Unequal childhoods, p.1

Unequal Childhoods, page 1


Unequal Childhoods

Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font   Night Mode Off   Night Mode

Unequal Childhoods

  Unequal Childhoods

  Annette Lareau

  Class does make a difference in the lives and futures of American children. Drawing on in-depth observations of black and white middle-class, working-class, and poor families, Unequal Childhoods explores this fact, offering a picture of childhood today. Here are the frenetic families managing their children's hectic schedules of "leisure" activities; and here are families with plenty of time but little economic security. Lareau shows how middle-class parents, whether black or white, engage in a process of "concerted cultivation" designed to draw out children's talents and skills, while working-class and poor families rely on "the accomplishment of natural growth," in which a child's development unfolds spontaneously—as long as basic comfort, food, and shelter are provided. Each of these approaches to childrearing brings its own benefits and its own drawbacks. In identifying and analyzing differences between the two, Lareau demonstrates the power, and limits, of social...


  “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, author of Outliers: The Story of Success

  “Through rich examples from each case-study family, this book makes a compelling case for the existence of different parenting values and practices between the classes. This wonderfully descriptive text is accessible to a wide audience and would be an excellent choice for instructing students about class and family life. In addition to providing a very enjoyable starting point for reflecting on the intersections between class, race, and parenting, Unequal Childhoods can serve as the foundation for a productive conversation on the merits and dilemmas of in-depth qualitative research.”

  —Amy M. Tiedemann, Contemporary Sociology:

  A Journal of Reviews

  “A major strength of Unequal Childhoods is the way it tackles the fact that cultural deficiency explanations are hegemonic in American national political discourse. Because of her more balanced view of class cultures, Lareau’s analysis of concerted cultivation provides a useful tool for linking analyses of cultural and social capital.”

  —Carl Stempel, International Review for the Sociology of Sport

  “Lareau does an excellent job of weaving into each chapter additional examples that show that her analyses are not limited to the particular family of that chapter. She makes a considerable theoretical contribution to studies of social and cultural reproduction. Annette Lareau has written an important and engaging book, one that will no doubt be used extensively by sociologists in both teaching and research.”

  —Jenny M. Stuber, Teaching Sociology

  “Annette Lareau explores, through detailed descriptions of child-parent interaction and parent-institutional interaction, how class shapes daily life, language use, and engagement with institutions.”

  —Ethnic and Racial Studies

  “In the thought-provoking Unequal Childhoods, Lareau challenges the widely held perception of America as ‘the land of opportunity’ where anyone, no matter what his or her background, can rise to great heights of achievement. This sensitive, well-balanced book is highly recommended for academic, special, and large public libraries.”

  —Library Journal

  “This accessible ethnographic study offers valuable insights into contemporary family life in poor, working-class, and middle-class American households. . . . A careful and interesting investigation of life in ‘the land of opportunity’ and ‘the land of inequality.’”

  —PW Online Annex

  “Unequal Childhoods is as exciting to read as it is depressing in its implications.” (Four stars)

  —The Scotsman

  “An unusually good ethnography about social class socialization, it demonstrates with excruciating clarity what has gone wrong with contemporary social theory.”

  —Melvyn L. Fein, Professor of Sociology,

  Kennesaw State University

  “Fewer 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

  “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.”

  —Michèle 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, 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

  Unequal Childhoods

  Unequal Childhoods

  Class, Race, and Family Life



  Annette Lareau

  University of California Press, one of the most distinguished university presses in the United States, enriches lives around the world by advancing scholarship in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Its activities are supported by the UC Press Foundation and by philanthropic contributions from individuals and institutions. For more information, visit www.ucpress.edu.

  University of California Press

  Berkeley and Los Angeles, California

  University of California Press, Ltd.

  London, England

  © 2011 by The Regents of the University of California

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Lareau, Annette.

  Unequal childhoods : class, race, and family life / Annette Lareau.—2nd ed., with an update a decade later.

  p. cm.

  Includes bibliographical references and index.

  ISBN 978-0-520-27142-5 (pbk. : alk. paper)

  1. Children—Social conditions. 2. Families.

  I. Title.

  HQ767.9.L37 2011

  305.23089′96073—dc23 2011017738

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  In keeping with a commitment to support environmentally responsible and sustainable printing practices, UC Press has printed this book on Rolland Enviro100, a 100% post-consumer fiber paper that is FSC certified, deinked, processed chlorine-free, and manufactured with renewable biogas energy. It is acid-free and EcoLogo certified.

  For Samuel, for the many ways

  in which he enriches my life,

  and in memory of George McClure,

  who offered me, and many other young

  scholars, criticism, care, and confidence


  Preface to the Second Edition


  1. Concerted Cultivation and the Accomplishment of

  Natural Growth

  2. Social Structure and Daily Life


  3. The Hectic Pace of Concerted Cultivation: Garrett Tallinger

  4. A Child’s Pace: Tyrec Taylor

  5. Children’s Play Is for Children: Katie Brindle


  6. Developing a Child: Alexander Williams

  7. Language as a Conduit for Social Life: Harold McAllister


  8. Concerted Cultivation in Organizational Spheres: Stacey Marshall

  9. Concerted Cultivation Gone Awry: Melanie Handlon

  10. Letting Educators Lead the Way: Wendy Driver

  11. Beating with a Belt, Fearing “the School”: Little Billy Yanelli

  12. The Power and Limits of Social Class


  13. Class Differences in Parents’ Information and Intervention

  in the Lives of Young Adults

  14. Reflections on Longitudinal Ethnography and the Families’ Reactions to Unequal Childhoods

  15. Unequal Childhoods in Context: Results from a Quantitative Analysis

  Annette Lareau, Elliot Weininger, Dalton Conley, and Melissa Velez


  Appendix A. Methodology:

  Enduring Dilemmas in Fieldwork

  Appendix B. Theory:

  Understanding the Work of Pierre Bourdieu

  Appendix C. Supporting Tables

  Appendix D. Tables for the Second Edition


  Revised Bibliography



  to the Second Edition

  Since Unequal Childhoods was published, the children in the book have passed through childhood and adolescence into adulthood. At the end of the study, I had wanted to know how the lives of these children would unfold. I was particularly interested to see if the patterns of class differences in child rearing would continue over time. Thus, approximately ten years after the original study, when the youth were between the ages of nineteen and twenty-one, I revisited the twelve families who were in the intensive study. In this second edition of the book, I report the findings from the follow-up study. Three new chapters on these findings are added as Part IV, followed by a brief Afterword. Also included are an additional table in Appendix C, a new Appendix D, and a revised bibliography. The material from the first edition remains unchanged.


  The process of moving to a second edition of Unequal Childhoods had a number of challenges, but I was also greatly blessed with intellectual, social, and material support. The Spencer Foundation gave generous financial assistance for the project. My program officer, Susan Dauber, deserves particular thanks. While all errors are my own responsibility, I remain deeply indebted to the Spencer Foundation for the ways in which they made the project possible. Temple University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Pennsylvania all provided much-appreciated institutional support. The Institute for the Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California, gave me an intellectual home during 2005–6. Dalton Conley graciously supplied office space at New York University at a critical point in the study. My writing group members, Erin McNamara Horvat and Demie Kurz, gave me indispensable feedback. Patricia Berhau had a crucial position in the original study and also in the data analysis of the follow-up study. It is hard to convey the depth of my gratitude to Elliot Weininger for his immeasurable contributions. I also owe a special debt to Amanda Cox for her conversations, coding work, and collaboration. Indeed, the separate essays I coauthored with Elliot Weininger and with Amanda Cox helped to develop many of the points I discuss here; Chapter 13, in particular, includes material from these joint works. Audiences at a number of institutions, especially George Mason University, the University of California San Diego, Northwestern University, Franklin and Marshall, Harvard University, the University of California Los Angeles, New York University, and the University of Pennsylvania, provided helpful feedback as I sought to develop the ideas presented here. Many others, including readers, also have helped me develop my thoughts. From lively exchanges to highly critical feedback, I have benefited particularly from the input of the following people: Michael Bader, Harry Brighouse, Jessica McCrory Calarco, Dalton Conley, Maia Cucchiara, Andrew Deener, Mitch Duneier, Frank Furstenberg, Flo Gelo, Michèle Lamont, Ralph LaRossa, Robin Leidner, Katherine McClelland, Bud Mehan, Vanessa Lopes Muñoz, Wes Shumar, Lisa Smulyan, Amy Steinbugler, Karolyn Tyson, Melissa Velez, Pamela Barnhouse Walters, Melissa Wilde, Julia Wrigley, Tina Wu, and my monthly reading group. My editor, Naomi Schneider, aided significantly in moving the project to closure.

  It is common for students to be unaware of how much professors learn from them. Students in my courses at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Maryland have given me useful feedback. Andrew Cherlin and Arlie Hochschild both graciously had their graduate classes read the material, which produced many helpful comments. Shani Evans and April Yee provided valuable research assistance, as did Pamela Ellerman, Rebecca Holtz, and, especially, Alina Tulloch. M. Katherine Mooney also has played an exceptional role as friend, critical reader, and editor. As always, my children by marriage, Dillon and Rachel, helped to distract me from the demands of work. My husband, Samuel Freeman, provided laughter and comfort as the project inched forward. Finally, I am very grateful to the families in the study for their many contributions and their willingness, in mo
st instances, to remain in conversation despite moments of difficulty.


  I am very grateful to the children and their families who very graciously welcomed us into their lives, allowed us to follow them around, laughed at us and with us, and helped us understand them. Because of issues of confidentiality, I cannot name them. Nor do I feel I can adequately thank them. But without them this book would not exist. I am also indebted to the teachers and administrators at the schools we visited, especially the teachers who welcomed us into their classrooms. I also appreciate the numerous parents, coaches, dance teachers, and adults working with children who shared their experiences.

  No one ever works alone in social science research. In this instance, since the project spanned a number of families as well as a number of years, I was blessed to have very talented assistance. I am deeply grateful to the field-workers, especially for how they gave themselves to the project in a wholehearted fashion. It was a lot to ask. The following research assistants did fieldwork with one or more of the twelve families: Mary Woods, Mimi Keller, Greg Seaton, Caitlin Howley, Robin Rogers-Dillon, Gillian Johns, Wendi Starr Brown, Mark Freeman, and Christine Paul. In addition, other research assistants helped carry out interviews: Karima Jefferies, Rashida Thomas, Kate Wilson, and at a late stage Mary Stricker, Janice Johnson, and Jennifer Murphy. Patricia Berhau played a special role with both her organizational talents and her formidable conceptual skills. She did everything: hired work-study students, talked on the phone with field-workers when I was out of town, and coded the data for all of the interviews. She also generously shared with me her interviews with some of the families for her dissertation and was a friendly, highly knowledgeable critic.

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up