It was a fascinating day reading the New York Times Sunday Opinion Section (April 28). Ross Douthat, in When Assimilation Stalls, notes that there is a crisis in the working and lower classes related to a retreat from marriage and rising out-of-wedlock birthrates that is contributing to their children assimilating downward. He highlights second- and third-generation Mexican immigrants as participating in the retreat from marriage (though Jennifer Roebuck Bulanda and Susan L. Brown, in Race-Ethnic Differences in Marital Quality and Divorce find differently), and fears the consequences of increased immigration to this already dysfunctional “rainbow underclass.”
Andrew J. Cherlin, writing In the Season of Marriage, A Question. Why Bother?, takes up the issue of marriage and success. He notes that the link between marriage and child-bearing is weakening, especially among those without a college education (an alias for economic success), and that a lot of it can be contributed to the “hollowing out of the middle of the American economy.” It is harder for those without college degrees to find steady, well-paying work; without that, they neither feel they can establish a long-term relationship to support a family; nor do their partners wish to delay child-bearing while waiting for the uncertain prospect of marriage.
In No Rich Child Left Behind, Sean F. Reardon demonstrates that inequality in educational success is increasing both when comparing the wealthy class to the middle class and when comparing middle class students to poor students. Ross Douthat mentions “our dysfunctional educational system” that we’re expecting to help pull new immigrants into prosperity, but the dysfunctionalness of the educational system is one of the myths that Reardon dispels. “Average test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the so-called Nation’s Report Card, ” he notes, “have been rising since the 1970’s.” He also indicates that racial gaps in achievement have been narrowing, and that the growing inequality in educational success between high- and low-income children is growing among white students, as well. And in what is perhaps the most interesting observation, he shows that while high-income students come to school more prepared than low-income ones, the gap in educational success does not grow significantly throughout the school years.
Reardon argues that his research suggests that young children exposed to cognitively stimulating experiences come to school more ready to learn and that money in families correlates with stable home environments and with parents having more time to provide these stimulating experiences for their children. More to the point, he shows that high-income families are spending an increasing amount of their resources on their children’s cognitive development, leading to their children increasing in educational success compared to their less high-income fellow students. This leads to the increasing inequality in educational success that we are seeing in our society.
Investing in child care and preschool might provide for better educational success for non-high-income children. With educational success comes financial well-being, which provides the environment for stable relationships, particularly marriage. And stable households provide the stimulation that young children need to achieve educational success.
If we take care of our children, we can arrest the decline we are seeing in America, and facilitate our success as a society and a nation.