The Character Inquiry
by Jen Lexmond
Today Demos launches its newest collection, The Character Inquiry, with a debate chaired by Trevor Phillips of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
You may be forgiven for asking what character has to do with equality – the connection may not be that obvious. In fact, character is an increasingly crucial component of tackling inequality. Character became 33 times more important to life chances for those born in 1970 compared with those born 12 years before. In today’s world, possessing character capabilities can be the difference between sinking and swimming.
The EHRC has supported Demos’ work on character in the past. In 2009 we published Building Character, an analysis of how different parenting styles impact on the early development of children’s soft skills – empathy, application, resilience, self-discipline. These skills might be described more simply as ‘character’.
Unsurprisingly, we found that warm, consistent parenting led to the greatest development of character capabilities. More surprisingly, we found that parenting style mattered more to this development than any other background factor including household income, parents’ social class or ethnicity. Research shows that these skills, developed in the early years, are increasing influential in shaping children’s outcomes later in life, from health to educational attainment, relationship stability to labour market earnings. It seems that character development has an important part to play in building a more socially mobile and more equal society.
But whilst the parent-child relationship is a crucial initial site for early character development, a whole range of factors influence how it forms across life. Demos has been running The Character Inquiry to explore these different factors through bringing together an expert group of members from a range of different backgrounds – policy, education, journalism and psychiatry to name a few. And also key to our inquiry was considering the ways in which policy can be designed to take better account of the importance of character to people’s life chances, and the ways that it can be developed and sustained.
Character may not seem to be a natural policy issue, but The Character Inquiry shows that character should be at the heart of our responses to social problems.