Publication Date: October 29, 2021
Is the American dream that exists for the middle class equally available to the working class? Using extensive interviews with parents and a variety of data sources, this book examines how social contexts and culture affect parenting decisions. By analyzing class differences in neighborhoods, schools, and networks, as well as their relationship to mobility-related parenting practices, the authors demonstrate that cultural differences are no match for economic inequalities. They show how middle-class parents have access to social contexts characterized by security, which gives rise to what the authors call “strategic parenting”— a set of practices that allow adolescents to develop the qualities and skills they will use to go off to college and, subsequently, achieve the American dream. Conversely, the contexts of working-class parents are characterized by precarity, giving rise to “defensive parenting”—an almost frantic use of harm-mitigating interventions to protect adolescents from threats to both their well-being and prospects for mobility. This important book calls for a shift in public policy away from trying to change working-class parents to improving the social contexts in which society asks them to raise the next generation.
Pamela R. Bennett is an associate professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Amy Lutz is an associate professor of sociology in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. Lakshmi Jayaram is president of the Inquiry Research Group LLC and policy fellow in the School of Public Policy at UMBC.
“Parenting in Privilege or Peril is a compelling account of how differences in family resources and social contexts privilege children of middle-class background and limit the prospects of children of working-class background over the transition from middle school to high school. The project’s interviews reveal two parenting styles, with implications for whether children are college-ready and attend a quality high school: middle class parents engage in ‘strategic parenting’ in charting a course toward those goals, whereas the dangers present in their neighborhoods and schools oblige working class parents to adopt a strategy of ‘defensive parenting.’ Bennett, Lutz, and Jayaram reject the notion that such differences of parenting styles are cultural constructs, arguing instead that they are dictated by the resources parents command and conditions in the social contexts they and their children are obliged to navigate. This is an important insight, and Parenting in Privilege or Peril is an important book.”
—Karl Alexander, John Dewey Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University