Is our character essentially formed by the age of seven?

I’ve recently viewed three programmes on ITV in a short series called “63Up”. This is the ninth series in a remarkable project that began in 1964 with a series called “SevenUp”. Originally 14 children aged seven, but from different social backgrounds, were interviewed about their lives and hopes. Then the director Michael Apted returned to the same people every seven years for a fascinating longitudinal study.

The premise of the film was taken from the Jesuit motto “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”, which is based on a quotation by Saint Francis Xavier. So is this true?

The nine programmes provide much anecdotal evidence to support the claim: the working class children have generally achieved limited education and wealth, while the middle-class children have largely had the privileged lives that their initial advantage suggested.

I think that I have been fortunate enough to be something of an exception to this pattern of limited social mobility. Ironically I went to a Catholic secondary school run by Xaverian Brothers but I was aged 11-18 at the time. At school, I had free meals and free uniform because of the poverty of my single parent. I went to university from home and obtained the maximum grant from my local authority which enabled me to be the first person in my family to obtain a degree.

So I started life as working class and became middle-class. But I could not have done this without the encouragement and support of my Italian mother and without the welfare state which subsidised my school and university education. There is a lesson here.

You can read more about the Up study here.


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