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Life chances (Lebenschancen in German) are the opportunities each individual has to improve his or her quality of life. The concept was introduced by German sociologist Max Weber. It is a probabilistic concept, describing how likely it is, given certain factors, that an individual's life will turn out a certain way (Hughes 2003). Life chances are positively correlated with one's social situation (Cockerham 2005, p. 12).

The opportunities mean the extent to which individuals have access to important societal resources, such as food, clothing, shelter, education, and health care[1]. Quality of life comprises the individual's ability to procure goods, have a career and obtain inner satisfaction; in other words, the ability to satisfy one's needs [2].

Weberian life chances can be seen as an expansion on some of Karl Marx's ideas. Both Weber and Marx agreed that economic factors were important in determining one's future, but Weber's concepts of life chances are more complex; inspired by, but different from Marx's views on social stratification and social class. Where for Marx the means of production were the most important factor, Weber introduced other factors, [3] such as social mobility and social equality [4].

While some of those factors, like age, race or gender, are random [5], Weber stressed the link between life chances and the non-random elements of the three-component theory of stratification - how social class, social status and political affiliation impact each individual's life. In other words, individuals in certain groups have in common a specific causal component of their life chances: they are in similar situation, which tends to imply a similar outcome to their actions. Weber notes the importance of economic factors[6], how the power of those with property, compared to those without property, gives the former great advantages over the latter[7]. Weber also noted that life chances are to certain extent subjective: what an individual thinks of one's life chances will affect their actions, therefore if one feels that one can become a respected and valued member of society, then it is likely to become a reality and results in one having a higher social class than somebody without this conviction[8].

In social engineering, life chances may have to be balanced against other goals, such as eliminating poverty, ensuring personal freedom or ensuring equality at birth.


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