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Poverty, Not Parenting, to Blame for Achievement Gaps

Sorry, moms—you're only the second most-influential thing in your child's life. And don't get excited, dads—you're not in first place either.

Money. That's what has the biggest impact on parenting practices and, therefore, outcomes for kids.

The Council on Contemporary Families concluded in its recent study that poverty—and its flip side, financial access—play a far more important role in kids' lives than whether or not the child is being raised by a single parent. The council's report "Child-Rearing Norms and Practices in Contemporary American Families" found that overall, America's parents are doing the right things for their kids' development: speaking and reading to their kids, limiting screen time and getting kids in advanced placement at school.

Where things start to differ more significantly are access to extra-curricular activities. Only kids whose families can afford them participate in them.

Sandra Hofferth, professor of family sciences at the University of Maryland, writes that families living at twice the rate (or more) of the poverty level see a participation level of around 42.5 percent. For kids living in poverty, it's around 22.5 percent.

"The difference [in extracurricular involvement] between children of two married parents and children with a single parent was only 10 percentage points (44 percent vs. 34 percent). And in the latter case, it's worth remembering that single parents are more likely to be poor, and therefore their lower rates of having kids in extracurricular activities may owe more to finances than to marital status," Hofferth writes.

Despite the known health, educational and empowerment benefits of league ball and drama class, too large a percentage of kids are forced to miss out. There's already an income achievement gap among the nation's kids. And the Atlantic recently wrote about the activity gap, which is a symptom of disparate incomes.

Hofferth's conclusions aren't focused on lack of access to the soccer league, though. What she points out is that drawing conclusions about kids being raised by unwed mothers or unmarried parents without controlling for financial differences leads us toward the wrong conclusions—namely, shaming single moms or funding programs for unwed parents to tie the knot.

Instead, financial support is what low-income families need. A majority of public school kids in the U.S. come from low-income families. That's the problem that needs to be focused on, not the marital status of their parents.

Image via Twenty20/JustaMomToTwins

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