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Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, Second Edition, with an Update a Decade Later

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  1,437 ratings  ·  108 reviews
Class does make a difference in the lives and futures of American children. Drawing on in-depth observations of black and white middle-class, working-class, and poor families, Unequal Childhoods explores this fact, offering a picture of childhood today. Here are the frenetic families managing their children's hectic schedules of "leisure" activities; and here are families ...more
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Published November 14th 2011 by Tantor Media (first published August 12th 2003)
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Years ago, when I started on Good Reads, I read Outliers by Gladwell and one of the things I found particularly interesting in that book was the discussion of research into the differences between how working class and middle class kids behaved. This book is the research that Gladwell based his chapter in Outliers on. I really like Gladwell’s writing and think it is wonderful that he did something to popularise this research – but if you can, you should read this as well. This isn’t an insanely ...more
I thoroughly enjoyed this book for the issues that I myself had observed through my student teaching. This book was assigned to me during graduate school while I was transitioning from one student teaching assignment to the other. My first student teaching assignment was on the Upper East Side in New York City. This school was in third place for the most PTA fundraising of any city in the city (the year before I came there, they raised a staggering $500,000 -and they were in third). Parents show ...more
This is a book that I keep returning to. I've decided to have my qualitative research methods class read it for Spring 2009. Of course I love that it deals with differences in family life as they relate to social class, but I am also amazed at its thoroughness, sensitivity, and scope. One of the book's key insights is that young people who grow up in upper middle class households may be better prepared to argue for their own way within the school systems, but they are also socialized into a trou ...more
Everyone thinks they understand the concept of inequality, whether based on economic standing, race, education or environment. But do we really understand? When children are enrolled in the same public school system, (theoretically) have access to the same extra-curricular activities and the same social safety nets, why is there still such a discrepancy. Ms. Lareau explored these issues in her in-depth study of 12 third-graders from various racial and socio-economic backgrounds. Ms. Lareau and h ...more
Robert Owen
“Unequal Childhoods” was fascinating, and added significantly to my understanding of class and racial inequality in America. At its core, "Unequal Childhoods" is a made-for-lay-person summary of Annette Lareau’s 19__ ethnographic study in which she examines the lives of twelve fourth grade children of differing socioeconomic classes in order to explore the root causes of class inequality in American society. Contrary to the popular American conceit that one’s lot in life is the product of one’s ...more
The book uses extreme close-ups of several families over several months (kind of like "embedded journalists"), to draw the differences in upbringing between poor/working-class families versus middle-class families.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part shows the hectic schedule of organized activities that middle-class children engage in, with parents (especially moms) heavily involved, whereas poorer children's activities are much more disengaged from their parents. The second par
Starswirl the Bearded
This book should be required reading for all politicians, educators, parents and voters.

I stumbled across 'Unequal Childhoods', while reading 'Outliers', by Malcolm Gladwell: he uses examples from Lareau to support the central argument of his book (that unusually successful people have almost always benefited from unusually fortunate opportunities - quite often including an unusually high level of parental investment. While it may sound obvious, it goes against everything I was taught to believe
Overall an intriguing book, and I believe that Lareau presents several thoughtful ideas in the course of her study, which focuses on the lives of middle and working- class children (ages 9 or 10)from various families. The writing style remained less personal than I would have preferred, and rarely did I feel that I "got to know" any of the children whose lives were discussed. I suppose, however, that this personalization had to be sacrificed in order to maintain a sense of professionalism. Somet ...more
I read this for a sociology class at school. I'm not sure you really want to get me started on this book so I'll try to condense and keep it brief... Basically Lareau's thinking is that working class and poor parents allow their children the "accomplishment of natural growth" which is largely because the parents have little or not involvement in their kids lives while middle class parents use "concerted cultivation" because they make every effort (to the point of ridiculous schedules) to develop ...more
Americans don't consider social class often enough in evaluating systemic bias in schooling as well as career opportunities. Parenting styles tend to adhere to social class practices, and middle class parenting styles tend to be rewarded in our capitalist economy. But not always, and not dependably. Everything matters, and unfortunately, best intentions are not enough. I knew this, but it's nice to hear again -- having a family is hard work, especially when you're your own best resource.
An absolute must-read that really makes you question and reflect on your own upbringing and how you became the person you are. Simply excellent.
Paul Froehlich
Most Americans see individual effort as the key to success, with fewer than one in five seeing class or race as very important in getting ahead in life. The reality is that social class is a more important determinant of a person’s success in life than it used to be due to two powerful trends: Growing economic inequality that has created a wider gulf between rich and poor, and less mobility between classes. The fact is the USA has both less social mobility and wider economic inequality than any ...more
I really enjoyed this. It was engaging, well-written and well-performed research. I liked that Lareau also acknowledges potential biases and the limitations of the study. I am impressed by the methodology and her findings that economic class has more of an impact on on upbringing than race, also (clearly) the disparate impact of race in our country does mean that people of color are disproportionately affected by the impacts of class discrimination and bias in addition to the reality of racially ...more
As I tear through this heartbreaking and brilliantly documented study I am amazed that we have so many conversations about public education without the lens of class. This book really speaks to every element of our nations educational failures and addresses every aspect of our identities as children, parents, teachers and/or community members. Leaving no stone unturned, Lareau builds an unassailable case that we are all responsible for the future of public education and each others children.
Laura Hughes
Upfront, I am not an educator or sociology student. I don't remember why I requested this from the library--I must have read about it in the notes of a pop-social-science book, a Malcolm Gladwell or something. At first it looked like a sociology textbook, and I set it aside after trying to make headway in the jargony first chapter. But at some point it fell open to one of the case studies, and I was hooked. The book is all case studies and for some reason I cannot stop reading them. It's deeply ...more
I was shocked to see the unnamed footprint of class differences permeating education to the detriment of all children. The deck is stacked against working class and poor people in ways we can't imagine. And the great value of this culture is fully lost at educational institutions. So that the contribution of people not in the middle class is squandered. Lareau uncovered all the inadvertent stuff INCLUDING a huge feeling of superiority on one side and alienation on the other.
This book will make you question the way you were raised-- not to assess if your parents were "good" or "bad," but how their social class and education helped you succeed through your life. Lareau's fascinating research should be required reading for all educators so that they can be sensitive to how schools and other institutions function from a middle class perspective. This can prevent those with lower incomes from having the same chance for success as their peers.

As a middle class white gir
Unequal Childhoods changed my views on child development and the impact of race and class more than any other book I have read. Truthfully, I read this book several years ago but wanted to make sure that I had the opportunity to review it and sing its praises. While I have always been aware that gender, race, class and other social and economic factors create different conditions in childhood depending on these factors Unequal Childhoods gave me a solid framework and theoretical perspective that ...more
Aug 23, 2007 Jill marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I have it on good, unbiased authority (Okay, I lie, it's the author's stepdaughter) that this is an excellent book. If the writing is half as good as the author's cooking, I am in. Anyway,'s reviews are great as well, and I presume those reviewers have not been swayed by discussion with the author's stepdaughter, or by good cooking, so I hope to read this soon.
This was an incredibly interesting book - not only in its content, but also in the research method. The sheer number of participant observations and in depth interviews Lareau and her team conducted is outstanding. It also justifies the length of the book. I'm glad I was assigned the second edition because the final chapters that included the families' reactions about the book they were main characters in was fairly enlightening; people don't often like to see themselves from such a observationa ...more
I have been meaning to read this book for years. Great book for teachers to read. I particularly enjoyed the additions in the second edition that discussed family reactions to being in the study.
"One evening -- the night before Harold is to leave for camp -- [Ms. McAllister] reaches her limit of tolerance with her twin sister [and cocaine addict], Jill. Her sister, she discovers, has taken packages of T-shirts that Hank bought for Harold and sold them... The density of the housing project also permits neighbors to hear the conflict and a small group gathers outside. The conflict escalates when Keith [common-law husband of Ms. McAllister] arrives homes. He and Jill have a loud (physical) ...more
Two immediate "good griefs"
1) I'm reading this thru Enki on an iPad, and it's the worst ebook format I've ever used. By far. Cannot highlight, search, turn pages easily, and the footnotes often kill the rest of the sentence. If you click on one, when you try to go back to where you had been, it only takes you back to the first page of the chapter.
2) Chapter one, footnote 1 in paragraph 2: black students are referred to as "Black" even though white non-Hispanic students are referred to as white
Annette Lareau aptly illustrates the realities of children's lives across socio-economic and racial lines. She leaves analysis of the varied circumstances to the last chapter. Her approach allows the reader to develop his or her own interpretation before hearing one by the author/sociologist.

Lareau used the terms 'cultivated culturing' and 'natural growth' to indicate the generalized differences parents used to raise their children. She suggests cultivated culturing as a purposeful method parent
Ebony Wilkins
Annette Lareau follows twelve families through interviews and observations to highlight how class and race play into the rhythms of family life and the ‘logic of child rearing’ in their homes. Unequal Childhoods is an ethnography that centers on the naturalistic observations in the homes and daily activities of selected 10-year-old students in neighborhoods surrounding Philadelphia. Her research team conducted interviews of the students, their parents, their teachers, and included audio and vide ...more
Lareau's honest investigation of class-based child-rearing strategies does really compelling analytical work without playing into the tired tropes that tend to pervade thinking about parenting. There's no hysterical bemoaning of the overscheduled middle class kid, nor the mockery of ignorant poor parents who create a culture of poverty with their failure to parent like the middle class. The book takes its subjects points of view very seriously and delivers a smartly contextualized portrayal of h ...more
A must read for anyone who still believes the fallacy that our lived experiences ever equalize in the in-di-visible equation of a class-melting pot we call that good old American Dream. Stir in a little bit of 'we are only equal in the height of chains' and you'll get her scope. Not a perfect ethnography (certainly the methodology, selected highlights, etc. can be questioned), but still a good example of the applicable potential and larger scope a well-wrought qualitative analysis can yield and ...more
Makes some good points, but the author's tripping all over herself trying to avoid siding with the middle class was hard to take. She says several times that physical punishment used to be the norm--as though this makes it okay? I mean she shows plenty of concern that one of the children can barely read even though illiteracy "would have been virtually universal in certain time periods" (as she says of the practice of hitting children). I mean I appreciate her point that most books of this type ...more
Sarah Beck
I enjoyed this book once I got past the higher education formatting. I was able to follow her train of thought but having notes for the appendices rather than at the bottom of the page was a problem just logistically trying to keep track of the variety of pages I was on. An interesting look into class and implications that has for later life. I enjoyed that she did not proclaim one class as having a superior method overall. I would be interested if this study added other research about any more ...more
jessica wilson
I have to say that this book was surprising to me in the observations unspoken. Not an easy read as the vocabulary and style is quite academic (which for me borders on boring but that is me). As a student of human development or should I write Human Development I was surprised to find no reference to Urie Bronfenbrenner's ecological model of development which is a keystone to community that then includes class, race, and family life. I did however learn of Pierre Bourdieu, father of the class de ...more
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