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Life Chances: An Overview

Explain how an individual's ascribed social class position at birth may affect what Max Weber called life chances, or the ability of an individual to attain the following "good things" that a society values:

- good health care
- longevity
- a good job
- security
- status
- wealth
- power
- prestige

Describe how life chances may affect an individual's life goals (positive or negative).

In what ways may life chances be irrelevant?

Give examples of how the concept of life chances operates in the following systems:

- a caste system
- a class system
- a one-party, Communist system (such as China)

Solution Preview

Many people are born into a specific social class which will determine the outcome of their lives. Others are born into social classes and have the ability to move up, down, or laterally into different social classes. Though life changes may change when one moves into a different social class the chances are similar at birth. Max Weber 's concept of life chances is based on the assumption that the social class an individual is born into may shape the abilities of the individual to attain or achieve goals in life, whether they are related to health, wealth, opportunities for a career, or the ability to achieve an acceptable standard of living. Within societies or cultures are different classes which are often used to determine who will achieve higher goals and who will face more barriers. "Such a distribution is always unequal and necessarily involves power" (Weber, nd). It is the division by social class that allows members of some classes to achieve more than those in other classes, by reducing or eliminating the competition for resources and opportunities. The unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity affects every aspect of members of various social classes.

The ability to receive competent health care is influenced by class in countries where health care operates under free markets. Members in lower social classes may not have the means to purchase health insurance to pay for care. Jobs that offer affordable health plans to employees are rare at minimum wage. Often when such plans are available they simply cost too much and take too much of the employee's income to be deemed affordable. Though it is not the only determinant access to good health care can be one determinant of longevity.

When a member of a specific social class does not have the means to purchase or obtain health insurance there is likely to be much less contact with health professionals and preventive care may not be accessed at all. Without preventive care members of a particular social class cannot address health concerns before they become more challenging to treat or more severe. The less an individual is able to manage health issues the greater the chance of having a shorter life span due to serious illness. Longevity may also be influenced by one's ability to participate in activities that promote exercise and relaxation. Stress and ...