Research Paper 9: Life Chances, Learning, and the Dynamics of Risk throughout the Life Course

Authors: Karen Evans, Ingrid Schoon and Martin Weale


Social, economic and cultural factors influence and impede individuals’ attempts to control their lives, their ability to respond to opportunities and to manage the consequences of their choices. The LLAKES research strand focuses on degrees of ‘riskiness’ in socio-economic environments for individual life chances across the life course, the ways in which individuals react to these risks and the extent to which differences in socio-economic outcomes are influenced by factors such as parental background, educational attainments and participation in education and training after entering the workforce. In particular we focus on variations and change in education and employment opportunities, the processes and consequences of participation in different forms of learning and experience beyond school and the socio-economic outcomes associated with different transition strategies and experiences. The importance of educational institutions and structural factors such as the labour market in mediating risk and shaping education transitions/transition strategies are highlighted.

This overview reviews what the literature and our own research to date tells us about ‘risk’ and the dynamics of learning throughout the life course: changing constellations of risk and opportunity in early childhood; the transitions from secondary, further and higher education into employment; the opportunities for different groups of adult workers to engage in life-long learning; and the changing fortunes of older persons. The evidence points to the need to consider heterogeneity in life and work experiences, the need for more flexible and diversified life course models, and the need for broader definitions of ‘successful’ transitions and outcomes, taking into account variation in resources among different subgroups of the population.
The paper concludes by bringing together what ‘riskiness’ in the life course actually means.