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Affluent Parents, Working Class Parents Want the Same Things… But Money Makes a Difference

December 18, 2015

“Rich Children and Poor Ones are Raised Very Differently”, yesterday’s NYTImes Upshot op ed article by Claire Cain Miller, could have just as easily had the same title as this blog post. Indeed, this paragraph appears near the middle of the article:

American parents want similar things for their children, the Pew report and past research have found: for them to be healthy and happy, honest and ethical, caring and compassionate. There is no best parenting style or philosophy, researchers say, and across income groups, 92 percent of parents say they are doing a good job at raising their children.

Instead of explicitly emphasizing how money creates disparities that make it easier for affluent parents to achieve health and happiness, the article focuses on the other demographic differences between affluent parents and “working class” parents, those who earn less than $30,000 per year. Affluent parents are more likely to be married, more likely to have a college degree, more likely to enroll their children in extra-curricular activities at an earlier age, and more likely to closely monitor and coach their children. Miller, drawing from the research of Annette Lareau, author of “Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race and Family Life”, writes:

Middle-class and higher-income parents see their children as projects in need of careful cultivation…They try to develop their skills through close supervision and organized activities, and teach children to question authority figures and navigate elite institutions.

Working-class parents, meanwhile, believe their children will naturally thrive, and give them far greater independence and time for free play. They are taught to be compliant and deferential to adults.

This conclusion infers that the working class parents choose to give their children greater independence and time for free play. In effect, that those parents are opting out of violin lessons, art courses, and little league in favor of providing their children with a chance to be independent and free. If someone is earning enough money to provide those kinds of activities and not spending it on their children then a choice is being made… but that is clearly not the case when someone is earning less than $30,000 per year.

Later in her essay, cited the disparities that exist in the opportunities affluent parents provide for their children’s compared to those offered to children raised in poverty. Miller notes that

Social scientists say the differences (in child rearing) arise in part because low-income parents have less money to spend on music class or preschool, and less flexible schedules to take children to museums or attend school events.

And therein lies the problem. The working class parents, who likely have rigid schedules imposed by employers who want their workers readily available at irregular times, don’t have the time or the resources to provide the “…close supervision and organized activities” that rich students experience.

If employers are unwilling to offer living wages and predictable schedules to their employees who are raising children, closing the gap between rich and poor children is an impossibility and the divide we have experienced in the past 25 years is likely to widen.

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