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Does Social Class Still Influence Life Course?

April 26, 2009

Some sociologists have suggested that in “advanced societies” such as America, Britain, Canada, and France, class isn’t as relevant in determining individuals’ life courses as it is in other societies. Sociologists define life course as the opportunities and choices people make. In simpler terms, it is the major and decisive happenings in your life such as marriage, family size, education, or career direction.

In the past, a person’s economic status, religion, race, ethnicity, or sex could limit or expand their choices and opportunities. Usually, these characteristics determined social position in a social stratification or a social ranking. The key thing to remember is that people in different positions were afforded different choices.

50004british-flag-postersRecent research in Britain conducted by Dr. Atkinson and presented at the British Sociological Association Annual Conference suggests social class might still have a significant effect on a person’s life course. In other words, the education level, wealth, and social connections a person’s family has may affect the choices that person has in life.

The research suggested that working-class people in the study were less able achieve a higher education than upper classes in part because they couldn’t afford a private education, tutors, and other expenses associated with preparing for and attending college. This might explain why only 13% of the British working class go to college compared to 44% of the British middle class.

What do you think? Would you like to respond to this question? If so, please post your response to one of the discussion topics below:

1. Do you think your parents’ social status affected the important choices you had about the direction of your life?

2. Do you think your life goals are affected by your social status? Do you think your opportunities are affected by your social status?

3. Which do you think has the strongest effect on your life course: your social status or your parents? Why?

4. How could you integrate the findings described in the study above to support the strain theory of crime?

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