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How does poverty affect a person's life chances?

Updated on March 12, 2017


For example, poverty has an impact on the chances of educational success. There have been a number of studies that connect poverty to low educational performance (Halsey et al, Hutchings, Smith and Noble). In 2013, 41% of pupils on FSM (Free School Meals) obtained 5 A*-C grades at GCSE including English and Maths, 27% lower than pupils from non-FSA backgrounds. Poverty can hinder how long a young person stays in education. For example, places at university are heavily dominated by students from higher income backgrounds.


Poverty has a significant impact on health. Poor households are linked to unhealthier diets and poor quality housing which has an impact on health and life expectancy. Men in social class V are twice as likely to die before men in social class I. The documentary “Poor Kids” (Channel 4) illustrated how the damp conditions in low income housing could make children unwell. Bottero (2005) supports this point and adds that children in poor areas are closer to dangerous levels of traffic on busy roads, having an increased chance of injury and death. Lower income groups can’t afford the private health care that richer households may make use of in order to reduce waiting times for operations etc.


Poverty can lead to a social situation of marginalisation and exclusion. This refers to a feeling of being isolated, left out from mainstream society. Murray would argue that this becomes an underclass. Wilkinson (1996) describes how greater inequality leads to a distinct “poor” group that are in need of supportive social policies to regain social cohesion.

Poverty can link to political marginalisation which then harms life chances of political influence (what Weber referred to as “Party”). Owen Jones (2015, The Establishment) would argue that the poor are neglected in the current political system so that reforms and social policies that might support them are not on the political agenda. Jones connects this to what he sees as a stigmatisation of the poor in the media, through programmes such as “Benefit Street” and “Shameless” on Channel 4. This can lead to a labelling of the poor as “lazy” and “welfare scroungers”.


Poverty has a significant impact on leisure habits. Not being able to afford holidays abroad, educational visits and saving for a good retirement hinder the poor’s ability to gain what Bourdieu would refer to as cultural and social capital. Cultural capital refers to a knowledge and appreciation of the “finer” things in life such as art, history, music, plays. Social capital refers to having connections with other people in positions of power or importance.


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