Gillian Evans

in Childhood Studies

ISBN: 9780199791231
Published online March 2012 | | DOI:


Social class is not generally studied in terms of childhood, but there are good reasons for doing so. A significant proportion of relatively poor children and young people living in capitalist economies are likely to reproduce the social and economic conditions of their parents’ lives, and indeed, to experience deterioration in their living and working conditions relative to those of their parents. This means that social class remains a relevant category for understanding the structure of hierarchical relations in industrial and industrializing societies, explaining the inequalities of economic and social status in contemporary life and making sense of the different cultural values that class distinctions engender over time. Many studies of the effects of social-class difference and the experience of particular kinds of classed lives focus on children and young people. There are rich, multidisciplinary literatures to engage with on the topic of class, but the imbalance among sources focusing on working-, middle-, and especially upper-class children is disappointingly stark. The majority of studies focus on the problems and limitations associated with poverty rather than the possibilities provided by or alienation arising from the privileges of wealth. The literature is diverse enough, however, to get a real sense not just of the limitations associated with material deprivation but also of the limitations associated with the social wealth and creativity of working-class childhoods. The inequalities of social class pertain not just to employment opportunities and wealth but also to quality of life in housing and health, life expectancy, and educational attainment. The high and increasing incidence of child poverty in relatively rich countries, such as Britain (30 percent of children) and America, means that the advantages and disadvantages associated with social class remain relevant and critically important. This is the case despite recent academic and government claims to the contrary that suggest that social class is now empirically and analytically redundant, based on the following factors: increasing social mobility, an ideology of meritocracy, the demise of socialism, the move to postindustrial economies in the Western world, and the growing evidence of eclectic individualism, such as the freedom to choose one’s identity as one pleases regardless of limitations concerning family/social history. Doubtless, these contemporary social, political, and economic conditions form a vital backdrop against which the ongoing prevalence of social class must be understood, but to abandon an analytical focus on class altogether would be shortsighted and politically naïve, especially when capitalist conditions of production are increasingly effecting significant life changes for many of the world’s children.

Article.  7696 words. 

Subjects: Development Studies

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