Education Gap Between Rich and Poor

10divide-graphic-articleInline-v2Fantastic, and horrifying, information from the New York Times about the education achievement gap between the rich and poor

Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.

“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.

Research point to a variety of factors that have contributed to this widening gap. The rich are super cultivating their kids, with activities and tutoring. Different approaches to parenting of very young children. The shrinking of the middle class. The growing cultural divide between the rich and the poor. 

40 Thoughts on “Education Gap Between Rich and Poor

  1. One of those reasons would be that the rich are (on average) smarter and have (on average) smarter kids. It’s not really that surprising that a pair of doctors, a pair of dentists, or a pair of pharmacists or a CPA and a lawyer might have kids that are brighter than average. (And even when they can’t have their own children, they’ll pay top dollar for high-SAT eggs.) I think it’s more or less a commonplace that intelligence is 50% inherited.

  2. Teaching at the community college here and I’m wondering what the 50s and 60s looked like in terms of poor reading and writing skills. So many of my students don’t seem to even know that they have many grammatical errors in each sentence.

  3. One of those reasons would be that the rich are (on average) smarter and have (on average) smarter kids.
    (A) That response does not address the chart at all, which focuses on changes since 1960. The high income families may have gotten comparatively richer, but you don’t get extra IQ points with your Christmas bonus check. Maybe smart parents will have smart kids, but why should they be “1.2” smarter instead of just “0.6” smarter?
    (B) My question is how much of the change is due to the poor families declining, and how much is just the rich families improving when the poor tread water? The answer, I think would make a big difference in how we consider the problem.
    (C) Also, when we talk about “low-income families” are we really talking about the same people from one generation to the next? I think the number of adults with college degrees has at least doubled over this period, so a large chunk of the people who in the 1960s were “smart, but not-college educated, so poor” or “smart, but a minority subject to lots of prejudice, so poor.” Those people probably parented more like “the rich” than their poor peers, and those people also are more likely to map onto an equivalent person in the 2000s who is college educated and part of “the rich” for this study.
    In the 1960s, my grandparents were poor Jews who couldn’t go to college and who the Christians wouldn’t hire, but who had kids who outperformed their richer classmates in school. In the 1980s, my parents were well-off Jews because it was easier for Jews to go to college and get jobs, and they had kids (me!) who outperformed their poorer classmates. That single change from one generation to the next simultaneously depressed the performance of the “poor” cohort and improved the performance of the “rich” cohort — making the chart quoted look worse — but all that really changed is that my family got richer.

  4. Amy, I don’t believe that at all.
    Kris. Yeah. Steve worked at a community college for several years and was stunned that a number of the students could not distinguish between land and sea on a map of the world. When asked to label the Pacific Ocean, they put the label in the middle of Asia. I’m reading this research right now, so I can’t say for sure, but my guess is that most of your students would not have been in college at all in the 50s and 60s and would have gone onto unionized jobs at a factory. Did the 1950s 19-year old know more than the 2012 19-year old? I’m reading more about this right now.

  5. Ragtime, Just guessing here, but I think that every generation has its immigrant-poor, but eventually rich population. While it might have been the Jews in the 1950s, maybe there are similar families from the Dominican Republic in my old neighborhood in the city. Immigration is constant, so that can’t explain the increase in the education gap between the rich and the poor.

  6. Cranberry on February 10, 2012 at 11:32 am said:

    That response does not address the chart at all, which focuses on changes since 1960. The high income families may have gotten comparatively richer, but you don’t get extra IQ points with your Christmas bonus check. Maybe smart parents will have smart kids, but why should they be “1.2” smarter instead of just “0.6” smarter?
    Assortative mating, and assortative settlement patterns. The double-income, career couple chooses to invest in the good school district. That district is filled with other double-income, career couples. The real estate bidding war creates a financial moat between the haves and have-nots. Thus, the school systems are filled by different children. Affluence and work ethic is concentrated.
    The rich are the top 10% in income in this study, and the poor are the bottom 10%. A single mother will not be able to outbid married accountants.
    We live in a town with a high median income. Relatives live in a town with a state-average income. The two town’s public schools are very different, even though they are subject to the same state laws. They differ in the expectations the teachers hold for the kids, and in the parents’ expectations.

  7. The US is more diverse than it was 60 years ago, on both ends, so we should expect there to be more inequality, both in income and in test scores. On the one hand, many immigrants (particularly illegals) have practically no education at all. On the other hand, there are far more upper-middle class professions than there were 60 years ago. (I forget the dates, but at some point early in the 20th century the US shut down immigration for several decades. By mid-century, the US had the luxury of having assimilated the children of the immigrants who had come before the immigration clampdown and not having to deal with so many tired, poor huddled masses. Voila–homogeneity and social equality!)
    Laura said:
    “Amy, I don’t believe that at all.”
    What, you don’t believe intelligence is 50% inherited? That’s not really controversial.
    Cranberry,
    Indeed.
    I’d also add that high-income professionals of today are probably different than high-income earners of yesteryear. Now, I’m not sure who was making the big bucks in the 1950s, but it seems not implausible that high skill level, hyper-education, and high intelligence play a bigger part today than they did in 1955. Doctors were highly trained and highly paid then and now, but I think there are more professions like that today than there used to be.
    Also, the ancestors of today’s H1B visa-holders were not in the US in 1955, so the pool has been changing.

  8. Regarding assortative mating–I don’t know if anybody else has noticed this, but in a lot of old-time movies, I get the impression that stupid was supposed to equal sexy. Think, for example, of many of Marilyn Monroe’s screen roles where she plays the sexy airhead blonde. (Meanwhile, off-screen, MM was actually quite the bookworm.) I suspect that upper-income men now get much less cultural encouragement than they used to to marry and have children with women that they don’t respect intellectually.

  9. As ragtime asks, that graph is a bit too processed for me to have anything to say about it without looking at the underlying data.
    I feel like there is a Murray-book inspired analysis out there (from David Brooks?) that argues that a growing gap between rich & poor is an effect of having developed a system that is more “merit”-ocratic than any other system we’ve had in the past. Thus, the Jews, who were excluded from Yale because of their quotas, and the pre-Obamas, who were excluded from elementary schools have an opportunity to reach their true level of merit (while the rich marginal kid, post-Bush?) also has an opportunity to reach or sink to their level of merit.
    In practice, this creates increasing gaps in measures of assessment (i.e. standardized tests) that are related in some way to merit (presuming that not just”genetic” IQ, but the patterns of behavior and abilities that result in merit-ocratic behavior are transmitted from parents to offspring.
    (I do not know whether this is a real explanation of the graph above, because it is too processed, and to assess a hypothesis like that one, you need to track individuals.)

  10. There is a very great deal of ground between intelligence being to some degree heritable and having demonstrated that one or two generations of associative mating are responsible for any appreciable portion of a societal-level change.

  11. The doe-eyed female moron used to be an American cultural ideal (at least mid-century). Think Elizabeth Taylor in Father of the Bride. I also really dislike Disney’s 1937 Snow White, whose entire brain seems to have been replaced with some sort of housekeeping module.

  12. Another possible issue is that even when I was a kid, it was very much discouraged to teach your child to read before school. When I was a kid, the idea was that parents would just make a mess of it, so they should just leave reading instruction to the school. That was the conventional wisdom for much of the 20th century and would have applied even to children of the rich.
    There’s a passage in one of Florence King’s pieces where she describes how freaked out her kindergarten teacher was at the fact that she’d learned to read already (that would have been in the early 1940s). There’s a similar passage in To Kill a Mocking Bird, I believe.
    That taboo against early home reading instruction has since died.

  13. Long Time Lurker, First Time Poster on February 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm said:

    “That taboo against early home reading instruction has since died.”
    In my town, not a particularly affluent one, but one with a fair number of professionals, that taboo was dead in 1973, at least among some families. A large percentage of the children (maybe not a majority, but a large percentage) knew how to read when they walked into the 1st grade.

  14. “Amy, I don’t believe that at all.”
    Huh? What is it that you don’t believe? That IQ is positively correlated with income? That IQ is positively correlated with educational achievement? That IQ is to some extent hereditable? All of those are amply documented facts. (Better documented than evolution or global warming, for sure.)
    Of course, it’s possible to believe that IQ doesn’t measure “real” intelligence, or merit in the eyes of God, but those are not statements amenable to social scientific analysis.

  15. Ragtime on February 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm said:

    There is a very great deal of ground between intelligence being to some degree heritable and having demonstrated that one or two generations of associative mating are responsible for any appreciable portion of a societal-level change.
    Exactly. It is the consistent Conservative position that “inequality is justified” irrespective of the level of inequality, and “taxes are too high” irrespective of the level of taxation. I’m not sure why we even ask them.

  16. Of course, it’s possible to believe that IQ doesn’t measure “real” intelligence, or merit in the eyes of God, but those are not statements amenable to social scientific analysis.
    The idea that there exists a unidimensional intelligence which can be separated from culture in any meaningful way is indeed a statement which is amenable to social scientific analysis and much debated.

  17. The most interesting part of the report to me, was this quote:
    “Finally, the growing income achievement gap does not appear to be a result of a growing achievement gap between children with highly and less-educated parents. Indeed, the relationship between parental education and children’s achievement has remained relatively stable during the last fifty years, whereas the relationship between income and achievement has grown sharply. Family income is now nearly as strong as parental education in predicting children’s achievement.”
    I think it must be hard to isolate income, education, race, etc. in these studies. I’ve always thought that poverty was to blame for many of the failures of our current education system, but that’s another post…

  18. It is the consistent Conservative position that “inequality is justified” irrespective of the level of inequality…
    I’m not grinding that axe. I’m worried about levels of analysis.

  19. New rule – no one is allowed to use the word indeed as a stand alone sentence. It causes flashbacks to the early days of blogging, when it was mostly old, weird men doing it.

  20. “Exactly. It is the consistent Conservative position that “inequality is justified” irrespective of the level of inequality, and “taxes are too high” irrespective of the level of taxation. I’m not sure why we even ask them.”
    I wouldn’t say “inequality is justified,” but I would say that inequality is a fact of life to be taken into account. We aren’t equally tall, pretty, athletic, good-tempered, social, musical, good at math, good at computers, good at languages, good at remembering stuff, good at paying attention and staying on task, organized, etc.
    I personally am a chubby, very near-sighted, sleepy housewife with very moderate spatial and math skills (I didn’t have the opportunity or work up the courage to learn to drive until I was in my 30s). I also find prolonged social contact taxing. On the other hand, I got an 800 Verbal GRE back in the day (pre-tweaking), I have a very sticky memory, and I am good at languages. It would be fantastic to be more energetic, slender and not to have to wear Coke bottle glasses, but that’s life.
    Now, I believe perhaps even more than you do that schools can do better, but I do not expect them to produce equal results. Being a conservative, I’m not going to wring my hands over unequal results and I think doing so is a sign of immaturity (note how it’s kid who are always whinging about fairness).
    Here’s a P.J. O’Rourke quote on fairness that I use on my kids:
    “I’ve got a 10-year-old at home. She’s always saying, “That’s not fair.” When she says this, I say, “Honey, you’re cute. That’s not fair. Your family is pretty well off. That’s not fair. You were born in America. That’s not fair. Darling, you had better pray to God that things don’t start getting fair for you.”

  21. Also, it’s important to remember that “inequality” is just another way to say “diversity.”

  22. On the other hand, I got an 800 Verbal GRE back in the day (pre-tweaking)
    Using meth to boost your GRE is probably a mistake.

  23. Ther heritability of IQ is, in fact, much disputed, Amy. Whatever the heritability of IQ, anayway, do people really think that assortative mating could have had these sort of effects in so short a time period? Beggars belief.
    One of the key findings in the volume is the staggeringly unqual levels of spending on educational enrichment activities on rich and poor kids.
    I’ll do a comprehensive post on the book when I have a moment, Laura.

  24. Also, it’s important to remember that “inequality” is just another way to say “diversity.”
    Only if there are different criteria by which people might be ranked and those rankings aren’t correlated too highly. Which is the case now. I’m thinking of what I can remember about Horowitz’s “Ethnic Groups in Conflict.” I’m worried about all of the inequalities merging into one big caste-like thing.

  25. “The idea that there exists a unidimensional intelligence which can be separated from culture in any meaningful way is indeed a statement which is amenable to social scientific analysis and much debated.”
    Just to be clear (these issues may be a little too complex for discussion in blog comments), I would never assert that there exists a unidimensional intelligence, only that there exists a unidimensional (by definition, since it is measured by a single number) quality called IQ, which is objectively measurable and relatively stable (i.e., as stable as weight or income) in individuals, which correlates with both educational achievement and income, and which is correlated in parents and their biological children. All of the foregoing statements are as well-established as any social science finding you can name.

  26. “Objective measurable” is the most obvious issue with that.

  27. And it isn’t remotely stable for kids. That’s all I have time for before dinner.

  28. “and which is correlated in parents and their biological children. ”
    But this is not the same as saying that there is a significant genetic component, which is certainly no better established than evolution as an explanation for how life evolved.
    (the simple correlations, on the other hand, are not that difficult to calculate, but do not by themselves, say anything about causation).

  29. MH,
    Ha! My spelling isn’t that hot, either.
    “Whatever the heritability of IQ, anayway, do people really think that assortative mating could have had these sort of effects in so short a time period?”
    I wouldn’t argue for heritability of IQ (or intelligence) being the full story, but if you have four or five different things each nudging a bit in the same directions, you could have major effects.

  30. bj said:
    “But this is not the same as saying that there is a significant genetic component, which is certainly no better established than evolution as an explanation for how life evolved.”
    There are twin studies, aren’t there?
    I just looked it up. It’s Wikipedia, but we have to start some place:
    “Estimates in the academic research of the heritability of IQ have varied from below 0.5[2] to a high of 0.9.[5] A 1996 statement by the American Psychological Association gave about .45 for children and about .75 during and after adolescence.[6] A 2004 meta-analysis of reports in Current Directions in Psychological Science gave an overall estimate of around .85 for 18-year-olds and older.[7] The New York Times Magazine has listed about three quarters as a figure held by the majority of studies.[8]”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heritability_of_IQ
    That’s a lot higher than I would have thought. Note that the heritability number gets higher the older children get.

  31. Intelligence and How to Get It offers a very readable critique of some of the heritability studies (it was a while back that I read it, but the twin studies are problematic because—I remember because the author paraphrases Tolstoy—adoptive families, like happy families, are all alike. Impoverished families don’t adopt children.) He’s not saying that intelligence doesn’t have a genetic component, as clearly it does, but he argues that society and culture have a much larger effect than previously believed. Thus, the racial gap is environmental and will narrow over time, but the social-class gap is more intractable.

  32. Ragtime on February 10, 2012 at 9:31 pm said:

    New rule – no one is allowed to use the word indeed as a stand alone sentence.
    How about “Heh.”?

  33. Amy, those figures are based on the variance in a population in the same environment.

  34. “Amy, those figures are based on the variance in a population in the same environment.”
    So what’s the accepted number?
    “How about “Heh.”?”
    That’s probably already banned. Check your spam folder for the complete list.
    Personally, I prefer a girlish “hee hee.”

  35. One assumes bunches of people are fighting over the number.

  36. Here’s another possible factor: pedagogy.
    Bad pedagogy (non-phonics reading and reform math) is much more dangerous for poor children, because they usually have nobody at home who can notice that there’s a problem, roll up their sleeves and remediate the deficit.

  37. Cranberry on February 11, 2012 at 11:54 am said:

    Second, as Greg Duncan and Katherine Magnuson note in chapter 3 of this volume, the income achievement gap is large when children enter kindergarten and does not appear to grow (or narrow) appreciably as children progress through school. Third, although rising income inequality may play a role in the growing income achievement gap, it does not appear to be the dominant factor. The gap appears to have grown at least partly because of an increase in the association between family income and children’s academic achievement for families above the median income level: a given difference in family incomes now corresponds to a 30 to 60 percent larger difference in achievement than it did for children born in the 1970s. Moreover, evidence from other studies suggests that this may be in part a result of increasing parental investment in children’s cognitive development.
    If the gap remains constant from kindergarten on, why should we presume the tutors and extracurriculars after kindergarten have an effect? I must say that I’m not persuaded that travel team soccer increases academic prowess, and I think tutoring may not always help, either.
    Perhaps the top 10% in income are much more careful before conception, through gestation, and through a child’s early years. They don’t smoke or drink before or during pregnancy. They see the doctor and take vitamins. They are more likely to breastfeed. They read to their children. Their children see them reading. They limit t.v. If the child squints, he gets glasses. If there are behavior issues, they consult experts. If the kid’s not ready for kindergarten, they redshirt him. And so on and so forth.

  38. “Second, as Greg Duncan and Katherine Magnuson note in chapter 3 of this volume, the income achievement gap is large when children enter kindergarten and does not appear to grow (or narrow) appreciably as children progress through school.”
    The constant gap is very interesting, because I was under the impression that academic gaps typically snowball throughout a child’s K-12 career. From Wikipedia’s article on the Matthew effect:
    “…children who fall behind in reading, read less, increasing the gap between them and their peers. Later, when students need to “read to learn” (where before they were learning to read), their reading difficulty creates difficulty in most other subjects. In this way they fall further and further behind in school, dropping out at a much higher rate than their peers.”
    Cranberry says:
    “I must say that I’m not persuaded that travel team soccer increases academic prowess, and I think tutoring may not always help, either.”
    No kidding. Serious sports take a lot of time, mess with family schedules and dinner time, pull kids out of school, push homework late into the evening and create stress. You have to be very academically strong to begin with to cope with that sort of disruption. And like it or not, sports are the main US extracurricular and the main focus of parental energy. You don’t see a lot of parents bending over backwards so that their kid can go to chess club.
    “Perhaps the top 10% in income are much more careful before conception, through gestation, and through a child’s early years. They don’t smoke or drink before or during pregnancy. They see the doctor and take vitamins. They are more likely to breastfeed. They read to their children. Their children see them reading. They limit t.v. If the child squints, he gets glasses. If there are behavior issues, they consult experts. If the kid’s not ready for kindergarten, they redshirt him. And so on and so forth.”
    Right.

  39. There’s a thread going on this very same subject over at Joanne Jacobs’ blog.
    http://www.joannejacobs.com/2012/02/poverty-gap-widens/#comments
    I liked a comment left by Deirdre Mundy:
    “One problem I see with a lot of these policies– policy makers assume we take our kids to the Art Institute because it’s good for the kids. Really, we take them because WE like it and we enjoy sharing the things we love.
    “So, a parent who only loves TV will share that love with the kids. Middle class families don’t do these things because they’re ‘good for us’—we go hiking and to art fairs and on trips to see historical sites because we think it’s fun. If someone does these things from a medicinal perspective “Go tour Mammoth Cave. It’s good for you,” it won’t actually create lasting cultural change. It will just be something the kids are glad not to have to do once they grow up….”
    I think that is a very good point. Outside of homework and similar unavoidables, I don’t do any activities with the kids that I don’t enjoy to some extent, and the same is true of my husband.

  40. Cranberry on February 13, 2012 at 1:35 pm said:

    My kids loathe art museums. The eldest is beginning to appreciate them, but really, we’ve gone through a long period in which visiting an art museum had to be required by parents.
    We watch tv. Lots of people do. Very, very few people have no t.v., and I’d venture to say that the majority of the families in the top 10% of income have t.v.s, probably more than one, and use them daily.
    As the gap is present before kindergarten, I don’t think any particular family “cultivation” makes a difference on the scholastic front. I think the peer group makes a huge difference, though. If all your peers are oriented to the future, because all their parents are future-oriented, that makes a difference. It’s a culture thing. It makes high school very stressful, but in order not to apply to college, a kid would have to really swim against the prevailing tide.

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