By Ana Lopez de Arenosa, GLOBUS Correspondent
A famous mantra within our society is the idea that ‘if we work hard in life, we can succeed’. Success stories such as those of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates arise and are repeatedly publicized in support of this notion. However, the reality of this claim has to be seriously questioned. Issues such as class and socioeconomic status play a critical role in human development, not just in terms of the degree to which one can earn economically, but also one’s health and development as a human being. The fact that the 8 richest people in the world hold the same amount of money as the poorest 35% of the global population highlights the high amounts of inequality in today’s world.
A ‘social class’ is defined as a group with an identifiable relationship to the means of production and distribution, and to the labor power of others (Kohn and Słomczyński 1990). Class was considered a prominent factor in most societies in the 18th and 19th centuries but some argue that is has become less prevalent as a result of modern labor markets. However, many continue to insist that this is not the case. The idea of social class has slowly evolved into being an offset of a person’s socioeconomic background, defined as being the social standing of an individual or group, and often measured as a combination of education, income and occupation. Many would argue one’s socioeconomic status plays a major role in defining the course of our lives and is a principal determinant of the opportunities made available to us.
For example, class can have a measurable impact on an individual’s wellbeing and health; both mental and physical. For example, one’s socioeconomic status can often affect one’s living conditions and access to basic resources, causing health levels can fluctuate as a result. One vital resource is food which, if not easily accessible, can lead to increased stress.
This can then lead to a greater risk of a heart attack or stroke, amongst many other health conditions. Moreover, in Britain, individuals under the age of 75 are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a cardiovascular disease if they live within an area considered to be deprived in comparison to individuals in non-deprived areas. This also holds true for mental health rates as, for example, higher instances of psychiatric disorders are found in lower income areas, with statistics increasing ever further amongst those who are unemployed or with lower levels of education.
Furthermore, in relation to education, social class can also play a significant role in opportunities available to an individual, not only at a local level, but also in terms of cognitive and language development. Fernald, Marchman, & Weisleder (2012) stated that disparities in vocabulary and language processing efficiency between infants from higher and lower income families can become evident at as early as 18 months old. They also found a six-month gap between low and high socioeconomic groups in processing skills critical to language development by 24 months old. Hoff, Laursen, & Tardif (2002) state that these differences could occur as a result of differences in speech between parents from different socioeconomic backgrounds, as those with a higher incomes are more likely to be able to spend more time speaking with their baby and helping them develop these essential language skills. On the other hand, parents from lower income backgrounds may have to dedicate a greater amount of their time to work away from children during this stage of development. This can then critically affect the development of academic skills and IQ later in life, as these cognitive and language skills are an essential basis for good learning.
Overall, it is clear that social class and socioeconomic background can have a huge effect on us as individuals, starting from birth and lasting for generations to create a lifelong disadvantage. We as a society must focus our attention on this issue in order to create a more just and sustainable world.
KOHN, M. and SLOMCZYNSKI, K. (1990). Social Structure and Self-Direction A Comparative Analysis of the United States and Poland. IFIS Publishers.
Fernald, A., Marchman, V. and Weisleder, A. (2012). SES differences in language processing skill and vocabulary are evident at 18 months. Developmental Science, 16(2), pp.234-248.
Çakır, H. (2016). Open Ended Questions: A Comparison of Mothers’ and Fathers’ Language Use during Play Time. Creative Education, 7(4)