The Bar Stool Philosopher: Structured inequality, statistics and the individual

Bar Stool Philosopher

The Bar Stool Philosopher.

Statistics show that people born into lower income families in poorer areas don’t have the same ‘life chances’ as those born into higher income families. For want of a better description – this demonstrates the existence of ‘structured inequality’ i.e. institutions and individuals have in-built ways of operating that leads to: people born poor staying poor and people born rich staying rich.

That is undeniably the case. What does/should that mean for an individual from a poor background who becomes aware of this structured inequality; how should they think about it? How should they react to that knowledge. Should they ‘accept that the future is limited’?

If I said to you; one hundred people were asked to draw a line on a piece of paper; and statistically all of the lines were between 3 inches and 4 inches. Does that prevent you from drawing a line of a different length? If – out of the blue – I just asked you to draw a line, your line would probably be between 3 and 4 inches. If I told you about the statistics and told you to draw a line of a different length, could you?

Yes of course you could; what an absurd question. My point is that statistics showing inequality describe and predict – but they don’t in themselves constrain and they don’t constitute an instruction.

If an individual born in to a poor household is aware of ‘structured inequality’ and understands the elements that tend to perpetuate that inequality, e.g. money, networks, attitude (low horizons as apposed to ‘I was brought up to think any thing was possible’), education (and many other things); can they use that knowledge to beat the statistics?

Of course they can. To say otherwise would be to believe that life chances are entirely related to inherent ability and not circumstances; i.e. rich people are rich because they are born with better physical and mental skills than poor people; nobody believes that do they? I don’t – because – like my line drawing example – it’s also absurd.

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One response to “The Bar Stool Philosopher: Structured inequality, statistics and the individual”

  1. Bill Adair says:

    Interesting topic, Jim, and some well structured points. This seems like an extension of the “nature versus nurture” debate. In Victorian Britain a crime-related study was carried out regarding twins who had been separated and given to families on different social levels. Strangely, or not as the case may be, nothing conclusive could be drawn from the findings i.e. the so called “good” families still produced “bad” people and the so called “bad” families still produced “good” people. My own experience in the police did, however, show me on many occasions that a child from a disadvantaged background, whether it was criminal influence, poverty, unemployment etc., who had gone on to achieve something, a career, higher education etc., was usually regarded as the “black sheep” of the family for having ideas above their station.

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