Life Chances

We all know that certain factors, such as your level of education or income, can significantly impact your everyday life. But did you know that they can also influence your overall life chances?

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Table of contents
    • We will first go over the definition of life chances.
    • Then, we will examine the theory of life chances in sociology with a focus on Max Weber.
    • We will go over some examples of inequalities in life chances.
    • Finally, we will examine different sociological perspectives on life chances.

    Definition of life chances

    Life chances (Lebenschancen in German) is a sociological theory which refers to an individual's opportunities to improve their chances of “doing well” for themselves and improve their quality of life.

    This can include their life expectancy, educational attainment, finances, career, housing, health, etc. physical and mental health.

    Life Chances, person with thinking bubble over their heads with icons of money, heart, car, and house, StudySmarterLife chances can include outcomes such as life expectancy, educational attainment, career, housing, health, etc.

    Life chances in sociology

    Life chances is an essential topic in sociology since they can reveal much about society and how social structures impact people's lives. Factors that impact life chances in sociology include:

    • Social class

    • Gender

    • Ethnic and cultural group

    • Sexual orientation

    • Age

    • (Dis)ability

    • Religion

    Sociological perspectives on life chances

    Sociologists of different perspectives have different views on which social factors impact life chances most.

    Marxists, for example, believe that social class is, first and foremost, the primary factor in capitalist societies that are built on a class hierarchy.

    On the other hand, feminists argue that oppression on the basis of gender is most significant in a patriarchal society.

    Life chances theory

    To understand things like class, inequality and stratification, it's vital that we understand theories on life chances and how they are affected. This is because different social groups have different life chances, depending on their positions in society.

    Life chances: Max Weber

    The concept of “life chances” was first introduced by one of the founding fathers of sociology, Max Weber, who talked about how it correlates with social stratification. According to Weber, the higher your socioeconomic status, the better your life chances.

    For instance, upper and middle-class people have better access to many institutions/services that improve quality of life, e.g. good quality healthcare, education, housing, etc. than working-class people. This means that those of higher social classes generally have better life chances than those of lower social classes.

    What are some examples of life chances?

    There are many areas in which people, especially those from working-class or poorer backgrounds, can experience unequal life chances compared to others. Examples of poor life chances include:

    • Lower life expectancy at birth

    • Higher infant mortality rates

    • Higher rates of illness or disease

    • Worse educational outcomes

    • Lower levels of income and wealth

    • Higher rates of poverty

    • Lower quality housing

    • Worse working conditions

    • Lower prospects of employment and promotion

    It is important to note that life chances can be impacted further when social class intersects with other aspects of a person's identity or experience. For instance, the probability of falling into or living in poverty can be exacerbated (heightened) by factors such as gender, ethnicity, disability and so on.

    Reduced life chances in one area of an individual's life can hurt their chances in other areas well. The Child Poverty Action Group (2016) found that low incomes and deprivation can directly impact the educational outcomes of children. A report published by the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances (2010) also showed that children's early development, shaped by family background, had the strongest influence on their life chances.

    Life chances and inequalities in health

    Some of the most serious inequalities people face are in health outcomes. This is because being disadvantaged in other aspects of life can ultimately damage an individual's health.

    For instance, those with higher education have better health and live longer than those who don't.

    Health inequalities can be a result of other social inequalities such as income, working conditions, education, standards of living and so on.

    Life Chances, person with medical heart and heartbeat line next to them, StudySmarterPeople can face health inequalities as a result of lower life chances in other areas.

    Life Chances - Key Takeaways

    • An individual's life chances refer to their chances of “doing well” for themselves throughout life. This can include their life expectancy, educational attainment, finances, career, housing, physical and mental health, and more.
    • Different social groups have different life chances, depending on their positions in society. According to Max Weber, the higher your socioeconomic status, the better your life chances.
    • Factors that can affect people's life chances include social class, gender, ethnicity and culture, sexual orientation, age, (dis)ability and religion.
    • There are many areas in which people, especially those from working-class or poor backgrounds, can experience unequal life chances compared to others.
    • Sociologists of different perspectives have different views on which social factors have the most impact on life chances.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Life Chances

    What are life chances? 

    An individual's life chances refer to their chances of “doing well” for themselves throughout life.  This can include their life expectancy, educational attainment, finances, career, housing, health, etc. physical and mental health and more.

    What are some examples of life chances? 

    Examples of inequalities in life chances include:

    • Lower life expectancy at birth
    • Higher infant mortality rates
    • Higher rates of illness or disease
    • Worse educational outcomes
    • Lower levels of income and wealth
    • Higher rates of poverty
    • Lower quality housing
    • Worse working conditions
    • Lower prospects of employment and promotion

    Does everyone have the same life chances? 

    Different social groups have different life chances, depending on their positions in society. According to Max Weber, the higher your socioeconomic status, the better your life chances. 

    Who used the term life chances in sociology? 

    The concept of “life chances” was first introduced by one of the founding fathers of sociology, Max Weber, who talked about how it correlates with social stratification. 

    How does age affect life chances? 

    A person's age can affect their life chances and outcomes. For instance, some older people who have to live off pensions alone may be at risk of poverty or unable to access good healthcare.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which prominent sociologist introduced the term “life chances”?

    The higher your socioeconomic status, the worse your life chances. Is this:

    Which of these is an example of inequalities in life chances?

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