Annette Lareau

Annette Lareau's picture
Professor of Sociology; Stanley I. Sheerr Professor in the Social Sciences
University of Pennsylvania
How does social stratification have an impact on life chances? Americans believe in the power of the individual to shape his or her life prospects. In my research, I have sought to unpack how social structural forces do, and do not, shape crucial aspects of daily life. My book, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life is based on participant-observation of a total of twelve white and African-American families with children in third and fourth grade. The work suggests that all parents want their children to be healthy and happy. Middle-class parents, however, see their children as a project. They seek to develop their talents and skills through a series of organized activities, through an intensive process of reasoning and language development, and through close supervision of their experiences in school. By contrast, working-class and poor families work hard to feed, clothe, and protect their children. But they also presume that their children will spontaneously grow and thrive. Thus the children “hang out” by watching television and playing with cousins rather than being in organized activities, are given directives rather than being engaged in reasoning, and are given independence in schools and other institutions. Although African-American families live in racially segregated neighborhoods and experience racial discrimination in employment, in the kinds of child rearing practices examined in this study, the white and African-American upper-middle-class are extremely similar in their child rearing practices. There is a significant difference between the working-class and middle-class African-American families. In my current project, with Elliot Weininger, I am studying how parents with young children decide where to live. I am interested in the role that school does, and does not, play in neighborhood decisions. This study involves visits to schools in the suburbs of a large Northeastern city as well as interviews with parents of young children.

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