Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How the 'long shadow' of an inner city childhood affects adult success

Date:
June 2, 2014
Source:
Johns Hopkins University
Summary:
Nearly 800 Baltimore school children were followed in a ground-breaking study for a quarter of a century. The conclusion: their fates were substantially determined by the economic status of the family they were born into. Through repeated interviews with the children and their parents and teachers, the research team observed the group as its members made their way through elementary, middle and high school, joined the work force and started families.

At nearly 30 years old, almost half the people involved in the study found themselves at the same socio-economic status as their parents. The poor stayed poor; those better off remained better off.
Credit: © Win Nondakowit / Fotolia

In a groundbreaking study, Johns Hopkins University researchers followed nearly 800 Baltimore school children for a quarter of a century and discovered that their fates were substantially determined by the family they were born into.

Related Articles


"A family's resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children's life trajectories," Johns Hopkins sociologist Karl Alexander says in a forthcoming book, The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth and the Transition to Adulthood. "This view is at odds with the popular ethos that we are makers of our own fortune."

Alexander, who joined Johns Hopkins in 1972 and retires this summer, spent nearly his entire career on the study, along with fellow researchers and co-authors Doris Entwisle and Linda Olson. Together they tracked 790 Baltimore children from 1982, the year they entered first grade, until they turned 28 or 29 years old, focusing in particular on those who started the journey in the most disadvantaged settings.

Through repeated interviews with the children and their parents and teachers, the research team observed the group as its members made their way through elementary, middle and high school, joined the work force and started families. The book, Alexander's fourth and final one culled from the project's data, details how the children's first years of life ultimately colored their success as adults.

The project originally was intended to last only three years. Calling it the "beginning school study," the researchers had hoped to better understand how early home life helped some children successfully acclimate to first grade. But along the way Alexander and his team realized they had the foundation for something bigger -- to watch the children's life trajectories unfold. And in most cases, they unfolded much as their parents' had.

At nearly 30 years old, almost half the sample found themselves at the same socio-economic status as their parents. The poor stayed poor; those better off remained better off.

Only 33 children moved from birth families in the low-income bracket to the high-income bracket as young adults; if family had no bearing on children's mobility prospects, almost 70 would be expected. And of those who started out well off, only 19 dropped to the low-income bracket, a fourth of the number expected.

"The implication is where you start in life is where you end up in life," Alexander said. "It's very sobering to see how this all unfolds."

Among the most striking findings:

Almost none of the children from low-income families made it through college. Of the children from low-income families, only 4 percent had a college degree at age 28, compared to 45 percent of the children from higher-income backgrounds. "That's a shocking tenfold difference across social lines," Alexander said.

Among those who did not attend college, white men from low-income backgrounds found the best-paying jobs. Though they had the lowest rate of college attendance and completion, white men from low-income backgrounds found high-paying jobs in what remained of Baltimore's industrial economy. At age 28, 45 percent of them were working in construction trades and industrial crafts, compared with 15 percent of black men from similar backgrounds and virtually no women. In those trades, whites earned, on average, more than twice what blacks made.

Those well-paying blue collar jobs are not as abundant as during the years after World War II, but they still exist, and a large issue today is who gets them: among high school drop-outs, at age 22, 89 percent of white dropouts were working compared with 40 percent of black drop-outs.

White women from low-income backgrounds benefit financially from marriage and stable live-in partnerships. Though both white and black women who grew up in lower-income households earned less than white men, when you consider household income, white women reached parity with white men -- because they were married to them. Black women not only had low earnings, they were less likely than whites to be in stable family unions and so were less likely to benefit from a spouse's earnings.

White and black women from low-income households also had similar teen birth rates but white women more often had a spouse or partner, which helped to mitigate the challenges.

"It is access to good paying work that perpetuates the privilege of working class white men over working class black men," Alexander said. "By partnering with these men, white working class women share in that privilege."

Most likely to abuse drugs -- better-off white men. Though young black men get the bad rap when it comes to drugs, The Long Shadow found better-off white men had the highest self-reported rates of drug use, binge-drinking and chronic smoking, followed in each instance by white men of disadvantaged families. These men also reported high levels of arrest. But blacks, Alexander said, don't have the social networks whites do to help them find jobs despite these roadblocks. At age 28, 49 percent of black men from low-income backgrounds had a criminal conviction. Of white men from the same background, 41 percent had convictions, but the white employment rate was much higher.

Information on the book can be found at: https://www.russellsage.org/publications/long-shadow


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Johns Hopkins University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins University. "How the 'long shadow' of an inner city childhood affects adult success." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140602115517.htm>.
Johns Hopkins University. (2014, June 2). How the 'long shadow' of an inner city childhood affects adult success. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140602115517.htm
Johns Hopkins University. "How the 'long shadow' of an inner city childhood affects adult success." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140602115517.htm (accessed December 27, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Science & Society News

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Facebook Facing Another Class Action Lawsuit

Facebook Facing Another Class Action Lawsuit

Newsy (Dec. 25, 2014) — A California district court judge ruled Tuesday to move forward with a class action lawsuit against Facebook over private messaging and advertising. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
FDA Issues New Warning About Pure Caffeine Powder Usage

FDA Issues New Warning About Pure Caffeine Powder Usage

Newsy (Dec. 24, 2014) — The FDA cites two deaths this year linked to pure caffeine powder as warnings of the potentially fatal substance. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Alarming CDC Lab Report Reveals Ebola Sample Mix-Up

Alarming CDC Lab Report Reveals Ebola Sample Mix-Up

Newsy (Dec. 24, 2014) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report claiming a lab tech in Atlanta might have been exposed to the Ebola virus. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ukrainian Coal Miners Work to Stave Off Electricity Shortage

Ukrainian Coal Miners Work to Stave Off Electricity Shortage

AFP (Dec. 24, 2014) — Coal miners in the separatist east of Ukraine work to ensure there won't be electricity shortages during the coldest months of winter, but the country has declared a state of emergency in its electricity market. Duration: 00:59 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Science & Society

Business & Industry

Education & Learning

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins