Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, Second Edition with an Update a Decade Later Paperback – 9 Sep 2011
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From the Inside Flap
So where does something like practical intelligence come from?...Perhaps the best explanation we have of this process comes from the sociologist Annette Lareau, who...conducted a fascinating study of a group of third graders. You might expect that if you spent such an extended period in twelve different households, what you would gather is twelve different ideas about how to raise children...What Lareau found, however, is something much different. Malcolm Gladwell, "Outliers: The Story of Success"
"Less than one in five Americans think 'race, gender, religion or social class are very important for getting ahead in life, ' Annette Lareau tells us in her carefully researched and clearly written new book. But as she brilliantly shows, everything from looking authority figures in the eye when you shake their hands to spending long periods in a shared space and squabbling with siblings is related to social class. This is one of the most penetrating works I have read on a topic that only grows in importance as the class gap in America widens."Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of "The Time Bind" and "The Commercialization of Intimate Life"
"This is a great book, not only because of its powerful portrayal of class inequalities in the United States and its insightful analysis of the processes through which inequality is reproduced, but also because of its frank engagement with methodological and analytic dilemmas usually glossed over in academic texts. Hardly any other studies have the rich, intensive ethnographic focus on family of "Unequal Childhoods."" Diane Reay, "American Journal of Sociology"
"Lareau does sociology and lay readers alike an important service in her engaging book, "Unequal Childhoods," by showing us exactly what kinds of knowledge, upbringing, skills, and bureaucratic savvy are involved in this idea, and how powerfully inequality in this realm perpetuates economic inequality. Through textured and intimate observation, Lareau takes us into separate worlds of pampered but overextended, middle-class families and materially stressed, but relatively relaxed, working-class and poor families to show how inequality is passed on across generations." Katherine Newman, "Contexts"
"Sociology at its best. In this major study, Lareau provides the tools to make sense of the frenzied middle-class obsession with their offspring's extracurricular activities; the similarities between black and white professionals; and the paths on which poor and working class kids are put by their circumstances. This book will help generations of students understand that organized soccer and pick-up basketball have everything to do with the inequality of life chances."Michele Lamont, author of "The Dignity of Working Men: Morality and the Boundaries of Race, Class, and Immigration"
"Drawing upon remarkably detailed case studies of parents and children going about their daily lives, Lareau argues that middle-class and working-class families operate with different logics of childrearing, which both reflect and contribute to the transmission of inequality. An important and provocative book."Barrie Thorne, author of "Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School"
"With rich storytelling and insightful detail, Lareau takes us inside the family lives of poor, middle-class, and affluent Americans and reminds us that class matters."Unequal Childhoods" thoughtfully demonstrates that class differences in cultural resources, played out in the daily routines of parenting, can have a powerful impact on children's chances for climbing the class ladder and achieving the American dream. This provocative and often disturbing book will shape debates on the U.S. class system for decades to come."Sharon Hays, author of "Flat Broke with Children"
"Drawing on intimate knowledge of kids and families studied at school and at home, Lareau examines the social changes that have turned childhood into an extended production process for many middle-class American families. Her depiction of this new world of childhood--and her comparison of the middle-class ideal of systematic cultivation to the more naturalistic approach to child development to which many working-class parents still adhere--maps a critically important dimension of American family life and raises challenging questions for parents and policy makers."Paul DiMaggio, Professor of Sociology, Princeton University
"Annette Lareau has written another classic. Her deep insights about the social stratification of family life and childrearing have profound implications for understanding inequality -- and for understanding the daily struggles of everyone attempting to raise children in America. Lareau's findings have great force because they are thoroughly grounded in compelling ethnographic evidence."Adam Gamoran, Professor of Sociology and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
"With the poignant details of daily life assembled in a rigorous comparative design, Annette Lareau has produced a highly ambitious ethnographic study that reveals how social class makes a difference in children's lives. "Unequal Childhoods" will be read alongside Sewell and Hauser, Melvin Kohn, and Bourdieu. It is an important step forward in the study of social stratification and family life, and a valuable exemplar for comparative ethnographic work."Mitchell Duneier, author of "Sidewalk and Slim's Table""
About the Author
Annette Lareau is the Stanley I. Sheerr Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She is faculty member in the Department of Sociology with a secondary appointment in the Graduate School of Education. Lareau is the author of Home Advantage: Social Class and Parental Intervention in Elementary Education (1989; second edition, 2000), and coeditor of Social Class: How Does it Work? (2009); and Education Research on Trial: Policy Reform and the Call for Scientific Rigor (2009); and Journeys through Ethnography: Realistic Accounts of Fieldwork(1996).
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Top Customer Reviews
I stumbled across 'Unequal Childhoods', while reading 'Outliers', by Malcolm Gladwell: he uses examples from Lareau to support the central argument of his book (that unusually successful people have almost always benefited from unusually fortunate opportunities - quite often including an unusually high level of parental investment. While it may sound obvious, it goes against everything I was taught to believe as a child: that succeeding is largely due to one's own effort).
Lareau's book is actually very different than Gladwell's. It introduces us to children from different economic backgrounds and their families, following them for over a decade while bringing every individual to life. We're given an engaging insight into the daily routine of our protagonists; though Lareau makes sharp comparisons of parenting styles between socioeconomic classes, these are incorporated naturally into the narrative.
On one level this is a very high quality piece of research - but it never feels dry or lifeless. To the contrary, it's a compelling read; avoiding an academic writing style in favour of a direct, simple, first person narrative.
For me the most relevant part of the book came towards the end when Lareau interviewed the now university-aged participants: perhaps unsurprisingly, the children from the highest socioeconomic bracket (the "concerted cultivation" group) were on track to graduate from university with a wide range of opportunities. Two of the children from the highest income brackets will also be graduating with very little debt: the frankly astonishing investment of parental time/money into extracurricular sports paid off in athletic scholarships.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Often second edition of books are different from the first edition in very minor ways. That is not true of this edition. I highly recommend it.
With more sluggish mobility than in the past, class has become more hereditary than it once was. The gap in spending per child is growing between rich and poor Americans, from 5 to 1 in 1972 to 9 to 1 in 2007. Just 17 percent of kids raised in the bottom fifth of the income distribution will make it to the top two-fifths by age 40.
It's no wonder then that class differences are so powerful in shaping a child's life experience, more important in child raising than racial differences, according to Annette Lareau, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who won awards for the first edition of this book in 2002.
Lareau's research reveals the basic class differences in approach to raising children. Middle-class parents have their children in organized activities and engage in a process of "concerted cultivation." By contrast, working-class and poor parents don't engage their children in concerted cultivation, instead allowing development through "natural growth."
Poor parents face economic challenges just putting food on the table and getting medical care. They lack the resources and energy to put their kids in as many organized activities. Children are left with more unstructured time, which is spent in front of a TV or playing with child relatives and friends, with much less direct adult supervision than in the middle-class organized activities.
Most of the book is devoted to in-depth studies of individual middle-class and working class students. Those studies reveal differences in how parents nurture their children and why middle-class children learn skills essential for later success that their poorer counterparts don't learn.
Middle-class mothers, for example, tend to be interventionist at school or other institutional settings, intervening in situations. "By teaching their children how to get organizations to meet their individualized needs, middle-class mothers pass along skills that have the potential to be extremely valuable to their children in adulthood. These are class-based advantages." Middle-class parents tend to have a better understanding of how institutions work and therefore of how to effectively influence them.
Working class mothers tend to be more passive and deferential when it comes to school. They tend to be more respectful of educators' professional expertise than are their middle-class counterparts. These parents feel they lack the vocabulary to deal assertively with educational and medical professionals.
Lareau did a follow up a decade later with the children in her study (who were ten at the time of the original study) and again 15 years later. She found that social class continued to matter in their lives, affecting how much education they obtained and their options in the world of work. As the children in the study matured, income inequality widened, with all but one of the middle-class subjects becoming professionals, compared to none of the working-class and poor subjects.
Though all of the parents in the study loved their children and wanted the best for them, the fact is that none of the working-class/poor subjects achieved a college degree. By age 10, the die was cast, making it likely that children would end up in situations similar to those of their parents. "It is not impossible for individuals to significantly change their life position, but it is not common."
Lareau concludes that class-related differences in child rearing lead to the "transmission of differential advantages to children." Those differential advantages belie the common American belief that there is equal opportunity for those with hard work and talent to succeed, and that our success or lack thereof is an individual responsibility. It's tempting for those who aren't poor to blame those who are for their plight. Looking at inequality from a class perspective, however, aids understanding about how inequality is inherited. Americans tend to downplay or not notice class-based advantages they receive.
Our meritocratic culture implies a competition with fair play and deserved outcomes. The working class works hard, but opportunities for advancement are nonetheless limited. The system is not neutral or fair: it does not give all children equal opportunities. "The life paths we pursue are neither equal nor freely chosen."
The transmission of privilege, however, is `misrecognized." Individuals tend to see social class as earned. In other words, status and privilege are perceived as earned by talent, intelligence and effort. Lareau and other sociologists see that social position is not the result of personal attributes such as effort or intelligence, but more the result of socialization that transmits social skills, social networks, and resources.
"The social position of one's family or origin has profound implications for life experiences and life outcomes. But the inequality our system creates and sustains is invisible and thus unrecognized. We would be a better country if we could enlarge our truncated vocabulary about the importance of social class, for only then might we acknowledge the class divisions among us." ###