Course Codes : EDUC90583
Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life 2ed
Publication Date 15 Sep 2011
OverviewUnequal Childhoods, 2nd edition, contains the now classic analysis of how social class shapes parenting in unexpected fashion in white and African-American families. A decade after the original study, Lareau revisited the families to examine social class in the transition to adulthood. The second edition has 100 pages of new material. Social Scientists have shown that the social class position of a child's parents matters. It matters for school success, and ultimately, occupational success. But the mechanisms have been poorly understood. Unequal Childhoods was an Â“instant classic as it showed in riveting detail how families with children ten years old went through their daily routines. Middle-class families, black and white, aggressively sought to develop their children's talents and schools through a series of organized activities, extensive language training, and by overseeing their children's experiences in institutions such as schools. By contrast, working-class and poor families, black and white, used very scarce resources to take care of their children, but they then gave them free time to hang out, gave them clear directives, and turned over responsibility to schooling. Lareau argued that both of these cultural logics of child rearing had merit, but the middle-class strategy had payoffs in institutions.Now, Lareau has gone back and found all of the families featured in the book. She interviewed the young adults as they were 19 to 21 years of age; she also interviewed their parents and siblings. As children are transformed into young adults, it is possible that the actions of their parents might matter less. But Lareau found that the power of social class that she witnessed when the children were ten only grew in importance through time. Middle-class parents continued the process of gathering information and intervening in their children's livesÂ…even when the children had moved hundreds of miles from home. As young adults repeatedly turned to their parents for guidance, the parents treated them, in key ways, as children. In working-class and poor families, the parents saw the young adults as Â“grown, which was a view shared by the young adults themselves. Nonetheless, when the kids ran into problems in school or other institutions, the middle-class parents were heavily involved in managing situations to maximize opportunities. The working-class and poor parents loved their children very much, but as when their children were younger, it was harder for them to comply with the demands of professionals. Thus, the trajectories began when the children were ten continued to unfold over time. The middle-class kids generally achieved much more educational success than the working-class and poor kids. Since education is the Â“800 pound gorilla for shaping labor market chances, the career prospects of the middle-class young adults are much brighter than their less privileged counterparts. Still, the working-class and poor young adults express much more appreciation for all that their parents have done for them than do the middle-class young adults. And the power of extended family is a guiding force in shaping the lives of working-class and poor lives in a way absent from the middle-class young adults in the study. While we have a language for race in America, on the subject of social class we remain blind and nearly mute. Lareau's work helps us open our eyes and our minds to how much children's life paths are structured when they are only ten years of age.