How Privileged Are You?

In 2008 on The Buddha is My DJ blog,  Scott Mitchell had a post called Privilege.  He currently has a great series of articles on privilege-here’s  part one: white privilege-it’s really interesting reading!

With the current interest in topics related to privilege on many Buddhist blogs. (Arun is collecting links at Angry Asian Buddhist) I’ve decided to take it up as well.

But rather than give an opinion (or more likely a sermon or even more likely a rant) on the topic right now I want to give everyone a chance to see first how they compare to others in terms of privilege and advantage.

Sources and Background

Scott included a scale of social status that was taken from a work by William Barratt called Social Class on Campus in his earlier post and I am adapting that for my purposes here. In the original exercise there is a Summary Statement that I think is also apt in this context:

This experience was about creating awareness of privilege. What it is, what it does, and what it means. Having privilege does not mean that you worked less hard. All it means is that you had a head start, so maybe it does mean you didn’t have to work as hard . . . .

The list originally had 37 questions designed for American college students in a classroom. I have added quite a few questions and adjusted others to partially account for responses from various ethnic groups, ages, genders, sexual orientations, a broader range of economic and geographical situations and backgrounds. A couple of questions were dropped as being too narrow for current purposes. To determine relevant questions I looked at a number of websites most notably those listed on the World Bank’s poverty monitoring indicators page and the United Nations Millenium Development goals and followed some of the links on both for expanding this topic. As well I consulted various Indices of Deprivation such as that put out by the U.K. government for 1999 (pdf of technical data to the project)

My alterations are certainly not all encompassing nor statistically validated (It’s a blog post not a master’s thesis!) and I know the questions should be “weighted” properly but it is an attempt to “globalize” the issue of privilege and advantage-to broaden the scale that was originally created.  Significant alterations to the original questions and added questions are in red.

It takes about 10-15 minutes to read and write Y/N/O for each question.

Instructions and Scoring

Take the questions one at a time. Don’t relate them to any before or after.

Add 1 point if the item describes your situation (Y)

Subtract one point if it does not (N)

Put zero (0)  if it does not relate to your situation (ie if you have no children and the question relates to children or if cell phones were not available at the time mentioned)

It’s easier if you do one section at a time, get the score and then tally the scores at the end. It will be a positive or negative or less likely a zero score.

A) Education

  1. If all your grandparents could read and write
  2. If your father finished grade school (8 years)
  3. If your father finished high school (12 years)
  4. If your father went to college (1 or more years) or completed trade school
  5. If your father finished college
  6. If your father has a PhD (or international equivalent)
  7. If your mother finished grade school (8 years)
  8. If your mother finished high school (12 years)
  9. If your mother went to college or completed trade school
  10. If your mother finished college
  11. If your mother has a PhD (or international equivalent)
  12. If you have any relative other than your parents who is an attorney, physician, engineer, accountant, judge, high elected official (senator/governor/chief minister etc.) or professor.
  13. If you finished grade school
  14. If you finished high school
  15. If you went to college or completed trade school
  16. If you finished college
  17. If you have a PhD
  18. If your family was the same or higher class than your school teachers
  19. If you have a commercial driver’s license or any pilot’s license
  20. If you went to a private (not government run)  grade school
  21. If you went to a private high school
  22. If you had a private tutor

B) Insurance and Pensions-Future Security

  1. If your parents had life insurance
  2. If you have life insurance now
  3. If your parents had a retirement fund (401K, RRSP or international pension equivalent)
  4. If you have a retirement fund (same as above)
  5. If you live in a country with an old age pension/social security/Medicare
  6. If you live in a country with an unemployment insurance scheme
  7. If you live in a country with a welfare/social assistance system (even food stamps or gov’t coupons)
  8. If you live in a country with government controlled guaranteed rationing of food or other goods
  9. If you live in an area with regular food banks (charitable food distribution systems not run by government and not emergency or interim food aid)

C) Health

  1. If you had access to and received routine immunization as a child (any of diphtheria/polio/chicken pox/small pox etc.)
  2. If you were born in a hospital or at home with a qualified trained midwife or doula
  3. If you went to a paid dentist (not a school or free clinic dentist) as a child
  4. If you have health insurance or live in a country with socialized medicine
  5. If you have insurance that covers prescription drug costs
  6. If you have dental insurance
  7. If you have access to specialists (dermatologist/cardiologist/oncologist etc)
  8. If you do not have a debilitating chronic illness (one that prevents full time work)

D) Employment

  1. If one or both of your parents were continually employed when you grew up (as opposed to seasonal work, agriculture or sporadic employment)
  2. If you have been continually employed for the past 5 year or more
  3. If you have been promoted in the past 3 years
  4. If you drive a company car or have an expense account
  5. If you have your own office or separate work area that is for your exclusive use (as opposed to being shared like in a factory)

E) Living Conditions

  1. If you had an indoor toilet at home while growing up
  2. If you had reliable electricity while growing up
  3. If you never had head lice or parasites while growing up
  4. If you never had persistent (half the time) vermin (mice/rats/cockroaches) in your home while growing up
  5. If neither of your parents were alcoholics or drug abusers
  6. If your mother could have had a paying job (if permission of a family member/religious authority was not required)
  7. If your mother had no restriction to access to birth control (social, economic or religious restriction)
  8. If your mother could have obtained a driver’s license if she wanted to (ignoring cost etc.)
  9. If your family had access to a large food store or market while growing up
  10. If you did not experience physical violence while growing up
  11. If you or a member of your immediate family were not a victim of a serious crime while growing up
  12. If your parents were able to vote for government representation on any level (variations of democracy)
  13. If you are able to vote on any level
  14. If neither of your parents have been in jail/prison
  15. If you have never been in jail/prison
  16. If you are not a refugee
  17. If your country has not experienced a war on its own soil or martial law while you were growing up
  18. If your neighborhood was principally of your own ethnicity
  19. If your neighborhood was principally White

F) Access to Information/Communications

  1. If you had a telephone at home while growing up
  2. If you had a phone in your room
  3. If you had your own cell phone before age 21
  4. If you had a television at home while growing up
  5. If you had your own TV as a child or teen
  6. If you had a computer at home when you were growing up
  7. If you had your own computer at home when you were growing up
  8. If you had access to and used a public library on a regular basis (more than once a month)
  9. If you had more than 50 books at home when you were growing up
  10. If you had more than 500 books at home when you were growing up
  11. If you were read children’s books by a parent when you were growing up
  12. If your family received a newspaper delivery when you were growing up
  13. If your family received postal delivery at home when you were growing up

G) Leisure

  1. If you participated in “official” organized sports outside of school as a child (with  leagues, uniforms  etc)
  2. If you participated in community activities as a child (cadets, cub scouts, choirs, dance troupes, clubs, etc)
  3. If you ever had lessons [music, arts, sports] of any kind as a child or a teen
  4. If you had two or more kinds of lessons as a child or a teen
  5. If most people in the media [TV, movies] were of the same cultural background as you
  6. If most people in the media [TV, movies] who dress and talk like you were portrayed positively
  7. If you went to summer camp or school camp on holidays
  8. If you have visited another country once while growing up
  9. If you have been to another country more than once as a child or teen
  10. If you had vacations away from your state or regional birthplace as a child (over 100 kilometers or miles away)
  11. If your vacations involved staying at hotels rather than campgrounds or at relatives homes
  12. If you have ever flown anywhere on a commercial airline
  13. If you ever went on a cruise
  14. If a parent or close relative took you to museums and art galleries as a child or teen
  15. If a parent or close relative took you to free movies, plays or concerts as a child
  16. If a parent or close relative took you to paid-admission movies, plays or concerts as a child

H) Bank and Finances

  1. If you had a credit card with your name on it before age 21
  2. If you currently have a credit card or bank loan
  3. If you had  less than $5000 in student loans when you graduated
  4. If you graduated with no student loans
  5. If you had a bank account as a child
  6. If you have a trust account
  7. If you have more than 6 months wages in bank savings (excluding pension funds)

I) Property Ownership

  1. If all of your clothing had been “factory” made (not made at home by a relative)
  2. If all of your clothing had been new (not previously worn by someone else)
  3. If your parents had a car
  4. If your parents had more than one car
  5. If your parents gave you a  car
  6. If your parents gave you a new car
  7. If there was original art (hand made and purchased-not magazine or calendar art) in your house as a child or teen

J) Housing and Geography

  1. If you were born in the country in which you currently reside
  2. If there were non-religious picture on the walls of your home as a child
  3. If you and your family lived in a single-family house when you were a child
  4. If you currently life in a single family house
  5. If your parent owned their own house or apartment or land when you were a child or teen
  6. If you have or had a mortgage (house loan)
  7. If you have paid off your mortgage or own a home in your own name
  8. If you had your own bed as a young child
  9. If you had your own room as a child or teen
  10. If you were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family
  11. If your country has a mass transport system (trains, buses, airlines)
  12. If your country has ports (access to the ocean)
  13. If your country has a temperate climate (not tropical and not below freezing for more than 5 months of the year)

K) General Demographics

  1. If you are  male
  2. If both your parents are of the same ethnicity
  3. If  both your parents are White
  4. If your significant other or spouse is within the same ethnic community as you
  5. If you have a co-parent for your children (This means you are not a single parent)
  6. If you heterosexual
  7. If you now the same gender as you were born
  8. If you are 1 or more inches taller than the average person of your gender and ethnicity
  9. If you do not have large scars, tattoos, birth defect (ie cleft palate) or a serious notable skin condition (ie vitiligo) on normally visible parts of the body
  10. If you are in a relationship AND legally married
  11. If you are not disabled
  12. If you are under age 40
  13. If you are not divorced
  14. If you are not widowed

The range of scores is potentially from +133 to -133 although either extreme will likely not be met here.  The younger one is, the narrower the range will be. And hopefully all the questions can be related within a broad range of cultures and backgrounds. If this is not so let me know and I will reconsider the wording. I know some are not too delicately worded but that is for clarity and ease of test taking not due to insensitivity of that issue on my part hopefully.

I did a sample consisting of myself, my paternal grandmother’s (born 1900) later life situation and the situation of a 35 year old male neighbor I am familiar with in India. The scores were +35, -23, -58 respectively.  The largest discrepancies were in the areas of A) Education,  E) Living Conditions, and  F) Access to Information/Communication.

An important point to note is that many of these can change over a lifetime. One would as a child have a lot of questions that were not applicable, hence the greater disadvantage of children in an adult world in general. But as one ages they would become relevant. One could start a pension, come to own a car, marry, a hospital could be built nearby and so forth. Changes are a result of family circumstances, individual choices, aging, changes in local and global conditions, development, global economics, wars and many other factors.

An Exercise in Relativity

Here’s an interesting exercise. Imagine a person with certain similar facts as yourself-gender, age, marital situation.  Now imagine that person is in North Korea,  Saudi Arabia,  India, Peru, Mexico, Nigeria or a person in a rural/urban area of your own country (whichever you are not in), or a different part of the city as you. How would their answers vary? What would their “score” be relative to yours? Imagine they are of the other gender, a different ethnicity or much older or younger. What would their experience of these things be?  And further what would their perception be of your score? Would they think your score is much higher or lower than it is?  What filters are involved in these perceptions? (Hint-I think there are a number of them listed above)

What is Your Normal?

Your score indicates your current relative vantage point. This is the point from which you view others. This is what you consider to be “normal”.  The more different your answers are to someone elses the greater the work involved in attempting to understand their viewpoint.  And the further away your score is from someone else’s the larger the level of distortion of their experience will be.  This is where biases, however unconcious,  are born.

An Afterword

So once you have gone through this it would be interesting to know something about your experience and do some statistical analysis.  You can anonymously comment here (fake name-no website listed) and your email is not publicly disclosed.  If a few people want to participate I’ll put up a table with the data and we can see if there are any trends that emerge. You can even put up the scores for sections or all of the yes/no responses if you want. (cut an paste the questions into the comments and just put Y, N or 0 and anything else you want to comment on.)  Email (nellalouise   at also is cool and I’ll just use the numbers and the little bit of data below.

Put this information also if you want to participate.

  • Section scores and overall score
  • Birth country
  • Current country
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Age or age range (20’s, 30’s etc.)
  • Religion

Let’s see where this goes.

OK It’s 2AM now and I’ve got to write sermons rants blog posts sleep!

By NellaLou

12 comments on “How Privileged Are You?

  1. Thanks NellaLou for resurrecting this post and your additions/edits. One of the main critiques I read of the original was that it was “US-centric,” and didn’t take into account a larger, global audience. (But, then again, it was originally written for US college students.) You’re edits make sense and make the experience much more worthwhile to a larger audience.

    For what’s its worth, my total score was 42. Big gains in living conditions and general demographics. Big losses in money and property (and, surprisingly, leisure). I’ll email you the complete list for your research.

    take care,

    • I came here to link to the discussion in my blog and found that you had beat me to it. Thanks! And thanks for the questionnaire and your analysis.

  2. How do you score the parents having a PhD if your parent had a different kind of doctorate degree, such as an MD, DDS, or JD?

  3. I’ve recognized my privilege through various inventories and always find it a useful exercise.

    Here i’ve answered affirmatively when there was any room to wiggle: many of the leisure things i find myself considering incidental or unrepresentative of my childhood, yet there are other things that could have been asked that would point to privilege, too.

    I think it would be useful to expand on the demographic categories. For example, i’m legally married but my marriage may be questioned as my spouse is transgendered. Then there are marriages that may not be recognized by other jurisdictions. K10 might need a follow on about how well recognized the legal marriage is (is it recognized by your religious denomination and community? is it recognized by any jurisdiction you are likely to enter?)

    For your chart:

    overall score = 76

    The section scores are Y then N then section (i stuck it in an excel spreadsheet and would be happy to share if you wish.)

    14 8 A) Education
    9 0 B) Insurance and Pensions-Future Security
    8 0 C) Health
    5 0 D) Employment
    19 0 E) Living Conditions
    6 4 F) Access to Information/Communications
    14 2 G) Leisure
    3 4 H) Bank and Finances
    5 2 I) Property Ownership
    10 3 J) Housing and Geography
    9 3 K) General Demographics

    Birth country – USA
    Current country – USA
    Ethnicity – white
    Gender – F
    Age or age range (20’s, 30’s etc.) – 40s
    Religion – Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)

    Here via

  4. I scored a 77, and when in doubt, I gave myself a point. I did the math question by question, so I don’t have my section totals. The only section that I subtracted from my score several times was the education section, mostly because my father never went to college. (In the interest of being clear regarding my privilege, though, while there were a number of factors that played into that, monetary issues were not one of them. Both his siblings went to college, and at least one has a postgraduate degree.)

    Birth country – USA
    Current country – USA
    Ethnicity – white
    Gender – F
    Age or age range (20’s, 30’s etc.) – early 20s
    Religion – Roman Catholic

  5. Also, perhaps a few questions regarding second languages might be good additions? The privilege of choosing to learn French or German in high school to look good on college applications as opposed to having to enroll in ESL courses or master multiple languages simply for the purposes of getting along in one’s environment, et cetera.

  6. Section scores and overall score: 64 (Education 0, Insurance 5, Health 8, Employment 1, Living Conditions 11, Access 4, Leisure 10, Bank 3, Property 1, Housing 9, Demographics 12)
    Birth country USA
    Current country USA
    Ethnicity white/Northern European mutt
    Gender F
    Age or age range (20’s, 30’s etc.) 39
    Religion raised Christian, now pagan/non-practicing

    This was fascinating….particularly in the ways that I am far more privileged than my parents or siblings. None of my grandparents finished high school (though all finished 8th grade). My mother only attened community college and got her Associate’s and became an R.N. after my father (sole breadwinner) left us and she was afraid we would have no income. None of my siblings attended any college (and two barely graduated high school). None of my grandparents, neither of my parents, and none of my siblings have visited another country, though I have. I finished college with no loan debt because I had a full academic scholarship and lived at home–because I was fortunate enough to live in a college town–and finished in the time parameters of my scholarship.

    So…lots and lots of the privilege that I have now is based on innate intelligence, hard work, a disposition geared to doing all of what was expected/asked, luck, education, opportunity to education, support in gaining that education…and it is privilege that is not shared by most of my family. Of my six aunts and uncles, all attended and five finished college (including my father’s older brother who had a Ph.D. in Agriculture and was a professor…and was fairly well ostracized by the family)…but of my six cousins, only four attended and two finished college. In my nuclear family, I was the only of the four children in my family even to attend college, let alone graduate.

  7. This is an amazing conversation starter to have conversations about privilege taking into account more then the 3 or 4 boxes we normally check.

    Birth country – USA
    Current country – USA
    Ethnicity – white
    Gender – F
    Age or age range (20’s, 30’s etc.) – late 30’s
    Religion – raised fundamentalist Christian, Jew by Choice
    Highest degree – MFA

    First generation college student. Yes I worked hard, and I’m a fighter, but I also got REALLY lucky, and I see that everyday when I look at my family members still struggling.

    Score- -23 (minus 23)

    This does a great job at starting a conversation about the level of poverty that exists in the US country, and how hard it can be to get out. We don’t talk about it, because so few people get out. It also asks us to think about the effects of abuse, and how having- or not having- access to adults who are educated makes a big difference in what children think they are capable of.

  8. ■Section scores and overall score
    Education – 3, though likely to go up after I finish college
    Insurance – 9
    Health – 8
    Employment – 0 – haven’t been promoted by my own choice. Promotion means a great deal of travel, and I’m not wiling to do so when I have a 1 and 3 year old at home.
    Living Conditions – 11 – would suggest a question asking how many times you moved as a child. While I always lived in a home, I lived in 7 places before I turned 18. Also, maybe a question re: Military family
    Access to Info: 7
    Leisure: 7 – realize that I was much more privlleged than this score reflects in this category.
    Bank and Finances: -3 – estimating my student loans after I graduate
    Property ownership: 3 – if it makes a differnce, my first car was bought by my dad, but it cost under $1000 and was a project car for the both of us to work on. That was fun. :)
    HOusing and Geography: 7
    Deomgraphics: 14 – jackpot! not a surprise there. See Pearl Jam’s W.M.A.

    ■Birth country – ‘merica
    ■Current country – still ‘merica, with an eye towards Cascadia
    ■Ethnicity – white, registered Native American tribal member
    ■Gender – M
    ■Age or age range (20′s, 30′s etc.) 30 in a few months
    ■Religion – Christen Lutheran at birth, Rinzai Zen as an adult choice.

  9. Just realized the way i entered in those totals makes them look negative. Here they are again:

    A) Education 3
    B) Insurance and Pensions-Future Security 9
    C) Health 8
    D) Employment 0
    E) Living Conditions 11
    F) Access to Information/Communications 7
    G) Leisure 7
    H) Bank and Finances -3
    I) Property Ownership 3
    J) Housing and Geography 7
    K) General Demographics 14
    Total: 66

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