Rich kids are widening the achievement gap, leaving middle class kids, not just the poor, farther behind, writes Sean Reardon, a Stanford education and sociology professor.
High-income families are increasingly focusing their resources — their money, time and knowledge of what it takes to be successful in school — on their children’s cognitive development and educational success. They are doing this because educational success is much more important than it used to be, even for the rich.
Is it intensive parenting? asks Megan McArdle in The Daily Beast. All the people who are really good at school are marrying the other people who are really good at school (and) having children who are really, really good at school.
The rich pulling away from the middle class is also exactly what we would see if test-taking ability has a substantial inherited component, and the American economy is increasingly selecting for people who are very, very good at taking tests.
A fan of the Little House on the Prairie books, McArdle recently reread Those Happy Golden Years in which Laura Ingalls meets and marries Almanzo Wilder. While Laura liked school and was good at it, ”
Almanzo hated it” and quit as soon as he could. “
There’s no evidence that he reads or otherwise occupies himself with intellectual pursuits in his spare time.”
Apparently, it was a very happy marriage. Today . . .
Laura Ingalls would quite likely have gone to an elite school, and probably graduate school, then moved to a coastal city, and eventually married another bookworm. Almanzo Wilder would be married to someone like him, a hard worker who nonetheless found school tedious and left as quickly as possible. And when their two sets of children showed up at school, their test scores would be very different.
The educational barrier to high-paying professions tie income even more tightly to educational proficiency, she writes.
Maybe the answer is not a quixotic attempt to somehow replicate the experience of being raised by two professionals with advanced degrees. Maybe it’s to question the great educational sorting, and the barriers it has erected.
. . . every additional year of schooling we require makes it harder and harder for those who don’t enjoy school to compete in the wider world.
More women than men are going to college and earning degrees. There will be more Lauras marrying Almanzos in the future.
In the hills of Appalachia, parents pull their children out of literacy classes for fear they’ll lose their “learning disability” label and the federal check that goes with it, writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times.
Many people in hillside mobile homes here are poor and desperate, and a $698 monthly check per child from the Supplemental Security Income program goes a long way — and those checks continue until the child turns 18.
“The kids get taken out of the program because the parents are going to lose the check,” said Billie Oaks, who runs a literacy program here in Breathitt County, a poor part of Kentucky. “It’s heartbreaking.”
America’s safety net can entangle the poor by rewarding failure and discouraging marriage, writes Kristof.
When SSI was extended to children 40 years ago, only 1 percent of poor children qualified, writes Kristof. They had severe physical or mental handicaps that required intensive parental care. Now 55 percent of children on SSI have vaguely defined “learning disabilities” that essentially mean they’re not retarded and aren’t doing well in school. Eight percent of low-income children now receive SSI disability at an annual cost of more than $9 billion.
. . . a 2009 study found that nearly two-thirds of these children make the transition at age 18 into SSI for the adult disabled. They may never hold a job in their entire lives and are condemned to a life of poverty on the dole . . .
Kristof recommends community visitors to help low-income mothers, pre-kindergarten and encouraging marriage. (Marriage! It’s not just for gays!)
I’d suggest eliminating SSI disability for children unless their disability imposes extra costs on the family.
When I reported on welfare reform, I met a teenage mother who supplemented her welfare income with SSI for her son, who’d been born three months early, before the mother’s 15th birthday. When he was two, the pediatrician decided he wasn’t disabled after all. Though happy her son was developing normally, she was distraught at losing the extra money. Still, she got a half-time job at the community college, where she was learning office technology. She discovered that she loved working. I don’t know if she worked her way out of poverty. She came from a very messed-up family and her boyfriend had abandoned her. But she had a shot.
It’s fun to make fun of helicopter parents, but we need more of them, writes Brink Lindsey in The Atlantic.
Today’s hyperventilating “helicopter parents” are comic fish in a barrel. Playing Mozart to their babies in utero and dangling Baby Einstein gewgaws over their bassinets. Obsessing over peanut allergies, turning school science fairs into arms races of one-upmanship, and hiring batteries of private tutors to eke out another 10 points on the SAT.
But better too much parental attention than too little, Lindsey writes.
College-educated parents are spending significantly more time with their children then they did before 1995. Less-educated parents spend more time too, but the “parental attention gap” is growing.
There’s also a class divide in parenting styles, according to sociologist Annette Lareau.
Among the poor and working-class families she studied, the focus of parenting was on what she calls “the accomplishment of natural growth.” In these families, “parents viewed children’s development as unfolding spontaneously, as long as they were provided with comfort, food, shelter, and other basic support.”
College-educated parents have taken on a much more ambitious role – one that Lareau calls “concerted cultivation.” “In these families, parents actively fostered and assessed their children’s talents, opinions, and skills,” Lareau writes. “They made a deliberate and sustained effort to stimulate children’s development and to cultivate their cognitive and social skills.”
In addition, college-educated parents are much more likely to marry before having children and much less likely to divorce.
As of 2011, 87 percent of children who have a parent with a bachelor’s or higher degree were living with two married parents. The corresponding figures for high school grads and high school dropouts were 53 and 47 percent, respectively.
. . . since the ’70s, divorce rates among the highly educated have fallen significantly; among non-college grads, by contrast, they have stayed high. Specifically, only 16.7 percent of women with at least a college degree experienced a marital dissolution within 10 years of a first marriage between 1990 and 1994 – a 31 percent drop from 20 years earlier. For other women, though, the marriage breakup rate in the latter period was now 35.7 percent – 6 percent higher than 20 years before.
So most children of the college-educated — about a third of the population — grow up in stable, child-centered families with two parents determined to cultivate “the skills they will need to thrive in today’s highly complex knowledge economy.” It’s not really the violin, karate or Kumon classes that give them an edge. It’s Mom and Dad.
Young single women are more educated and successful than the men they “hook up” with, writes Hanna Rosin in Boys on the Side, an Atlantic teaser for her new book, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women. “Sexual freedom—the ability to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don’t derail education or career” makes it all possible, writes Rosin.
For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.
About three-quarters of college women “visit” the hookup culture, often during freshman year, Rosin admits. They experiment — without shame — and move on.
In 2004, sociologists Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton began studying the “sexual careers” of women living in a “party dorm” at a state university in the Midwest. For middle- and upper-middle-class students, hookups delayed a serious relationship that might interfere with their career plans.
“The ambitious women calculate that having a relationship would be like a four-credit class, and they don’t always have time for it, so instead they opt for a lighter hookup,” Armstrong told (Rosin).
. . . Almost all of the college women Armstrong and Hamilton interviewed assumed they would get married, and were looking forward to it.
Of course, they may have to marry a less-educated man. Some of the women quoted in the book assume that they’ll be high flyers while their husbands stay home with the kids.
While the women-love-hookups thing is mostly hype, the diminishing percentage of college-educated men is troubling. Women are outpacing men in higher education around the world: Iranian women are doing so well, the mullahs have created 77 all-male majors.
My daughter, a literary agent, gave me an advance copy of The End of Men. I said, “But I like men!” I’d hate to see women turn into cold-hearted careerists and men into beer-chugging babysitters.
A growing class of single mothers is raising kids in poverty, while women who put college and marriage before childbirth have time and money to invest in their children. That’s not really news, but the New York Times puts faces on the problem in Two Classes in America, Divided by ‘I Do’.
Jessica Schairer dropped out of college to have three children with a man who rejected marriage and eventually abandoned her. She earns $25,000 working at a child care center run by Chris Faulkner, a college graduate with a husband and two children.
Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality.
About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago. But equally sharp are the educational divides, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent.
Unwed motherhood “is growing fastest in the lower reaches of the white middle class,” among women with some college but no degree. Meanwhile, married couples are having children later, divorcing less and spending more time on parenting.
“The people with more education tend to have stable family structures with committed, involved fathers,” (Princeton sociologist Sara) McLanahan said. “The people with less education are more likely to have complex, unstable situations involving men who come and go.”
She said, “I think this process is creating greater gaps in these children’s life chances.”
Jessica Schairer wanted a husband and ”the house and the white picket fence,” and still does. She can’t explain why she stayed with an irresponsible man. “I’m in this position because of decisions I made,” she said.
While the Faulkner boys go on a Boy Scout camping trip with their father, Schairer’s son is watching TV in his bedroom while his exhausted mother collapses on the couch.
More than half of births to women under 30 are out of wedlock, reports the New York Times, trumpeting the “new normal” in middle America. Including older mothers, 59 percent of babies are born to a married couple.
One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved for people with the most education.
Marriage is becoming a “luxury good,” says a sociologist.
More Single Moms. So What, responds Katie Rophie in Slate, accusing the Times of condescending to “independent-minded, apparently hard-working women (who) are making decisions and forging families, after thinking clearly about their situation.”
Actually, the story portrays hard-working women who didn’t think clearly about how to avoid their situation.
Family breakdown has high costs for children, writes Heather Mac Donald. It is not merely “refresh[ing] our ideas of family.”
Roiphe concludes that there are no (annoyingly retrograde) studies on “what it will be like for . . . children to live in” the coming world without marriage. Actually, we know already. It’s called the ghetto.
Some 73 percent of black children, 53 percent of Latinos and 29 percent of whites are born out of wedlock. While 92 percent of college-educated women are married when they give birth, that drops to 62 percent of women with “some college” and 43 percent of women with a high school diploma or less, according to Child Trends.
Many unwed parents live together, but two-thirds will split up by the time their child turns 10, researchers estimate. And never-married fathers are much less likely to support their children — financially or emotionally — than divorced dads.
Growing up is hard to do: Young people are extending their school years and delaying work and marriage, according to America’s Youth Transitions to Adulthood (pdf), an analysis of Americans 14 to 24 from the 1980s to 2010 by the National Center for Education Statistics.
In 1980, 16 percent of young adults ages 22 to 24 were enrolled in college compared to 30 percent in 2010, NCES found.
Fewer teen-agers hold jobs, notes Inside School Research.
From 1980 to 1999, 30 percent or more of 16- and 17-year-olds were employed at least part-time, but that percentage has been plummeting since 2000, and by 2009, only about 15 percent of teenagers in that age group had a job.
Only 49 percent of high school dropouts held a job in the year they left school, compared to 64 percent in 1980.
Educational expectations are higher: “Among the poorest 25 percent of young people, only 11 percent of high school seniors in 2004 said they did not expect to complete high school, compared with more than a third of the poorest students in 1972.”