Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Social Class and Choice

A comment I posted on "Graceful Retirement" as part of the ongoing discussion about Meg's blogposts:

"I'm not too sure about the correlation you make between being born poor and choices. Poorer parents might not have very high expectations for their children but those children's opportunities are often limited by going to bad schools and hanging out with an unambitious crowd of friends. Children who have money to back them up can do things like graduate degrees in non-professional fields, being an artist, working for NGOs etc. without worrying about increasing their net worth. So I think it cuts both ways. I grew up what I considered lower middle class in England - compared to most of my middle class friends we had a smaller house, car etc. My Mom had a degree in classics and training as a nurse (came from a working class background in Australia and studied on scholarship). My Dad came from a relatively wealthy family in Europe but was a refugee/prisoner/factory worker in the Second World War and then gradually built a career as an engineer without a formal degree. So I think we had higher social class attitudes than our actual income/wealth. My parents were definitely ambitious for us to get well educated and my Dad was somewhat concerned that we don't study something he considered useless but there wasn't big pressure to follow some particular type of career etc. I ended up as a professor - I studied geography which my Dad thought was "useless" and economics and just followed the do what you like and are good at route without worrying much about the money. My brother studied civil engineering and then later switched to computer programming."


Revanche said...

Thanks for linking to those posts, I'd missed this part of the conversation.

The poor definitely have fewer options, but that doesn't mean they're completely out of luck.

My family was dirt poor a single generation ago. My parents arrived in America without even a change of clothing over twenty five years ago, raised two kids and even sent my brother to private high school.

Yes, they made some bad choices during that time, and since then, but they were able to send me through high school and on a path to college. And then it might have been a struggle but I won't deny that I've achieved quite a lot since being born and raised in fairly impoverished circumstances.

My parents always just wanted us to be happy, but since I'm never going to be happy if I'm poor, developing a net worth it is! Being poor is too stressful. :)

mOOm said...

Hi Revanche - this is absolutely true - I wrote "often limited". And in general immigrants to Western countries are more ambitious than locally born people with similar socio-economic status. My parents were both immigrants to Britain though both came from other Western countries. My mom studied at university on scholarship before the higher education system was made as accessible as it is now in Australia. She also went to one of the best high schools in Sydney. She was born in 1931 in the Great Depression. Her father was a railway worker. On the other hand my father's family had to flee from Nazi Germany in 1937 and when he got to Britain in 1939 he was "interned" by the British (despite being Jewish) in a prison camp like Japanese were interned by the US government in WWII (he was 15 years older than my mother). My brother and I went to state grade schools in Britain (we lived in a district with some very good schools) and on to state universities in Britain and Israel. The only private school I went to was when I did my PhD in the US.

Rafi said...

I think that for the majority of people what they get from having stable (or aspiring) middle class families behind them are the attitudes that allow them to succeed when they are out on their own. If those attitudes include (amongst others) studiousness, responsibility and effort then they have the best chance to succeed. The benefits of coming from a "good" family do not need to be financial.

If the attitudes they inherit from their parents and surroundings are dysfunctional and/or negative then their chances are that much worse.