Rigid British social class system

There are many factors that contribute to the life-chances of people in society, and in the British documentary 28-Up, the director Michael Apted closely observes them. Many of the 7-year-olds filmed in the first instalment do indeed achieve their lives' ambitions, but some others' lives are dramatically altered by twists of fate. For example, while two of the characters studied by Apted - Bruce and Neil - while they start without extreme differences in their starts in life, by the 28-Up instalment, their lives have diverged significantly.

Both Bruce and Neil had large prospects in life at very young ages, and both were extremely lively in their first interviews, though with contrastingly different on-camera presences. This particular difference may be attributed to their differences in social class. While Bruce, like many of the upper class children interviewed, had very 'posh' accents, carefully constructed answers and dreams of attending Oxford or Cambridge, the middle class children were much more relaxed and had aspirations in life that were not always centred around education.

Although it is not directly said in Neil's interviews which social class he came from, it might be assumed from his accent and manner that he was born into an upper-middle class family. However, the fact that he spent most of his childhood growing up in less well-to-do suburbs suggests that his parents were possibly from a lower income group, in stark contrast to Bruce, who, from his dress to the political views he articulated at just age 7, is undoubtedly from a family at the higher end of the rigid British social class system.

It is thus significant to note the impact family influence has on children and the adults they become. Bruce's answers in his 7-Up interview are very self-assured. He appears to already know what he wants in life, particularly that he will one day attend a top university in Britain. Unquestionably, Bruce's ideas about and goals in life are shaped by his parents' own ideas and goals. It is implied that Bruce comes from a decent family and has had a very education-centred upbringing, with parents who are socially-aware, teaching him "to be obedient and well-mannered, but not sniff at the poor", and is very politically enthusiastic, stating at age 7 that he "does not agree with the Conservatives" about certain policies. All these attributes that he has attained while young follow him through to adulthood, and can be seen as he becomes a Socialist activist.

By 21, Neil, adversely, has left home and feels very angry towards his parents, stating that he "never had stability [his] whole life", and also complains that he was too sheltered while growing up, "[not having] enough obstacles to overcome". His ideas of society are negative, asserting that in today's society, "nobody cares about anything", and fearing any children he may have "[inheriting his] unhappiness". These views about society possibly stem from his family upbringing, as family life is widely understood to be the first experience of society that any person has.

Religion - and lack thereof - can also be seen as a strong factor in shaping a person's life through both subjects. While Bruce was raised, and remained, a strong Christian, believing that this meant that one must "try to do everything as well as possible in life" and to have a firm "belief in goodness and in love", Neil is uncertain throughout his life about his religious identity, and while at 28, he asserts that he "[believes] in destiny", which can be interpreted as being spiritual, it is most likely a sign of Neil's defeatism, given he was derelict at the time, and is his way of justifying dropping out of university, being homeless, and avoiding hard work to achieve the goals he had growing up.

Neil, like Bruce, wanted to study at Oxford, but didn't make it, and dropped out of university after the first semester, while Bruce went on to finish Maths at Oxford. The differences in their attitudes towards education was formed very early on, with Neil admitting that he took being smart for granted, was reluctant to try hard, and didn't consider education adequate enough to ready a person for society. Bruce, on the other hand, always held education in high regard, and, as he was raised to treat the poor and rich equally, it is not surprising that he became a Socialist activist, nor that he chose to teach at a public school in East London with a high immigrant student population. While Bruce is now very satisfied with his place in life, Neil is a depressed and homeless derelict living off social security, full of remorse and regret.

Through the comparison of the two men, it can thus be seen that social constructions, such as class, religion, education, and family upbringing truly can shape a person's outcome. In the case of Neil, while it was his own personal qualities and characteristics that helped determine his own future, his personality and negative views on life were likely to have been influenced by his parental upbringing and social factors affecting those of his background in a society based on a rigid class structure.