How is it true that two families with the same income may have different qualities of life?  

How is it true that two families with the same income may have different qualities of life?



Expert Answers
Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Precisely what constitutes a desirable quality of life is bound to be disagreed about by some, but there are characteristics, I think, we might all agree upon. There are many factors that can create or not create quality of life for different families that have exactly the same income.  You may or may not have ever noticed this, but when we divide people into classes, we often speak of them in socioeconomic groups, not just economic groups. This is because the "socio" part turns out to be just as important as how much money people make.  Our values, our tastes, our upbringings, our educational level, and even the communities we live in all have a powerful impact on our choices in life. And it is in those choices that the differences between families can emerge.

Let's take a family that makes $75,000 a year.   The family purchases a very expensive house and a very expensive car.  The monthly payments are steep.  They leave little room to even furnish the house very well and no room at all for family vacations or many of the amenities that make for a good quality of life, such as concerts, athletics, or extra-curricular educational experiences.  This family may very well be eating canned tuna fish for dinner most nights, not having the wherewithal to eat tuna steaks, which are expensive but much better for us.  My values are such that I do not consider this family to have a good quality of life, in spite of the impressive house and car. They lack comfortable furnishings, they do not get to travel, they eat poorly, and they are all missing out on valuable experiences.  

Let's look at another family that makes the same income. The parents are educated and informed. They are aware of the concept of conspicuous consumption and have no desire to impress anyone with fancy houses or cars. They purchase a modest house and an inexpensive but reliable vehicle that is a few years old.  Their money goes for fresh, healthy food, books, music, travel, and perhaps summer camps for the children. Their choices are based more upon their health and intellectual growth than on whom they can impress. 

A third family might make the same amount of money with each parent working two different jobs.  The parents are not educated and they rent because they have never been able to save up a down payment to buy their own house.  They live in a neighborhood that has no supermarket nearby but has many fast food places.  They do not own a car because their credit is not the best and they don't have the cash to purchase one.  They are dependent on public transportation and gypsy cabs for anything they want to do.  Thus, even getting groceries back to the home is an effort.  Because they work so hard, they do not have time to do much meal preparation anyhow. So they resort to fast foods to feed the family.  They could make their money go much further if they cooked at home and perhaps even saved up for a car.  They might be able to afford health insurance, so that they need not resort to the emergency room for their medical care. But they are trapped in this cycle of poverty, often through no fault of their own, often not understanding how much a difference these choices make in the long run. They are living day to day, with a very poor quality of life, making $75,000 per year, eating poorly, working hard, and having virtually no amenities or great experiences. 

Yet another family with the same income might provide all of the latest technology for its members, the latest iPad, the latest game systems, the most recent smartphones.  The family does not go to the zoo anymore because they can all look at animals on the internet. They don't go to concerts because they can find the music on Spotify. They don't go to museums or art galleries because all the collections are available on-line. Who needs to see the "Mona Lisa" in person? They seldom eat real family meals together because everyone is on his or her own device, and no one is motivated to cook. They have chosen to spend all of their discretionary income on devices, not experiences.  I personally do not think their quality of life is very good.

We could be a society in which everyone had exactly the same income, but it is the choices that we make and sometimes the barriers that society places in our paths that make these differences in quality of life.  We have often been socialized in ways that predispose us to make particular choices, which is why it is so difficult to break the cycle of poverty for some families, even those that are making a reasonable amount of money, while for others, the choices passed down ensure another generation with a good quality of life.