Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life

Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life

Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life

Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life


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 class in shaping the lives of America's children.

The first edition of Unequal Childhoods was an instant classic, portraying in riveting detail the unexpected ways in which social class influences parenting in white and African American families. A decade later, Annette Lareau has revisited the same families and interviewed the original subjects to examine the impact of social class in the transition to adulthood.


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 . . .

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