This paper seeks to test the influential 'risk society' thesis using quantitative data from the major UK longitudinal surveys. Two hypotheses are derived from the thesis: distanciation (the claim that more recent generations understand and manage their social lives in relation to risk and uncertainty in substantially different ways from those of their parents' generation) and reflexivity (the view that individuals are increasingly aware of their status in a detraditionalised social order and of their responsibility to manage their own life course). Empirical testing shows that greater distanciation and reflexivity can be identified in a comparison of the education, employment and partnership experience of earlier and later cohorts, but that these factors vary substantially for different social groups. Success in planning one's life and attaining the occupational status to which one initially aspired is increasingly associated with greater satisfaction and, with respect to career objectives, repeated change in jobs. But these outcomes are least likely to be available to those from the manual working class, especially those whose aspirations remain within that group. Risk society increasingly offers opportunities to 'write one's own biography', but it is important to be clear that success in doing so is socially structured.
- longitudinal analysis
- risk society