Sunday, 31 July 2011

How good was your start in life?

Many years ago when I was a lazy good-for-nothing teenager whose top priority was seeking out the next bottle of beer and the odd cheeky cigarette, my father, in a fit of annoyance or possibly just stating an indisputable fact, said "if I had your start in life the sky would have been the limit".

It is a comment that has stuck with me over the years and may have made me feel guilty about wasting the start in life that I had been given (hah - his cunning plan worked!). It was a fair comment to be honest, and when I consider the start in life he had I have to admit that I don't think I would have achieved a tenth of what he did. On the other hand, I think I've done okay so far given the cards I was dealt and where I decided to play them.

Thirty years later, I find myself considering the start in life that my own children have had and how it compares to other young people today from more and less priviliged backgrounds and to my generation. Naturally, being a scientist by training I immediately had the desire to capture my thoughts in a formula, so that I could assign everyone a meaningless score and rank us all on a rather silly index.

Thus was born the Start In Life Index, whereby everyone has their own SILI Score that shows clearly where you are starting out from and how far ahead or behind the pace you are verses your peers.

The function underpinning my SILI Score is straightforward enough. It goes like this

SILI Score = f{IG, IC, NP1, NP2, EU, ES, CC1, CC2, PA}

The SILI score ranges from zero to 100. It is UK specific, geared towards young people just embarking on their careers post-education and it has all the validity of any other index that you might find in the average lifestyle magazine measuring your "snoggability" or your suitability as a cat owner.

If you score upwards of 90 then you have no possible excuse for not becoming a multi-millionaire banker, top City lawyer, head of the United Nations or a senior Government Minister. Achieve anything less and you have frittered away your amazing start in life. If you score 30 or less, then you are doing an incredible job just fighting your way past the closed, massed middle-class ranks who will, as a matter of course, be occupying all the middle ranking jobs.

So, let's get down to businesss.

The SILI Score is divided in to five categories

Inherent Features - things about you that you can't change. So deal with it.
Network - they say who you know matters. Well guess what, they are right!
Education - or as someone once said "education, education, education"
Cultural Capital - read a good book recently? Good. But don't forget to turn on the radio
Personal Attributes - Got that glint in your eye and fire in your belly? Hmmm...have you considered seeing a specialist?

Simply go through each category below, answering the question and allotting the appropriate number of points and hey presto, your SILI Score will emerge. For what it's worth mine was a modest 38 out of a possible 100.

Inherent Features
Gender - male 10 points
Gender - female 6 points
Colour - white 10 points
Colour - brown/other 6 points
Colour - black 2 points

Network/Who you know
Parents - have lots of millionaire/well connected mates 10 points
Parents - have a few millionaire/well connected mates 4 points
Personal - 20+ of your friends are in/starting professional jobs 6 points
Personal - 5+ of your close friends have millionaire/well connected parents 4 points

University - Oxbridge 10 points
University - Other Russell Group 4 points
University - any UK 2 points
Secondary - Eton 10 points
Secondary - Other top public school 6 points
Secondary - Independent/good grammar 4 points

Cultural Capital
Sports - skiing 4 points
Sports - rugby 2 points
Sports - cricket 2 points
Sports - golf 2 points
Social - galleries & museums 4 points
Social - classical music 2 points
Social - regular foreign holidays 2 points
Social - familiarity with Radio 4 2 points

Personal Attributes
Strong communication in Queens English 4 points
Persistence 4 points
Ambition 4 points
Speaks one of French, German, Spanish, Mandarin 4 points
Can walk in, look anyone in the eye and shake hands confidently 4 points

As you will see by skimming through the choice of proxies and scores, this whole index says more about how I think British society works than anything else. It says interesting (I think) and probably controversial things about my beliefs such as

  • in the UK, your gender and colour are still strong factors in the early stages of your career and its not as simple as being white or black. I'm afraid it is a bit easier being mixed in Briton today than being black (I wonder if this is controversial or obvious? I guess I am about to find out!)
  • your parents network of contacts carries as much weight as your own
  • Oxbridge still stands out and grades are pretty irrelevant. A second class degree from Oxbridge in any subject easily trumps a first from any other University, except in very specific disciplines
  • At secondary school level Eton is way above the rest, whether they like it or not, but once you get beyond a handful of other schools (Westminster, both St Pauls', Harrow perhaps) no-one else really counts
  • your kid can play all the football they like. It doesn't count. Rugby, skiing, cricket is where you build lifelong friendships that will matter ten years later. If you play golf, it's because Father does and you're playing at his club, so you're sorted, mate.
  • you can go and visit museums and so on, but if you don't have Radio 4, The Archers and The Shipping Forecast wafting around your house in the background, the cultural capital that matters isn't going to sink in to your bones
  • it's not enough to be a confident talker. You are going to have to work on your accent. The more you sound "Home Counties middle class" the better set you will be
So, there you have it. The SILI Score is a foolproof way of measuring how good your or anyone else's start in life is. It's not silly at all. Oh no, not at all. Not at all. And if only I'd started out with a score in the high 80's I might have made something of myself.


Anonymous said...

Not necessarily the case. I think other factors need to be considered; resilience in attitude to school work for example. At the end of the day life is a marathon not a sprint, it's great if your rich, but daddy won't always be their now will he ? Children need to learn to be able to be independent from an earl stage not constantly sponsored by their parents.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last comment.