Friday, May 27, 2011

Rich kids have it better in life

This post was inspired by a comment made in TCS tonight, the title of this post was that comment.

So if we look at this idea, the notion that children brought up in a 'rich' environment tend to be more successful later on is an interesting one. Now if we are going to be pedantic, we can always argue that 'rich' doesn't necessarily refer to relative economic wellbeing, but for all intents and purposes (thank you Bagle), that was the intended definition and one which we will follow through with.

When it comes to the implementation of governmental economic reformist policies, there has been an emphasis on creating 'equality', and 'equal opportunity'. An example of this would be the public school system. What these fail to take into account is the place of inherited opportunity - to which the title of this post refers to. The idea that people born into economic comfort are given an irreversible 'head-start' so to speak. They have access to more. Simple.

But is it simply access to more economic capital that grants these 'rich kids' the ability to be more successful in life? I think to some extent, other factors rest on it. The idea of capital can be observed as multidimensional. While it does have a physical sense, such as money, resources, property, savings etc, there are also social and cultural dimensions that shape peoples abilities to move forward in their life.

Cultural capital refers to non-economic assets that can be used in the further production of other assets, such as education, books, and things like that. Obviously, these assets can help to ensure the maintenance of structural inequalities within a society.

Similarly, the notion of social capital refers to the idea of 'community connectedness' - or social networks/involvements. What having relationships does, is grant access to individuals and groups through durable networks, which acts as a catalyst for resource accumulation. Once again, this allows children born into such an environment to create stronger networks and hence have access to further resources. This can further be broken down into 'bonding' and 'bridging' capital, which refers respectively to the close and weak interpersonal ties we have which serve different purposes in and of themselves.

So we can see that it is not necessarily, or simply the fact that a kid is 'rich' that allows him/her to 'have it better in life', but there are several aspects (few of which I have even mentioned) of inherited advantage that allows one to progress with relative ease.

In finishing (I could go on all day), I would like to propose something further to which I encourage you to express thoughts in the comments. It is on the idea of 'habitus'. What this is, is a suggestion posed by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, referring to the way that individuals internalise their objective chances at success. That is, people actively want to be in their inherited position regardless of the supposed affluence that is attached to it - class consciousness does not necessarily lead to a desire of class mobility. For example, children who's father is a builder often wish to follow through with a similar career path, despite the potential ability to access more lucrative sections of the labour market.

Do you think this notion of habitus is likely to determine potential success, or is it simply an abstract concept that may or may not empirically challenge the inherited opportunity detailed above?


  1. I agree and disagree, I guess it depends on which part of the spectrum you come from. I come from the very, very poor side. I get help from my grandparents, but my mother and father were both, and still are (my mom) pretty poor. Rising up to where were almost not in debt anymore, though. Slowly but surely.

    Anyway, I guess stereotypically, rich kids do have it easier. Not necessarily meaning that they get whatever they want, but in my opinion, the money that they/their parents have is a great boost to what is available to them. Good education comes with the money to be able to provide it.

    But as with my boyfriend, who's parents are quite well off, they don't give him everything he asks for, he has to prove to them that he works for it by doing well in school. If he fucks up enough, they take away his car and privilege to go out.

    But on the other hand, there ARE rich kids who get everything they want handed to them. I think that's what the commenter means by their comment in the Shop. I didn't read the thread, so I wouldn't know, but just from that, that's what I get. Lol

    Again, this is from the perspective of a poor kid :) Poor kid with the help of my grandma, that is. So I'm not terribly bad off. But if it wasn't for her, I would be much worse off.

  2. I strongly suspect you are building one of your essays on this Post.
    But I'd like to talk about "habitus", both as a sociological concept and the psychological implications.
    Whilst it is an "acquired" set of dispositions, I would still argue that despite the propensity to follow suit on similar choices based on environmental influence, still, the individual has a choice. Perhaps he is predisposed to choose areas that are familiar and comfortable, but it does not mean, he or she will not choose an entirely different or opposite route.
    I am a proponent of the dictum, that you never have no choice. I believe it is such a traditional and outdated cap out. You either choose to or choose not to. Nonetheless, your choices will be highly influenced by your preferences and sensibilities. But it is till your choice. So if one opts for pursuing a path to success, he will be successful if he perseveres. The edge of the rich kid would be opportunities, network even, that the lesser economically privileged kids would not have. But some underprivileged kids also acquire a tenacity and resilience rich kids have not acquired. At the end of the day, this even out the playing field. Some rules are not fair, but that's another story. More importantly, it's how you play the game.

  3. "but for all intensive purposes"

    *intents and purposes :P

    I certainly agree with you that children born to a rich or upper-middle class home have an advantage. There will always been individual exceptions, but in general this holds true. Sociological studies often find correlations between parent's finances and all kinds of beneficial things like good health, high intelligence, high level of education and even "attractiveness" (That was an ... interesting... one.)

    I'm not sure I agree with you on the notion of habitus, at least not in rich families. I actually suspect it's the reverse: that it happens frequently poorer or middle class families, while the children in richer families tend to gravitate to their passions. (Unless you count "entrepreneurship" as a "career") In my experience, it is not uncommon for rich families to have, say, one lawyer child, one doctor child and one engineer child. They use their high levels of education and cultured talent to seek prestigious careers, but not necessarily the career of one of their parents.

  4. Interesting post. I definitely think habitus has a lot to do with it.

    Adult Student

  5. Rich kids may have money to buy any thing.But they can't buy wisdom.they can't buy intelligence,brightness.Great brains is what ultimately do everything.Rich kids only will be rich kids..But rich brains will become permanently Rich..Concentrate best on your studies and one day you will be in an envious position..

  6. edeals: They certainly can, rich kids have access to the tools of intelligence and are more likely to be fostered in their education. Brightness may be another thing, but bright rich kids have a much higher chance of fulfilling potential than bright, but less well off kids.


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