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How Low-Income Parents' Decisions Influence their Children's Future

Gustavo Verissimo, flickr


We all know that children who grow up in disadvantaged homes face unique challenges to their well-being and their chances for success later in life. But growing up in low-income circumstances isn’t a blanket predictor of a child’s future; some may do well, some may struggle.

But are there factors that could predict a child’s future situation? Do children of a particular demographic fare better than those of another in the long run? How much depends on a child’s ability to grow and make his own future, and how much is out of his control?

These were the question asked by three researchers at Johns Hopkins University. In a groundbreaking study, they tracked low-income children in Baltimore, Maryland over the course of 25 years, and just this past April, published their results in a book called The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood.

"When I was reading the study, they talked about two sets of males, black males and white males, they both had incarceration rates, they both had drop-out issues, they both had children at early ages, they also had job experiences, some of them went to college," says David Pate. "But if you look at it by race, the white men still did better."

David Pate is Lake Effect’s Real Talk contributor on race, gender and class. He’s an associate professor in  UW-Milwaukee’s Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, and he’s founder of the Center for Family Policy and Practice.