Affluent parents are investing more time and money in their kids’ upbringing than ever before, while others lack the resources to keep up. But there’s a lot more that schools could do to help.
In a front-page article this week, the New York Times detailed changes that have occurred in parenting styles in recent decades. A mother who raised her children in the 1970s described her job as having been “to love and discipline them … not to entertain them.” In contrast, her daughter—Renée Sentilles, a professor—has ferried her own son to extracurricular activities that include soccer, piano, swimming, and martial arts, beginning at age four. Although he’s now twelve, she rarely has him out of her sight at home, supervising his homework and limiting his screen time.
“At any given moment,” she told the Times, “everything could just fall apart.”
While this intensive approach to parenting is stressful for parents like Ms. Sentilles, its repercussions are devastating for those who would like to provide their children with similar benefits but lack the time, money, and education to do so. As college degrees have become increasingly essential, wealthier parents have tried to give their offspring every possible competitive advantage, leaving others in the dust. In 1972, the wealthiest Americans were spending five times as much per child as the lowest-income families. By 2007, parents at all economic levels were spending more on their children, but the highest-income families were now spending nine times as much.
It’s hard to show a direct link between piano lessons or soccer practice and indicators of academic achievement, but that kind of enrichment—along with, in some cases, trips to Europe or private tutoring—surely plays a part. The size of the test-score gap between the wealthiest and poorest students has grown substantially in recent decades, along with the imbalance in college completion rates.
That trend is probably here to stay. Affluent and highly educated parents are unlikely to dial back their efforts in order to equalize outcomes for less fortunate kids; they may be committed to social justice, but they’ll do whatever seems necessary to ensure their children’s happiness. Parents at the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum no doubt feel the same way, but there’s a limit to what they can do to compete.