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Life chances include access to resources such as lath, education, occupation, housing and health. An individual’s opportunities to access such resources vary according to social classes. To illustrate the extent to which a person’s social class impacts on his or her life chances in Australia, this paper will begin with an examination of social class, including the major theories behind the concept of class.
Life chances will also be defined, as will inequality and social mobility within Australia. Finally, evidence on how social class (particularly socio-economic status) Impacts life chances will be considered.
Social class can be described as the hierarchical grouping of Individuals based on their economic position. While Australia is often described as an egalitarian society that is free of class barriers, Holmes et al argues that ‘… The rhetoric of equality becomes incomprehensible when basic measurements of inequality are looked at in any detail’ (Holmes, Hughes, Julian 2006 p.
91). According to data gathered by the United Nations Development Program, Australia is the world’s fifth-most unequal developed nation. Between the mid sass’s and mid sass’s, incomes of the top 20% of earners grew four times faster than that of the bottom 20%.
Mishmash 2009, The Age 16 Gauge 2009). A study by Andrew Leigh revealed that ‘in the early 1 ass’s, a CEO In a top 50 company earned 27 times more than the national average; only a decade later it was 98 times more.
While these figures represent significant inequality wealth Australia, Elegies study also revealed that the Inequality gap In accumulated wealth Is twice as wide as it is in take home pay (Mishmash 2009, The Age 1 6 Gauge 2009). The existence of class within Australia can be explained from various theoretical perspectives, most of which are based on the class theories of Marx and Weber.
Marx identified a two-class model, including an upper / ruling class that own the means of production and a working class that provide the labor for the ruling class. Weber expanded on Mar’s theory with the addition of two middle classes and also identified other indicators of class from within the ‘social order’ that are more transparent, such as status groups. ASPI defines status as ‘a system in which people are ranked on the basis of the amount of honor, prestige or esteem they receive’ (ASPI 1996 pop) While status differences can Influence variations In lifestyle,
ASPI argues that It Is class differences that Influence life chances. Socio-economic status refers to a combination of the dimensions of class and status, of which wealth Is a central determinant. Almost all class theories recognize the existence of a ruling class, middle class and working class in Australia, however there is now debate over the existence of an ‘underclass’, consisting of the permanently unemployed and low income earners. The upper class consists of the wealthiest 5-10% of the population, whose wealth comes from the control of property and capital.
ASPI argues that those who own and intro the economic resources are in a position to make important decisions about their own lives and the lives of other people, and often therefore determine the life chances of others (ASPI 1996 p. 77). The middle class consists mainly of individuals with non manual occupations and can be broken down to include upper middle class (professions’ egg doctors, dentists, lawyers etc) and lower middle class (routine white collar Jobs). The working class has been distinguished by its non ownership of the means of production.
According to Marx, their role is to provide labor power to the lulling class. Traditionally consisting of manual workers and consistent with low income, the inferior market situation of this class is reflected in life chances. According to Van Krieger et al, various studies have shown that manual workers are more likely to die younger, suffer from poor health, miss out on home ownership, be convicted of a criminal offence and have children that do not go on to higher education. Perhaps the key determinant of socio-economic status or social class is wealth.
Referring to the total assets or property that a person possesses, ASPI argues that Wealth confers economic and social power; it provides security in times of unexpected expenditure and provides greater freedom of choice in everyday life’ (ASPI 1996, pop). It is wealth that enables the purchase of assets such as housing and allows access to educational and health facilities. Without these, life chances are inhibited. Evidence suggests that wealth is heavily concentrated in Australia.
A 2002 HILLS survey revealed that the bottom half of the population own less than 10% of the total household net worth… While the wealthiest 10% account for 45% of total household net worth (Headed, Marks, Wooden 2004 p. L). Wealth is strongly linked to inheritance, thus maintaining its concentration. Just as wealth is linked to inheritance, so too is poverty. According to Orgy Where persons starts in the income and wealth distribution curve has an important bearing on their life chances’ (Orgy 2006, Pl 7).
A 2005 study by The Brotherhood of SST Laurence found that those born into poverty have far higher instances of infant mortality, poor immunization against disease, higher risk of mental health problems, low birth weight babies and youth suicide (Scuttles & Smyth, 2005 p ). Within Australia, evidence suggests that an individual’s life chances are redundantly determined by his or her ascribed inequalities, such as gender, race and family background. In an a society with equality of opportunity it would be the achieved inequalities such as education, occupation and skills that would determine life chances, however as argued by ASPI ‘… He ascribed attribute of family background has a major influence on the education an individual will receive and on ten occupation en/seen wall enter, regardless AT ten telltales AT ten Uninominal’ (Aspen 1996, pop). The ascribed attribute of family background is a key determinant of social class. Social mobility refers to the ease and frequency by which individuals can move up the social hierarchy to a higher class. Social mobility can occur either within an individual’s lifetime (intra-generational mobility) or between generations (inter- generational mobility), and cab be used as a tool to measure the degree of equality within a society.
In an egalitarian society, social mobility would be fluid. An individual born into a low social class would not necessarily remain stagnant within that class. This is not the case in most developed countries, including Australia. ASPI argues hat While it is possible in theory to move up the hierarchy, ‘rags to riches’ stories are very rare and mobility is fairly limited’ (ASPI 1996, p. 72), while Orgy argues that there is a high degree of inter-generational transmission of poor social and economic outcomes in Australia’ (Orgy 2006, pop).
There are several barriers inhibiting social mobility in Australia, resulting in a cycle of disadvantage for many. Such barriers include income and assets, employment, education, health and housing. The 2005 study by The Brotherhood of SST Laurence revealed that educational opportunities have a significant impact on the lower class. Children born into the underprivileged areas are less likely to have access to pre- schools, less likely to achieve adequacy in literacy and innumeracy tests and more likely to begin and remain in lower paying vocations.
Perhaps one of the more compelling examples originates from a study conducted in Victoria and New South Wales that states ‘… 25% of all early school leavers come from Just 5% of postcodes’ (Scuttles and Smyth 2005, p. 17). Limitations on the lower classes to achieve wealth impacts their ability to provide adequate housing for their children. Scuttles and Smyth argue that a child raised without a secure home faces barriers to higher educational achievement and later Job security, which may lead to homeless raising families who in turn become homeless’ (Scuttles and Smyth 2005, p. 5). There are significant inequalities within Australia, indicating the existence of a hierarchical class structure. Australian society consists of an upper class, a middle class and a working class, although there is also debate on the existence of an underclass. An individual’s position within this class structure largely ultimately determines his or her life chances. Opportunities to achieve desirable life outcomes, including wealth, occupation, quality education, good health and housing differ between the social classes.
A lack of social mobility in Australia means social class in Australia operates cyclically. Those born into economic disadvantage are not only likely to remain that way, but will also eventually pass on their economic circumstances to their offspring. Similarly, those born into higher socio-economic families are more likely to have access to quality education, achieve occupational success, acquire wealth, enjoy better health and produce offspring that will in turn share the same opportunities.