Marriage or the Baby Carriage

Photo by Rob Tom via Flickr.

There are more married mothers among millenial women with college degrees. Photo by rob tom via Flickr.

Differences in education level lead to dramatically different views on when to become a parent, according to new research. John Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin shows that millennial women with college educations are more likely to wait until they are married before they have children than women without a college degree. In an interview with Sarah Kliff of Vox, Cherlin explains:

“We’re seeing the emergence two very different paths to adulthood. Among young adults without college educations, most of their childbearing is in their twenties and the majority of it is outside of marriage. That includes people who have gotten a two-year associate’s degree. The dividing line is the four-year degree. The vast majority of people with that college degree are having children in marriage. We didn’t see this 20 or 30 years ago. We didn’t see these sharp differences between the college graduates and non-graduates.”

This trend concerns Cherlin, as it could lead to a more unstable family life for the children of unmarried parents with a high school education. He sees a lack of middle-skill jobs as the cause of their financial instability. This leads to their higher rate of breaking up and ultimately reinforces economic inequalities between education groups. Parents who have a college education are less likely to get divorced, since they are the couples who are more likely to have two steady incomes.

When asked if we could turn this worrisome trend around, Cherlin posits:

“It depends on if you think we can turn the middle of the job market around, and if we can find productive employment for high school graduates. If that happens, then I think we have a chance of reversing the instability we’re seeing in family lives. I also think that it might be a good idea to promote a message that one should wait to have children until one is in a stable marriage.”

That said, providing an alternative vision of a future where the high-school and college-educated alike can navigate the new economy could lead to greater family stability for their kids.


Maximizing Your Parental Investment: 10 Easy Steps*

Photo by Travis Barfield, Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo by Travis Barfield, Flickr Creative Commons.

Forbes Magazine recently highlighted some shocking numbers. According to the USDA,

A child born in 2012 will cost his parents $241,080 in 2012 dollars, on average [in the first 17 years of life]… And children of higher-earning families drain the bank account more: Families earning more than $105,000 annually can expect to spend $399,780 per child.

That works out to about $14,000 a year on the low end. Now that, as author Laura Shin points out, is a big investment—especially when kids used to be contributors to the household economy, not drains on it. Today, NYU professor Dalton Conley calls on research from colleague Viviana Zelizer who says “kids are emotionally priceless and economically worthless.” And yet, “We think of them as our most important life project.”

In a hard economy in a country with high inequality, parental investment in children is truly important, Conley goes on. “We know… that investments at home in time, energy and from birth and before are what actually develop kids that are successful in terms of this knowledge economy.” And those successful kids will get into better schools, have better jobs, and maybe even be able to support their parents into old age. But how do can parents get the best return on this investment?

That question, Shin writes, is at least partially answered with Conley’s new book Parentology: Everything You Wanted to Know about the Science of Raising Children But Were Too Exhausted to Ask. Along with Conley, she goes on to boil down the how-to for investing in your child to ten easy (well, depending on means, time, and commitment) steps. Be sure to click on over for all the good stuff on number, timing, names, parental work decisions, public v. private school, bribes, ADD, and whether to “stay together for the kids.” In the meantime, Shin concludes, “The most important guideline is to make your actions speak louder than you words.” Parenting the Warren Buffett way!


*Edited to better contextualize the USDA’s numbers and why parents’ investment might have an ROI at all (someone’s got to foot the bill for all those Golden Years we’ve heard so much about… particularly if we blew all our cash on soccer lessons). Another reader points out that it’s worth looking at all the sociology on how to maximize returns by minimizing investment (that is, not having children at all).

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A (Private) Room with a View

Many college students are opting for single rooms to avoid dealing with awkward roommates. Photo by Katie Brady via

College students opt for single rooms to avoid awkward roommates. Photo by Katie Brady via

Rites of passage as a new college student often involve  wandering lost around campus, sampling the mystery meat in the dining hall, and – that first awkward social encounter – meeting your roommate. At least that’s how it used to be. The Atlantic shares a new trend in college life, the single dorm room.

More and more schools are offering single room options, bypassing the awkward roommate relationship navigation that has been one of the hallmarks of college life. One university even converted its double occupancy dorms into “super singles.” Having your own room does ensure privacy, personal space, and avoidance of bad roommates, but students and experts are lamenting the loss of the college roommate.

One student explains potential problems saying:

With a private room, it’s very easy to find yourself cut off from a social life. If you just go back to your room as soon as class is over, you’re never going to meet anyone new or have any experiences beyond those in the classroom.

There is more at stake than an invitation to parties; having a social life includes learning how to interact with people of many cultures and backgrounds. Learning how to navigate the social world is crucial for young adults. Sociologist and social sciences dean at New York University Dalton Conley agrees that the loss of the college roommate could be very detrimental.

“Roommates simply teach us to be tolerant and adapt,” Conley says. “In our increasingly customized, digitized, on-demand world, there are not many experiences that provide this sort of socialization.”

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4.0 in School Violence

Photo by Alberto G. via

Photo by Alberto G. via

For many students, school violence, including bullying and physical fighting, is a daily concern and a regular experience. But what effects do these experiences or observations of violence within school have on students’ educational achievement?

Sociologist Julia Burdick-Will’s research on this question has uncovered some surprising and seemingly contradictory answers. She found that school violence had a negative effect on standardized test scores but yielded no changes in GPA. Burdick-Will argues that these findings may not be as oppositional as they first seem and suggests,

Violent crime rates affect the amount of material learned by the entire student body, but not the study skills or effort of individual students. GPAs, she points out, not only reflect learning, but also student behavior and standing within the classroom. Test scores are a more objective measure of content knowledge and performance on a given day.

In an age where school funding is increasingly reliant on standardized test scores rather than GPA, Burdick-Will’s findings suggest that unaddressed violence within schools could continue to have “lasting impacts on individual life chances and national levels of inequality.”


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Colleges Suffering College Debt, Too

A sign protesting the imposition of tuition fees at NYC's historic Cooper Union, a 150-year-old free school. Photo by Michael Fleshman via

A sign protesting the imposition of tuition fees at NYC’s historic Cooper Union, a 150-year-old free school. Photo by Michael Fleshman via

UC Berkeley grad students and Scholars Strategy Network members Charlie Eaton and Jacob Habinek are in an ideal spot—geographically, educationally, even generationally—to look at college debt. Young people seeking first degrees, let alone post-secondary education, are increasingly floundering in student debt, and Congress is dragging its heels when it comes to finding ways to mitigate that debt’s effects. But the state of California’s higher education system is also notoriously in the red, and that’s where their research comes in.

“Public research universities,” like those the authors attend, “have passed along their own debt to students by raising tuition and fees by an average of 56 percent from 2002 to 2010,” writes Don Troop in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Bottom Line blog. So, yes, the students face rising loan debt, but it’s at least partially due to the borrowing needs of the colleges getting passed along to the “consumer,” a model not usually associated with public institutions. Troop goes on to cite the authors’ work examining data “from 155 public research universities,” “among which debt-service payments had risen 86 percent from 2002 to 2010.”

The idea that inflation raises the cost of goods and providers then raise the cost of the goods for the end consumer isn’t new. When that commodity is education, however, we see students (even those who never graduate) holding what may soon amount to adjustable rate credit card bills: federal and private education loans. To read the full SSN report, click here.

A Gender Gap and the German Model

And that's just the Ivy League library graffiti. "I Hate School" photo by Quinn Dombrowski via

And that’s just the Ivy League library graffiti. “I Hate School” photo by Quinn Dombrowski via

The “achievement gap” typically refers to the disparities in high school completion between white and non-white students. In the Los Angeles Times, though, Columbia’s Thomas A. DiPrete and Ohio State’s Claudia Buchmann write about another educational achievement gap—the growing gulf between women and men in post-secondary education.

DiPrete and Buchmann’s research shows that women earn 58% of bachelor’s degrees and 62% of postsecondary occupational certificates. Men are less likely to enroll in colleges and universities, and those who do enroll are less likely than their female counterparts to obtain degrees or certificates.

The authors identify a number of reasons for men lagging behind, including a view of educational achievement as “unmasculine,” poorer grades in middle and high school, and prioritizing work in the short-term over education in the long-term.

More broadly, young men seem to have trouble navigating educational institutions. DiPrete and Buchmann write:

[Boys and young men] want better jobs than their fathers have, but their attitudes toward school and work are misaligned with the opportunities and requirements in today’s labor market. Many boys seem to think they will be successful—career-wise and financially—without having any idea about how they’ll achieve that success.

The authors mention the German model—tight linkages between companies and schools that lead to 350 specific occupational certificates—as a system that better aligns hopes, expectations, and realities, concluding:

Clearer pathways from courses to credentials and from credentials to careers would further enhance the rates of success for men as well as women and make for a more competitive America.

The Masculine Mystique (and Imagination)

Sure. Why not? Totally reasonable option there, Walter.

Sure. Why not? Totally reasonable option there, Walter. Easier than asking for help?

Our lives are often defined by the impossibilities we face, and that can lead to some strange decisions. Take, for example, the hit TV show Breaking Bad: a middle aged chemistry teacher with inoperable lung cancer decides it’s easier cook and deal meth than to ask others for help with his treatment. That’s the whole premise, and a new article in The Sunday Times suggests Mr. White’s decision may be the result of a heavy dose of the “masculine mystique.”

First published by W.W. Norton & Co. in 1963, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique argued that the dissatisfaction women felt with their lives wasn’t due to a “modern lifestyle” driving them away from an ideal feminine identity, but rather their inability to even imagine living full, independent lives. Friedan called upon women to recognize this possibility: a life free of gendered expectations.

Today, Stephanie Coontz suggests the media blitz over the “crisis of boys” (lower grades, reduced college graduation rates, and slipping economic prospects for men) stems from a similar problem with gender roles:

In fact, most of the problems men are experiencing today stem from the flip side of the 20th-century feminine mystique—a pervasive masculine mystique that pressures boys and men to conform to a gender stereotype and prevents them from exploring the full range of their individual capabilities.

The masculine mystique promises men success, power and admiration from others if they embrace their supposedly natural competitive drives and reject all forms of dependence. Just as the feminine mystique made women ashamed when they harboured feelings or desires that were supposedly “masculine”, the masculine mystique makes men ashamed to admit to any feelings or desires that are thought to be “feminine”.

Coontz also uses research on men’s shame around femininity and its impact on boys’ ability to imagine excelling in the classroom. Sound familiar?

In a book to be published next month, the sociologists Thomas DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann demonstrate that most of the academic disadvantages of boys in education flow not from a “feminised” learning environment, as is often claimed, but from a masculinised peer culture that encourages disruptive behaviour and disengagement from school. As Debbie Epstein, the British researcher, puts it, “real boys” are not supposed to study. “The work you do here is girls’ work,” one boy told an educational ethnographer. “It’s not real work.”

Gender roles create impossibilities for men and woman. And, while Breaking Bad takes the masculine drive for independence to a fictional extreme, the new lag in boys’ educational and economic achievement can be a new century’s call to get everyone to, in Coontz’s words, “act like a person, not a gender stereotype.”

School’s Not Out for Summer?

Kids celebrate the start of summer break with an end-of-term pageant. Photo by Andrea_44 via

Educators, parents, and politicians concerned with the bottom line have spent untold time debating the merits of year-round grade school. As the Associated Press reports, the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan falls firmly into the “pro” camp, believing bringing the academic and annual calendars into line will help propel American students to the front of the global classroom. Duncan even announced a new national program adding 300 hours of school per year in select districts: “The three-year pilot project will affect about 20,000 students in 40 schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee.” Others plumping for a longer school-year point out that parents would rather arrange for 3 weeks than 3 months of childcare and say that disadvantaged students gain in everything from better nutrition (because they may eat up to two meals at school) to better test scores. The former head of the National Association for Year Round School in San Diego is quoted as saying “The only [kids] who don’t lose [over the summer] are the upper 10 to 15 percent of the student body. Those tend to be gifted, college-bound, they’re natural learners who will learn wherever they are.”

In the “con” camp come parents who enjoy the chance to let their kids daydream, travel, take specific summer courses to bone up in particularly needed areas, and play sports and go to camps. Groups like “Save Our Summers” “point out that states such as Minnesota and Massachusetts steadily shine on standardized achievement tests while preserving their summer break with a post-Labor Day school start,” and that districts are already strapped for cash—how will they pay for extra teachers to fill all those hours?

As it turns out, the calendar conservatives may have at least some research on their side. After outlining the many arguments for and against changing schedules, even profiling San Diego’s 40-year-old blended model (some of its schools are year-round, others aren’t), the AP comes down in the middle: “A 2007 study by Ohio State University sociologist Paul von Hippel found virtually no difference in the academic gains of students who followed a traditional nine-month school calendar and those educated the same number of days spread across the entire year.” So, while the number of classroom hours may make a great deal of difference in educational outcomes, how they’re spread out over the course of a year probably doesn’t.

Class War in the Toy Store

A new, educational toy from Japan, Wammy. Photo by japan_style via flickr.

With the holidays bringing so much attention to our shopping habits and stores, many odd trends are bound to crop up. One recent Citing, for instance, looked at the long-standing gender-segregation of toy aisles. Now we spot another toy divide, perhaps as pervasive, but harder to notice: the New York Times argues toy stores divide kids by class, too.

The piece explains that the emergence of larger toy retailers like Toys “R” Us has made toys with a focus on enrichment or learning more rare—they’re more likely found at small, specialty stores. The problem is that these smaller, more upscale stores are mostly found in affluent areas. The article’s author, Ginia Bellafante, writes:

In the way that we have considered food deserts—those parts of the city in which stores seem to stock primarily the food groups Doritos and Pepsi—we might begin to think, in essence, about toy deserts and the implications of a commercial system in which the least-privileged children are choked off from the recreations most explicitly geared toward creativity and achievement.

Research on how much these ”high-class” toys actually help in child development is inconclusive, but it’s easy to infer the toy gap may add to both the education gap and the class divide.

Assessing Brown v. Board of Education

A memorial to the “Little Rock 9,” students who integrated the Little Rock schools in Arkansas on Sept. 23, 1957, following the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Photo by Steve Snodgrass via

After more than half a century, the U.S.’s efforts to end segregation are winding down. In the years after Brown v. Board of Education, 755 school districts were under desegregation orders. But, according to a new study conducted by Stanford’s Sean Reardon and his colleagues, that number had dropped to 268 by 2009.

So, did Brown v. Board succeed? According to The Atlantic’s Sarah Garland, yes and no.

One of the hopes behind desegregation was that disparities, including decrepit buildings, lower-paid teachers, hand-me-down textbooks, and lagging achievement, would end. And, indeed, after Brown V. Board, court-ordered student reassignment plans were put into place, and the achievement gap between black and white students narrowed at the most rapid rate ever recorded. While many War on Poverty programs were also being implemented, it was clear that desegregation improved outcomes for black students.

But, in many communities, desegregation came with serious sacrifices. Parents (of all races) complained about the hassles that accompanied forced busing, and often children from black families were forced to spend more time commuting. During the 1990s, several Supreme Court decisions made it easier for schools to get out of court supervision, and groups of parents and school districts went to court to fight desegregation orders. As Garland writes:

In the last decade, the speed of re-segregation has accelerated. The Bush administration took a proactive role in pushing for the end of desegregation in more than 200 districts, the Stanford study found. The districts were picked seemingly at random—on average, they still had levels of segregation in their schools that were about the same as the districts that remained under orders. “It wasn’t like in some places desegregation had done a great job and that’s why they were released and in other places there was still work to be done,” Reardon said.

In 2007, the Supreme Court restricted the use of race in school assignments in districts not under court order. Even with new ideas about how to close the achievement gap, since schools began re-segregating during the 1990s, the gap has begun to look entrenched:

The next question Reardon plans to look at is whether re-segregation led to a widening of the achievement gap. Whatever he finds, it’s unlikely that desegregation—at least in its forced-busing form—will ever experience a resurgence. A new generation of reformers has begun looking for ways to create voluntarily integrated schools in order to harness the benefits of racial and other kinds of diversity. “For the people who care about integration, we need a new set of strategies,” [Michael] Petrilli [author of The Diverse Schools Dilemma] said.