To what extent does an individualís social class affect their lifestyle and life chances?


In virtually all societies, people are aware of divisions between various groups, and as a result of these divisions people are treated differently. Sociologists usually refer to these divisions as Ďstrataí therefore, the division of people into groups is known as social stratification. In British society today the most important divisions are those of sex, age, ethnic groups and social class, of which is the dominant form of stratification in modern industrial societies.


Class refers rather to differences in access to economic rewards, and to life chances determined by differential distribution of income and poverty (cotgrove 1978 pg 202), it can also be defined as broad groups of people who share a similar economic situation such as occupation, income and wealth. Life styles and life chances are influenced by social stratification. Life chances are determined as everything from the chance to survive the first year of life, to the chance to view fine art, the chance to remain healthy and get well when ill and significantly the chance to achieve a good educational grade, Haralambros and Holborn (2000 pg 25). It also includes the chances to avoid undesirables such as unemployment and illness. The lifestyle a person achieves will largely be as a result of the same factors that include their earning power. This will determine a persons housing, consumables, how many holidays they have and how much they can spend on quality living such as pursuing leisure activities.


Karl Marx (1818 Ė 1883) explanation for social class pointed out that there was only one division that was important in society, that of ownership of property. He used the word Ďclassí to describe the new social groups, and said there were basically two classes, the Capitalists who own the means of production, that is, factories, mines, mills, land, and the working people who work for the capitalists. He called the capitalists the bourgeoisie or the ruling class and the workers the proletariat or the working class. Marx said that the bourgeoisie exploit the proletariat because they force them to work for very low wages, while they themselves get rich on the profits. The ruling class welfare lay in making large profits and keeping wages low. They had the power to close or open factories. The working class interests however, remain in securing better wages and conditions, sooner or later conflict would arise, as the working class will no longer put up with exploitation and will revolt against the ruling class. Marx believed the institutions of society, such as the political and legal systems were in fact the means of the ruling class that were there to serve their interests. Only when the means of production were communally owned would class and conflict disappear.


Functionalists take the view that social stratification is both essential to the running of society and inevitable. They believe that all social phenomena exist because they have a positive function to fulfil. Durkheim, a functionalist, described society as a living organism in which different organs with specific functions (e.g. education, work, and government) are inter-related.


Davis and Moore, functionalist sociologists, believe that society is a meritocracy. This means that people are inspired and motivated to perform tasks by the promise of a reward. They say that social stratification is good as inequality drives people to better themselves and ensures that the most important positions in society are taken by the best qualified and most competent. They judge certain jobs to be of greater importance than others and believe that there is only a limited pool of talent in society from which these skilled workers can be found. In order to convert this raw talent into useful skills, people must make sacrifices. It is argued that these sacrifices are only made in order to reap the rewards at the end (higher salary/ job satisfaction/ prestige) and that, without this incentive, people would not bother to go through the training required. Therefore, there would be a shortage in qualified professionals.


A later theorist, Max Weber, was influenced by Marx\'s work but disagreed with his theory, he thought it was too deterministic. Marx, a structuralist, believed that people were shaped by the society in which they lived. Weber, a social action theorist, believed