Tag Archives: social class

Social class divides the futures of high school students

There is new research from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), written up by Susan Dynarsky at the New York Times Upshot. The striking finding is that poor children in the top quartile on high school math scores have a 41% chance of finishing a BA degree by their late twenties — the same chance as children from the second-lowest quartile in math scores who are high-socioeconomic status (SES). Poor children from the third-highest quartile in high school math have graduation about equal to the worst-scoring children form the richest group. Here’s the figure:


The headline on the figure is misleading, actually, since SES is not measured by wealth, but by a combination of parental education, occupation, and income. (Low here means the bottom quartile of SES, Middle is the 25th to 75th percentile, and High is 75th and up.)

One possible mechanism for the disparity in college completion rates is education expectations. Dynarsky mentions expectations measured in the sophomore year of high school, which was 2002 for this cohort. What she doesn’t mention is how much those expectations changed by senior year. Going to the NCES source for that data (here) I found this chart, which I annotated in red:


Between sophomore and senior year, the percentage expecting to finish a BA degree or more decreased and the percentage expecting to go to two-year college increased, across SES levels. But the change was much greater for lower SES students. So the gap in expecting to go to two-year college between high- and low-SES students grew from 6 to 17 percentage points; that is, from 9% versus 3% in the sophomore year to 22% versus 6% in the senior year. That’s a big crushing of expectations that happened in the formative years at the end of high school.


Filed under Research reports

Marriage, divorce, remarriage, age, education (Coontz tabs edition)

Stephanie Coontz has an excellent Op-Ed on the front of today’s New York Times Sunday Review, which draws out the implications for family instability of the connection between increasing gender equality on the one hand, and increasing economic inequality and insecurity on the other. The new instability is disproportionately concentrated among the population with less than a college degree. To help with her research, I gave Stephanie the figure below, but it didn’t make the final cut. This shows the marriage history of men and women by education and age. She wrote:

According to the sociologist Philip N. Cohen, among 40-somethings with at least a bachelor’s degree, as of 2012, 63 percent of men and 59 percent of women were in their first marriage, compared to just 43 percent of men and 42 percent of women without a bachelor’s degree.

I highlighted those numbers in the figure. Also striking is the higher percentage of divorced people among those with less than a BA degree (and higher widowhood rates). Click to enlarge: age marriage history Cross-posted on the Families As They Really Are blog.


Filed under In the news, Me @ work

The remarkable centrality of Unequal Childhoods

I had the privilege of introducing Annette Lareau at our department’s annual Rosenberg Forum. She is the current president of the American Sociological Association and the author of the book Unequal Childhoods: Race, Class, and Family Life.

Her talk was about exciting new research into the reproduction of social class through parents’ selection of schools and neighborhoods. But to set it up I showed the place of Unequal Childhoods in the citation network of sociology journals created by Neal Caren. The network includes the works most cited in 5,471 articles in sociology journals in the years 2008-2012, with lines connecting works cited in the same articles, and colors for the clusters of works commonly cited together. The size of the nodes represents times cited.

In this version I labeled the bigger clusters either with a term for the subfield (e.g., Religion) or key work (e.g., Bowling Alone). Click on the image to enlarge my version, or see it in full here, with the details and data.

PowerPoint PresentationI am amazed by the centrality of Unequal Childhoods, which isn’t part of a big cluster but has thick ties to a bunch of different ones, which is why it’s in the center. These are the works that Unequal Childhoods was cited with five times or more:

Hays S 1996 Cultural Contradicti 16
Blau P 1967 Am Occupational Stru 14
Bianchi SM 2006 Changing Rhythms Ame 13
Stone P 2007 Opting Out Why Women 12
Blair-loy M 2003 Competing Devotions 12
Bourdieu P 1977 Reprod ED Soc Cultue 12
Dimaggio P 1982 Am Sociol Rev 11
Lamont Michele 1988 Sociological Theory 10
Farkas G 2003 Annu Rev Sociol 9
Edin K 2005 Promises I Can Keep 9
Bourdieu P 1984 Distinctions Social 9
Hochschild Arlie R 1989 2 Shift Working Pare 8
Mclanahan Sara 1994 Growing Single Paren 8
Hochschild AR 1997 Time Bind Work Becom 8
Swidler A 1986 Am Sociol Rev 8
Townsend NW 2002 Package Deal 8
Bourdieu P 1986 Hdb Theory Res Socio 8
Bowles S 1976 Sch Capitalist AM 7
Bourdieu P 1990 Logic Practice Trans 7
Jacobs JA 2004 Time Divide Family G 7
Sewell W 1975 ED Occupation Earnin 7
Downey DB 1995 Am Sociol Rev 7
Jencks Christopher 1972 Inequality Reassessm 7
Raftery AE 1995 Sociol Methodol 5

* * *

That’s some reach!



Filed under Me @ work

How many Black scholars does it take to have any Black scholars?

I had a very nice time at the 21st Annual Symposium on Family Issues at Penn State University, where I presented remarks in response to a paper by Sara McLanahan and Wade Jacobsen. The theme of the symposium was “Diverging Destinies,” or the growing differences in family experiences by social class in the US. The event has lots of time for discussion and debate, and much of that focused on poor people and their families, around contested terms such as choices, parenting, behavior, attitudes, orientation, and so on. I had plenty to agree and disagree with, there were lots of good talks, and it was a good conversation.

The scenic Nittany Lion Inn (photo by me)

The scenic Nittany Lion Inn (photo by me)

Here are two observations.

The first was a moment when Ron Haskins from the Brookings Institution, a long-time member of the welfare policy establishment (his bio describes him as “instrumental in the 1996 overhaul of national welfare policy”), responded to Harvard professor Kathryn Edin’s response to his presentation. She had spent most of her time talking about her new book, Doing the Best I Can: Fathering in the Inner City. For the book, Edin undertook years of ethnographic fieldwork and interviews, and emerged with a very sympathetic yet sobering description of the poor young men she studied, men who want more than anything to be good fathers — according to the contemporary ideals of both economic provision and emotional togetherness — but for many reasons usually can’t meet their own goals.

When they were both on the dais, Haskins said she was “too optimistic” about her subjects, in describing them as eager to do the right thing for their children. “I know these guys!” he said, before describing some anecdotal experiences from his (apparently distant) personal past. It struck me because it seemed profoundly disrespectful of not only her work, but of her kind of research. Of course ethnographers can do bad studies or misinterpret their data. But I would only discount a serious work of ethnography based on my personal experience if that experience were pretty deep. I suspect Haskins wouldn’t have struck that note if her work had been a quantitative demography, but I could be wrong. (Earlier, I had pointed out that welfare reform failed at its stated goal of making poor single mothers get married, and he countered that it had been successful at getting them to work, so “behavior modification does work” — and we should use that program as a model for future work-mandating reforms.)

Who's on that dais?

Who’s on that dais?

Anyway, the second observation was about the composition of the speakers. None of our 16 speakers this year was Black. When I grumbled about that on Facebook, someone said he felt the same way last year. That got me to check the previous programs. (Each year the organizers of the symposium produce a book from the papers — you can see previous editions here, where the contributors are all listed.) I had to go back to 2008 to find an African American speaker, according to my reading of their photos and bios (which is not the best way to identify race/ethnicity, obviously, so I maybe wrong). Overall, of the last 114 speakers going back to 2007, I think only one was Black.

I don’t know who decides on the topics or the invitations, or how the event has unfolded over time, so I can’t comment on the process or motivations of those involved. But I think this is not good. The symposium is a substantial endeavor, with grant money from various sources. An invitation to speak there is a line on your CV, it comes with a small honorarium and travel expenses, and it’s a chance to network with other family researchers, grant-makers, and policy people. There also are a lot of students attending the talks. So whatever the reasons, it’s a shame more Black scholars haven’t been there.


Filed under Me @ work

Percent describing themselves as “lower class” hits 40-year high

Yipes. Have you seen the General Social Survey responses to the CLASS question lately?

Since 1972, they’ve asked,

If you were asked to use one of four names for your social class, which would you say you belong in: the lower class, the working class, the middle class, or the upper class?

The responses have been pretty stable, with close to an even split between working and middle, and tails of 5% or less in upper and lower. But not anymore:

gss-classIt might not look that dramatic. But let me zoom in on that red line for you:



I’m sure some of you (like those who have written books on this question) will be able to explain this beyond: wow, this recession made more people poor. The official poverty rate today is about where it was back when “lower class” was at 4%.



Filed under In the news

Charles Murray on his propaganda playing field

I have some notes on Charles Murray’s new book Coming Apart, and the reactions to it, for a would-be essay. Since I haven’t read the book yet, I’m not ready to write that essay, but there are some things you can say without reading the book. Maybe this will be handy or interesting for those who operate in the faster information lanes.

First, remember who we’re dealing with: Murray is not a scholar doing (peer reviewed) research to advance our collective understanding of social life. He is a political propagandist. So we can hold him responsible primarily for the consequences of his work rather than its scientific veracity (which does require reading the book). He works for the American Enterprise Institute, a charitable-in-the-legal-sense front for corporate interests, which launders the tax-free contributions of its donors — a who’s-who of right-wing elites — to create “expert” opinion that in turn shapes and justifies the actions of government leaders.

Of course, they are not alone in this, but they are leaders of the form. This is from their latest annual report:

By treating their representatives as legitimate experts we play into their diabolical schemes.

Stop the presses

In addition to wasting everyone’s time in Congress, AEI is also very effective at promoting their representatives’ work in the media — where hardly anyone does more than mention AEI in passing. Murray’s book has been reviewed not once, but twice in the New York Times. And AEI achieved a near-perfect placement record among the Times‘s top columnists, including David Brooks (“I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important”) and Ross Douthat (“brilliant”), Paul Krugman (“the new book at the heart of the conservative pushback”), and Nicholas Kristoff (“he’s right to highlight social dimensions of the crisis among low-skilled white workers”). The latter two are critical, too, but not enough to overcome the adage about publicity. (The Times also ran a good roundup by Thomas Edsall.)

The marketing campaign includes, naturally, advance bashing of sociologists, the small corner of academia that did the best job of debunking his last big book, The Bell Curve. “I am sure there are still sociology departments where people would cross themselves if I came into the room,” he smirked to the Chronicle of Higher Education. But in that article, sociologist Dalton Conley is quoted as calling Murray, “probably the most influential social-policy thinker in America” (before offering some critical comments as well).

As Anne Coulter might say, though, “our sociologists” aren’t so bad. Brad Wilcox, for example, has joined the fawning chorus at the Wall Street Journal (which previewed the book), declaring we (Whites) are “a nation where millions of people are losing touch with the founding virtues that have long lent American lives purpose, direction and happiness … The scope and cost of government grows, and liberty withers, when the family breaks down.”

Like old times

Like Newt Gingrich, Murray uses the looming specter of Black pathology to whip up apocalyptic fears among Whites (while somehow convincing some people he’s not a racist because he describes “America” with data on Whites). The two were anti-welfare soul-mates in the 1990s, when Murray wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal called “The Coming White Underclass” (10/29/93), which was a preview of Coming Apart.

He wrote then:

Every once in a while the sky really is falling, and this seems to be the case with the latest national figures on illegitimacy… now the overall white illegitimacy rate is 22%. The figure in low-income, working-class communities may be twice that. How much illegitimacy can a community tolerate? Nobody knows, but the historical fact is that the trendlines on black crime, dropout from the labor force, and illegitimacy all shifted sharply upward as the overall black illegitimacy rate passed 25%. … But the brutal truth is that American society as a whole could survive when illegitimacy became epidemic within a comparatively small ethnic minority. It cannot survive the same epidemic among whites.

For what it’s worth, the “illegitimacy” rate is 41% nationally, and 29% for non-Hispanic Whites. And, of course, the crime rate is through the … floor. So, look to him for reliable predictions about whether “American society as a whole [can] survive” at your own risk.

His solutions then, in addition to zeroing out welfare for single mothers, included dropping the sentimental attachment to letting people raise their own children:

Those who prattle about the importance of keeping children with their biological mothers may wish to spend some time in a patrol car or with a social worker seeing what the reality of life with welfare-dependent biological mothers can be like.

This is a very partial rundown. Feel free to add your own links in the comments.


Filed under In the news