2002) established 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 relationship between educational attainment and parents also holds for secondary school students. Bradley and Taylor (2004) analysed the Youth Cohort Studies data and found 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.
As the income level of parents is, in turn, heavily influenced by the parental educational qualifications. Considerable evidence exists that those parents who themselves went through to higher education are likely to provide advanced opportunities for their children. Feinstein (1999) stratifies children based on their parents' educational qualifications and assesses their progress over time. He uses the British Cohort Study 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 measure as having some qualifications, but not to A-Levels or higher.
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One possible reason for this inequality dependent on parent's education is social capital which is a direct influence on the opportunities available to children. This refers to the social connections and attendant norms, values and aspirations of the parents. 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 and acquaintances. These parents can give their children access to these networks of weak ties and associated information. These children also have further opportunities to develop social networks at university and elsewhere and to carry this on in further generations (Aldridge, 2001)
Desforges (2003) proposes that the social circumstances of the family is likely to affect the role models and influences of the household, He significantly attempts to point out that parenting style and the role models available to youngsters is a much larger influence on lowering life chances than people like to think. The social circumstances at home are a huge predicator of later life chances as children want to be like their parents. As SLT suggests Children emulate their parents' behavior. If the parents have acquired good habits and personal attitudes towards life, then their children emulate them and become like them. However those parents in low social circumstances with low incomes are likely to have poorer personal attitudes and habits than those parents who have good social circumstances and are likely to look o on life in a much more positive manner.
Other influences will be more indirect: highly-educated parents are subsequently expected to have higher than average incomes and thus be able to finance educational excursions, or in other ways to supply life enhancing experiences for their offspring. Some of these additional opportunities will be cumulative, reinforcing further positive characteristics, while others may serve to compensate for some forms of disadvantage.
These Parents can afford better private education which plays a major role in helping children to acquire the skills required for attaining 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. 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 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.
Families with a low socioeconomic status very often lack the required social, financial and educational supports that typify families with high socioeconomic statuses. 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.
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 child's ability to perform well in educational settings.
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. The key factor in developing to the best potential is having a loving family environment. The problem related to lone parents presents itself when looking at there social circumstances, it tends to be the case that lone parenthood is closely linked to poverty and poor social classes and it is inevitable that these factors put relationships under considerable strain which can lead to relationships as well as the family itself breaking up.
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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. This problem presents itself in lone parents family when untangling the various factors which face the family it is clear to see how these inequalities progress.
Lone mothers are poorer figures suggest that 68% of Lone parents with children have no savings versus 28% of those with intact families.25 which is turn is are more likely to suffer from stress, depression, and other emotional and psychological problems Lone mothers are seven times as likely to report problems with their 'nerves', even after controlling for other demographic factors. this leads to more health problems which restricts and effects the interaction of there children. Young people in lone-parent families were 30% more likely than those in two-parent families to report that their parents rarely or never knew where they were. 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 effect 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 intact family. One of the most influential reasons for this was that single-parent-families tended to have fewer economic resources available. This difference was not as high for females and this identifiers the differences which need to be considered.
On the other hand, people who have had many advantages such as a stable and loving family background, economic security, and good education may be more likely to marry and maintain a parental partnership than those who had fewer advantages.
Feinstein (1997), used the 1970 Birth Cohort Survey which has followed over 17,000 babies who were born in the UK during a particular week in April 1970. He interrogated the educational results of the survey and produced some attractive findings about how children's ability levels in relation to their peers over time. The striking picture that emerges is one where ability levels at the earliest age are a strong indicator of later educational success. Those measured at just 22 months, children who started out in the lowest 25% of the ability range mostly remained stuck amongst the lowest achievers as adults. Furthermore those who were in the top 25% at 42 months were more than three times as likely to go on to get A- levels than those in the bottom 25%. This research does support the idea that it is not solely your social circumstances which affect your life chances however it can be questioned when looking at the preceding review whether this is really the only case.
Although it seems as though social circumstances of the family have a huge impact on the life course and life chances of an individual. 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 their life course with various levels, some from the individual, some from relationships and community resources. Some individuals appear to thrive despite sharing the characteristics and conditions of high risk inequalities (Masten 1994; Masten, Best and Garmezy 1990).
Many studies show that the primary factor is to have relationships that provide care and support, create love and trust, and offer encouragement, both within and outside the family. Contradicting research by 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 within 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).
In the preceding review, we have already seen how the life chances of children seem to be directly and indirectly influenced by their parents social circumstances. Opposing research highlights the importance that an individuals agency and resilience can have on the way people go on to lead their 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. Important from the perspective of government, some aspects of childhood experience may be amenable to influence by public policy whereas others will not be. Government will therefore wish to identify and primarily target those factors that are both important in shaping a child's life chances and upon which it can exert a beneficial influence.