Classic paper: Annette Lareau’s ‘Unequal Childhoods’ – a look at cultural capital and child development

Annette Lareau is the Stanley I. Sheerr Professor of Sociology at U. of Pennsylvania (her faculty Web site is here). Lareau’s research focuses on the ways in which one’s social class affects one’s socioeconomic development over the lifespan. She is best known for her 2003 book Unequal Childhoods (see this NY Times op-ed column about the book). During the course of my graduate studies, I’ve read thousands of scholarly articles and books and Unequal Childhoods is on my list of Top 5 Texts that have Influenced My Scholarly Thinking.

The publisher describes Lareau’s book as follows:

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 with plenty of time but little economic security. Lareau shows how middle-class parents, whether black or white, engage in a process of “concerted cultivation” designed to draw out children’s talents and skills, while working-class and poor families rely on “the accomplishment of natural growth,” in which a child’s development unfolds spontaneously–as long as basic comfort, food, and shelter are provided. Each of these approaches to childrearing brings its own benefits and its own drawbacks. In identifying and analyzing differences between the two, Lareau demonstrates the power, and limits, of social class in shaping the lives of America’s children.

A free preview of Unequal Childhoods is available here from Google Books.

Although the book is well worth reading, an article-length introduction to the same major themes found in the book is available in this piece (PDF) Lareau published in 1987.


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