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How We Raise Kids Varies by Income

Photograph by Twenty20

Over 90 percent of all parents in the U.S. think they're doing a good job raising their kids, according to a new Pew Research Center study. And, by and large, what most American parents want for their kids is that they be healthy and happy, honest and ethical, caring and compassionate.

Where American parents differ is in how they are raising their kids. That difference doesn't come down to religion, political leanings, region or even parents' education directly. It comes down to income class. And this difference, more than anything else, is holding back social mobility in the U.S.

The New York Times reported on the Pew's new study, "Parenting in America," which concluded that, despite demands for more equality, kids in the U.S. are being raised very differently and it all depends on how wealthy their parents are. Class differences in child-rearing are growing, along with the widening income gaps.

So what's different? Wealthy and middle-income kids take part in extracurricular activities at higher rates lower-income kids. The better off parents also tend to see their kids as needing "careful cultivation," as the Times puts it, and try to develop those skills through close supervision and organized activities.

Working-class parents, on the other hand, tend to give their kids more freedoms and allow them to develop naturally. The less wealthy kids are also taught to be compliant and deferential to adults. As a result, these kids whine less, are happier and closer to family members, the research found. Middle-class and wealthy kids, on the other hand, complained more of boredom and wanted their parents to solve their problems.

Yet, it's the wealthier kids that wind up in college and stay, having developed the skills to navigate bureaucracies and to succeed in school and at work. Poor kids were at greater risk of struggling.

Extra-curricular activities appeared to be a prime example of the differences. Nearly 84 percent of kids whose parents earned more than $75K per year reported that their children had participated in an organized sport within the last year. Only 59 percent of those whose parents earned less than $30K had. Far, far fewer of the poorer kids had done volunteer work or taken art classes than their wealthier peers.

While kids of different social strata live more segregated lives than practically ever in the U.S., there is some evidence that some parenting gaps are closing. For example, income was less of a factor in whether parents read to their kids and took them to libraries.

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