It’s not the income, it’s the values
September 3, 2012 7 Comments
Really great essay on why kids do better with middle/upper income parents. Hint: it’s not actually the income. Or where you go to school:
Social scientists have long tried to determine why some children grow up to be successful adults and others don’t. The causes are hard to untangle. High school dropouts tend to attend underperforming public schools and to come from poor families with unmarried, undereducated parents. Ivy League graduates more often attend good K-12 schools and come from well-educated, affluent, two-parent families. Because these characteristics cluster together so frequently, it’s hard to determine which attributes drive success or failure — and which are just along for the ride…
But Duncan and his team found almost no relationship between how students did on the test and whom they sat beside in class, whom they hung out with after school and who lived on their block. The only meaningful link they found was between siblings, and identical twins in particular.
Really, you should read the whole thing, but here’s the key nugget:
When Susan Mayer at the University of Chicago looked at the relationship between family income and lifetime achievement, she saw that many of the character traits that allow some adults to make a lot of money — a strong work ethic, honesty, reliability, good health — also make them good parents. Mayer wondered whether it is those traits, rather than the money that results from them, that really counts…
In an influential book, “What Money Can’t Buy: Family Income and Children’s Life Chances,” Mayer put her hypothesis to the test. She ran a series of experiments that measured the relationship between family income and a range of life outcomes, such as a child’s likelihood of dropping out of high school or getting pregnant as a teenager. In one study after another, she found that such outcomes weren’t caused by income…
Mayer found that the things that make a difference are relatively inexpensive: the number of books a kid has or how often his family goes to museums. She argues that all the other stuff — summer camps, tutors, trips to Paris — are like upgrades on a Lexus. They’re nice to have but immaterial when it comes to getting from one place to another.
Love that Lexus metaphor. I am so going to start using that. I was summarizing the article to Kim, and her response was essentially, “duh… social science of the obvious.” Sadly, though, not actually all that obvious to far too many people. I.e., all those people obsessed with what pre-school their kid gets into and how they’re going to afford their elite private school tuition, etc. Or all those fabulously enriching summer camps, etc. If you have the money to give your child great experiences, that’s great. Good for you. But what is sad is all these people under the very mistaken assumption that these things are needed to help make their child a success. Just spend some time reading with them, damnit.
On the downside, this further reinforces what I’ve been seeing from a lot of sources that it is the values of poor people rather than the lack of money, that really puts their kids behind the eight ball. It would be easy if we could just give all poor people enough money. Changing values is another story. But, people are making innovative steps here, such as the Harlem Children’s Zone Baby College. More programs like this, not more direct spending (though nobody should be hungry or homeless in a country of our wealth) are what’s needed to break the cycle.