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Explore and Evaluate How Economic, Cultural and Social Factors Can Affect Children and Young People’s Life Chances


This assignment aims to establish how a variety of factors (economic, cultural and social) govern the quality of young people’s life chances. The essay looks at a multitude of factors: economic (housing conditions and poverty), cultural (ethnicity and religion) and social (peer pressure and social class) and assess the impact they have on determining the future prospects of a young person. Each factor will be discussed critically: as to the degree of influence it will have over the young person’s future life quality. There are numerous things which affect the current (and future) quality of the young person’s life but of the economic tenets of well-being, the environment (housing and poverty) could have the most substantial impact on the prospects of success for a young person. The cultural environment is also important: with ethnicity and religion being the most pervasive factors in an environment. Likewise, the social environment a child is raised in significantly effects their future and current well-being, with peer pressure being particularly relevant for young people, with their social class the yardstick from which their future progress is drawn from. The assignment concludes with determining the precise nature of these factors’ impact on children’s life chances.

Economic factors

Children raised in poverty are much less likely to have basic needs met than their affluent counterparts, which could perpetuate grave consequences for the child. Parents may not be able to afford the basics for their child who may commonly suffer from a lack of food which could result in malnutrition and stunted growth with physical problems. Save the Children (2013) cite the prevalence of this worldwide with up to a quarter of the children in the world suffering from malnutrition. As well as the inevitable negative effects on mood, they expound that this can critically impair children’s academic performance, particularly in core subjects such as Literacy and Numeracy. They cite further negative impacts of an impoverished environment: earning up to 20% less in their lifetime than their sufficiently fed peers, as well as being a similar degree less literate than their peers. Perhaps most crucially, if malnourished as an infant, they note that these can cause irreversible damage to their physical and mental growth. This seems the most forthright piece of evidence that adverse economic conditions (poverty) can have a huge bearing on a child’s life chances.

Whilst young people may be resilient, they are commonly cited in literature as being one of the most vulnerable groups and subsets in society (Charlesworth, 2016). A temperamental living situation has the potential to change them neurologically. If their needs are not being met in poverty, discrepancies in serotonin levels can prevent the creation of new brain cells, delay or stymie growth/maturation and change the healthy neural circuitry in children’s brains, stunting their emotional and social development and making them more susceptible to emotional disorders and disturbances (Gunnar, et al., 2009; Miller et al., 2006). It could be implied that these emotional disturbances could be exacerbated by poverty, with more triggers which could draw the child into disorders such as depression and anxiety.

The environment in where child lives can also impact their life chances and potential for future well-being. Shelter (2016) notes that those who are of a lower income level tend to not have a fixed abode: in that they continually move between houses, instead of living at a fixed place. Often children live in ‘temporary accommodation’ where amenities are rudimentary at best, affecting children severely in a whole host of ways. Firstly, on a social level, children, who an age group who arguably are most in need of social cohesion and a sense of community, cannot form ties with their community as they are perpetually in a state of flux, failing to ever form permanent ties with the community they live in. Shelter (2006) note such children suffer from ‘chronic insecurity’, where, being unable to form a concrete attachment to a place, they become wary upon relocating to another area, if they feel that their stay there will only be of a short duration. Nevertheless, Feldman (2009) notes that whilst admitting that poor living conditions can stunt the development of a child, the strong bond between parent and child is still present, though the pervasive aspects of poverty may negate the steadying positive influence of a parent on their child’s life chances.

Academic literature provides a sound discussion of the issue, though theory helps to examine the problem from a different viewpoint. Maslow (1970) created an authoritative hierarchy of the different ‘needs’ which a human being needs to access in order to be able to function in life and in some cases thrive:

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Figure 1: Maslow’s (1970) Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow (1970) notes that if ‘basic’ needs are at the base of the pyramid are not being fulfilled, then one cannot ascend to the higher levels of the model in accessing ‘psychological’ needs which could be argued to refer to the more sophisticated ‘higher’ constituents of well-being such as love, belonging and connection. Hypothetically, if a child is subject to harsh living conditions and poverty then their physiological and safety needs are not being met, thus having the implication that they cannot attain a level of well-being that a child who is well provided for can. Tay and Diener (2011) note that all human needs are universal: seemingly inferring that this model can be applied to the majority of people, regardless of race or culture. Nevertheless, whilst environment may play a significant role in determining a young person’s life choices, the influence of genetics and personality cannot be disregarded. Behavioural geneticists commonly claim that DNA accounts for 30–50 percent of our behaviours (Saudino, 2005), an estimate that leaves 50–70 percent explained by environment. Bates (2008) downplays the influence of environment still further, deeming genes to be the most dominant (50%) factor in influencing happiness and wellbeing, with 40% attributed to behaviour and a mere 10% being determined by environment. This seems to infer that whilst poverty and poor housing conditions can negatively affect a young person’s life chances, their personality and behaviours may counteract this somewhat.

Cultural factors

Spielburger (2004) astutely points out that ‘culture is to society what memory is to individuals’. Sperber (1996) analogously refers to culture as an epidemic spreading through communities. These two definitions seem to imply that culture is an automatic, indelible entity that is woven through the fabric of communities, permeating the activities and behaviours which exist within it. In these definitions at least, culture seems to exert a significant influence on young person’s future prospects in life.

For those of an ethnic minority who reside in the UK, there may be some conflicting elements of their culture which are not commensurate with mainstream British culture, thus potentially disadvantaging an ethnic minority child. Cox and Geisen (2014) note the most predominant issues to be the existence of antiquated traditions such as corporal punishment in some migrants’ culture which is anathema to those practices which are adopted in the UK. Such disparity between cultures could result in a ‘culture clash’. Browne (2005) specifically relates this to young people of an ethnic minority background. He notes that if their home culture is vastly different to the one which they experience at school and in their community, potentially leading to social alienation. Subsequently, the child may become withdrawn and develop insufficiently socially.

Mourika et al. (2016) noted that low-SES (socioeconomic status families) and ethnic minority parents identified living in an environment where two cultures co-existed as a cause for parenting problems. The researchers expound upon the detrimental effects of conflict between two cultures: the sheer stress which parents can face from living in two cultures in flitting between the two can cause negative relations between parent and child. As documented previously, this can seriously impair a child’s future life prospects if the bond between parent and child is severed. Nevertheless it seems such parents were mindful of the potential adverse effects on their children: they considered parental support most relevant during periods of rapid change in their children (such as the transition between primary and secondary school). Furthermore, Bowden and Greenberg (2010) claim that culture can also have a positive influence a child’s life chances. They note that if a culture values pacifism and honourable values then young people can cope well in the face of adversity experienced because of a conflict in culture. Dweck (2006) opines that if such children adopt a ‘growth’ mindset then they can fulfil their innate potential, seeing obstacles as challenges, straining to achieve their potential, regardless of cultural barriers. It may be the case that the reaction to the challenges that such young people face could be the most valuable predictor of their future life success.

Nevertheless, those individuals who experience a different culture to what is normative in the UK can still be disadvantaged. They may face stigma because of their religion or beliefs. Goffman (1963) rationalises as a response to the inherent need of society to classify people and for them to conform to an idealised, normative way of being though this seems impractical in a society as diverse and multicultural as the UK. Allen (2013) notes that a notable example of such discrimination in the UK is experienced by those who are of an Islamic faith. Colloquially termed as ‘Islamophobia’ individuals of this faith can be negatively perceived and disadvantaged in terms of accessing services, becoming employed and harmoniously existing within a society, all of which could hinder a young person’s future life success (Allen, 2013).

Thanks mainly to an image frequently proliferated in the UK media of Muslims being extremists who frequently engage in terrorist acts which supposedly render them as a threat to society, MAMA (2016) state that hate crime against those of a Muslim background has increased by more than 300 percent in some London boroughs in 2015. MAMA (2016) also cites further negative effects of this negative perception of Muslims: some discard religious any symbols of with females failing to wear hijabs due to those who adorn them being perceived as antisocial. Such hostility may have negative impacts on a child’s development thus hindering their prospects for future development. Raburu (2015) face many challenges in developing their own ‘self-concept’, in whom they believe themselves to be and that a supportive culture is best to encourage healthy development. It could be hypothesised that if a child were living in an environment where an important aspect of themselves (their faith) was being continuously questioned, they may doubt and regress. Despite this, Nandi and Platt (2013) argue that the assimilation of ethnic minorities into British Culture has been improved by their capacity to identify with both the predominant ‘White British’ culture and their own individual identity.

This seems to support the growing narrative of this essay that whilst the environment (in this case cultural factors) a child is raised in can affect their life chances to a certain extent, an equal, if not greater, influence on the child’s future prospects is themselves.

Social Factors

Erikson (1963) conceptualised a series of stages of development of an individual in their lifetime:

Stage (age) Crisis
Infancy (0-1.5) Trust vs. Mistrust
Early Childhood (1.5-3) Autonomy vs. Shame
Play Age (3-5) Initiative vs. Guilt
School Age (5-12) Industry vs. Inferiority
Adolescence (12-18) Ego Identity vs. Role Confusion
Young Adult (18-40) Intimacy vs. Isolation
Adulthood (40-65) Generativity vs. stagnation
Maturity (65+) Ego integrity vs. Despair

Erikson (1963) posits that individuals have to progress through a series of crises where they select between two choices that can either positively or negatively impact their future life. It could be inferred from the model that between the ages of 5 to 18 in this model that young people are most likely to be pliable to social influences and imitate the behaviour of their peers, which can have a major impact on their future life choices.

Children can often seek the assistance of peers in sculpting an identity which is not yet fully formed: experimenting in accordance with the social environment they exist in, particularly the school they attend (Bowden and Greenberg, 2010). CPAG (2016) note that due to their peers’ behaviour, young people can often engage in destructive behaviours such as consuming alcohol and experimenting with other narcotics, a phenomenon which seems to be particularly prevalent in disadvantaged environments. This can have severe long-term consequences for a child should they become addicted to them such as depression, an inability to relate to peers and function in the world (Szewczyk-Sokolowski et al., 2005). Koob et al. (2014) theorise that the possibility of lifetime drug dependence becomes increasingly likelier the earlier a child’s first drug use. However, it seems important to note the earlier terminology of Erikson that children have choices as to whether to engage in an undesirable behaviour or not. Regardless of the intensity of the social environment and pressure from peers, children may be able to consciously exhibit a sense of rationality as to alter their future life for the better or worse.

Nevertheless, children can still be heavily influenced by the prevailing social dynamic they exist in, predominantly their social class. Khatabb (2015) makes the generalisation that more affluent students tend to have loftier aspirations than those who are raised in less favourable conditions. He makes the observation that those students drawn from lower-class backgrounds tend to have the poorest educational attainment and theoretically, the lowest prospects for future growth. DfE (2015) reaffirm this, identifying white, working class boys as the poorest attainment group in the UK, lagging behind other groups significantly. Paulussen-Hoogeboom et al. (2007) cite reasons such as low aspirations and the pressures faced by low-income parents: who were less able than well-resourced parents to be able to adjust their parenting to the demands of higher-needs children (Evans, 2004; Ahnert et al., 2006). Their level of education maybe limited, hence impeding their ability to nurture their children’s educational talents. On an emotional level, this can interfere with the attunement process, the early emotional bond shared between parent and child, ultimately reducing to their capacity to respond and address their offspring’s needs. Whilst the above discussion may paint a bleak picture of the negative influence of social class on a child’s future life prospects, DfE (2015) in the same report which disclosed white boys’ underachievement, noted that those who were of a different ethnic origin to them, but of a similar income level outperformed them comfortably. They attributed this to cultural differences and a greater desire to better themselves and an appreciation of the value of education.

With history littered with stories of success stories of people from underprivileged backgrounds who have overcome adversity to become successful, this seems to imply that rather than the environment or factors which they are exposed to, a child is the most important figure in determining their future life quality.


Social, cultural and economic factors all have an arguably equitable impact on a child’s life and their future chances of progress. They impact the child’s life through different means: socially through their propensity to imitate their peers and lifestyle/aspirations of their social class which can heavily influence the direction of their future life. If they are subject to harsh economic conditions then this can stunt their development, emotionally and physically which could curtail their prospects of future well-being. Culturally, their ethnicity may prevent them from accessing opportunities to other groups of society as well as potentially being stigmatised.

Ultimately, whilst the factors examined in this essay may significantly affect the current condition of the child and have a level on impact on the future they carve out for themselves, the quality of their future life and wellbeing is determined to a reasonable extent by themselves. This is not to demean or devalue the situations they face or any adversity they experience in their childhood; rather it is seen as something that empowers the child, implying that they are the ultimate agent in controlling their own destiny.

Often, those with the most difficult start in life can reach the highest levels of wellbeing:

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” (C.S. Lewis)


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