Education and Stratification

Thomas J. Espenshade • Patricia Fernández-Kelly • Susan Fiske • Margaret Frye • Jackelyn Hwang • Douglas S. Massey • Magaly Sanchez-R • Edward Telles • Marta Tienda


Thomas Espenshade’s New Jersey Families Study brings an innovative method to research on the family life of young children (about 3 years old). More than half of poor children in the United States enter kindergarten lacking the math, reading, and social-behavioral skills needed to learn. To what extent does the home environment play a role in this situation, and what can be done about it? How can one prepare all children for success in the modern economy when success begins at home?

Past research has shown that children’s characteristics when they start school—such as focus, persistence, and math and reading ability—can have long-ranging effects on their success in life. Families build different skills and sources of knowledge in their children in these early years, and the researchers want to learn more about the wide range of approaches that they use to help children be school-ready.

In this study the researchers use direct observations of parent-child interactions as a way to deepen their understanding of the early origins of learning gaps. They plan to recruit a small sample of 12 families, differentiated by race and social class backgrounds, in the Princeton-Trenton, New Jersey area and conduct a close and continuous observation of family dynamics over a two-week period. Unobtrusive technologies in the form of baby cams placed strategically in participants’ homes and activated only during well-defined hours of the day and evening will constitute the primary means of data collection. They are particularly interested in children’s diet and nutrition, the amount of talking and reading parents do with their children, forms of discipline, children’s exposure to electronic “screen time,” sleep routines, and the way stress affects parenting, among other things. Data from the video ethnography will be supplemented by a series of standard survey instruments that will permit the researchers to assess children’s cognitive and non-cognitive development and to compare what parents say they do with what they actually do.

The researchers anticipate that information acquired using these newer technologies will be superior to data collected in more traditional ways, such as interviewing adults about their childrearing behaviors. A video ethnography removes the social desirability bias that can sometimes surface in survey responses, when respondents give answers either to make themselves appear in a more favorable light or that they believe researchers want to hear. Moreover, this newer mode of data collection does not require participants to remember what happened or when. Finally, viewing families in their daily routines has the potential of serendipitously capturing events and behaviors that investigators might not have thought to ask about in standard surveys.

Their data can be used to enrich the learning outcomes of children. To what extent are schools aware of what’s going on in the home? If principals and teachers had a deeper understanding of the family lives of their students, they could better adapt the curriculum and their instructional practices to meet the needs of these young children. Moreover, a fuller appreciation of the heterogeneity that characterizes the daily lives of children and their families would not only strengthen a partnership between families and schools but also help to inform and focus the flourishing experimentation now occurring under the umbrella of K-12 school reform.


Thomas Espenshade is also leading a project entitled, ReachUp USA: Creating Durable Opportunity for Disadvantaged Children and Youth. This research looks at one of the most urgent problems facing the United States, the widening gap between low and high achievers. Black children are already a year behind white children when they begin kindergarten. By the time of high school graduation, black children are four years behind whites. And more than half of poor children in America enter kindergarten lacking the math, reading, and social-behavioral skills needed to learn. A process of cumulative causation guarantees that what happens at young ages affects all later ages. The legacy of early disadvantage follows children into adulthood and often reproduces itself from one generation to the next. The resulting cost to individuals and to society is enormous.

Many committed individuals and organizations are working tirelessly to improve the life outcomes of economically disadvantaged children. But the need for creative solutions remains. The researchers recently learned about an exciting early childhood development program that holds real promise. It is simple to implement, highly effective, and—most important—has long-lasting effects. Young, disadvantaged children in Kingston, Jamaica were visited by a trained health professional for one hour per week. The intervention lasted two years and instilled parenting skills while stimulating the children’s cognitive and psychosocial development. Twenty years later, children in the treatment group exhibited: better math and verbal scores; greater socio-emotional skills; improved mental health; higher school attainment; 25% greater earnings; and a lower propensity to commit violent crime than children in the control group.

This program is unprecedented in terms of its impact. Any one of these outcomes would have marked an important achievement—but to observe all six together is extraordinary. Although evidence for the effectiveness of this intervention rests on experience in a poor urban area of a developing country, the researchers have every reason to believe that a program adapted to American cities would succeed in the U.S. too.

The proposed ReachUp USA program addresses an important need in many disadvantaged communities throughout the country. Low-cost, early childhood interventions can help move children from a path of cumulative disadvantage to one of cumulative advantage. The program can create durable opportunities for social mobility and reduce reliance on financial assistance and other forms of social support in adulthood and can transform lives for generations to come.


Patricia Fernández-Kelly’s new book, “The Hero’s Fight: African Americans in West Baltimore and the Shadow of the State,” shines light on overlooked communities. Based on ten years of research in West Baltimore during the last decade of the twentieth century, this book provides an intimate account of the experience of adults and children living in one of the nation’s most dejected ghettoes and the effects deindustrialization had on the urban poor. Fernández-Kelly stresses the role of the state in shaping the lives of impoverished populations in inner-city neighborhoods. She shows how ordinary Americans are treated as citizens and consumers but the racially segregated and deprived are seen as objects of surveillance, containment, and punishment. She provides new insights into topics such as globalization and its effects on industrial decline and employment. In addition to publishing her new book, Fernández-Kelly is also continuing her research on the making of the Cuban-American working class in Hialeah, Florida.


Susan Fiske’s research investigates how status divides people, and how people use different strategies to relate up and down hierarchies, whether job ranks, racial positions, or social class. Higher-status people often assume respect for their own competence, but may seek to be liked and trusted. Lower-status people may focus more on gaining respect than liking. Triggered spontaneously, these impression-management concerns—enacted verbally and nonverbally—work at crossed purposes in mixed-status interactions. Fiske also examines how fundamental dimensions of perceived competence and warmth drive impressions of individuals and groups who are readily categorized, the basis of the last 15 years of her work. Fiske is beginning to explore stereotypes and impressions of people who are mash-ups, not easily categorized. She is looking at additive and emergent features in the resulting images.


Susan Fiske’s study on “Grolar Bears, Social Class, and Policy Relevance: Extraordinary Agendas for the Emerging 21st Century,” was published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. This article first considers whether social psychology is in the best or worst of times and suggests that we are instead in extraordinary times, given exciting agendas and potential policy relevance, if we are careful. The article illustrates with two current research agendas—the hybrid vigor of multiple categories and the psychology of social class—that could inform policy. The essay then reflects on how researchers know when their work is indeed ready for the public arena. Regarding hybrids: world immigration, social media, and global businesses are increasing. How will this complicate people's stereotypes of each other? One agenda could build on the existing social and behavioral science of people as social hybrids, emerging with a framework to synthesize existing work and guide future research that better reflects our changing world. Policy implications already emerge from the current knowledge of hybrids. Regarding the social psychology of social class, enough is not yet known to give advice, except to suggest questioning some common stereotypes, for example, about the economic behavior of lower-income people. Before the budding social psychology of class can be ready for policy export, the research results need replication, validation, and generality. Overall, principles of exportable policy insights include peer-reviewed standards, honest brokering, nonpartisan advice, and respectful, trustworthy communication. Social psychology can take advantage of its extraordinary times to be innovative and useful.


Susan Fiske’s examination on “Intergroup Biases: A Focus on Stereotype Content,” was published in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. Here she notes that impressions of others, including societal groups, systematically array along two dimensions, warmth (trustworthiness/friendliness) and competence. Social structures of competition and status respectively predict these usually orthogonal dimensions. Prejudiced emotions (pride, pity, contempt, and envy) target each quadrant, and distinct discriminatory behavioral tendencies result. The Stereotype Content Model (SCM) patterns generalize across time (20th century), culture (every populated continent), level of analysis (targets from individuals to subtypes to groups to nations), and measures (from neural to self-report to societal indicators). Future directions include individual differences in endorsement of these cultural stereotypes and how perceivers view combinations across the SCM space.


With Nicolas Kervyn (Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium) and Vincent Yzerbyt (Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium), Susan Fiske examines “Foretelling the Primary Dimension of Social Perception: Symbolic and Realistic Threats Together Predict Warmth in the Stereotype Content Model,” which was published in the Social Psychology. In this work the authors examine the Stereotype Content Model (SCM) which posits two fundamental dimensions of intergroup perception, warmth and competence, predicted by socio-structural dimensions of competition and status, respectively. However, the SCM has been challenged on claiming perceived competition as the socio-structural dimension that predicts perceived warmth. The current research improves by broadening warmth’s predictor (competition) to include both realistic and symbolic threat from Integrated Threat Theory (Study 1). Kervyn, Fiske and Yzerbyt also measure two components of the warmth dimension: sociability and morality. Study 2 tests new items to measure both threat and warmth. The new threat items significantly improve prediction of warmth, compared with standard SCM items. Morality and sociability correlate highly and do not differ much in their predictability by competition/threat.


Margaret Frye along with Katharine H. Greenaway (University of Queensland, Australia and Tegan Cruwys (University of Queensland, Australia) published the article, “When Aspirations Exceed Expectations: Quixotic Hope Increases Depression among Students” in Plos One. They noted that a paradox exists in modern schooling where students are simultaneously more positive about the future and more depressed than ever. They suggested that these two phenomena may be linked. Two studies demonstrated that students are more likely to be depressed when educational aspirations exceed expectations. In Study 1 (N = 85), aspiring to a thesis grade higher than one expected predicted greater depression at the beginning and end of the academic year. In Study 2 (N = 2820), aspiring to a level of education (e.g., attending college) higher than one expected to achieve predicted greater depression cross-sectionally and five years later. In both cases the negative effects of aspiring high while expecting low persisted even after controlling for whether or not students achieved their educational aspirations. The findings highlight the danger of teaching students to aspire higher without also investing time and money to ensure that students can reasonably expect to achieve their educational goals.


In collaboration with Lei Ding and Eileen Divringi (Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia), Jackelyn Hwang is investigating the relationship between gentrification and residential mobility in Philadelphia from 2002-2014. The project examines residential mobility rates, residential destinations and origins, and credit score changes of adult residents in Philadelphia. Hwang and her co-authors released a working paper (No. 15-36) in December 2015 on the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia website.


In a paper published in Social Forces, Jackelyn Hwang, Michael Hankinson (Harvard University), and Kreg Steven Brown (Harvard University) investigate whether the concentration of subprime lending in minority neighborhoods during the recent housing crisis varies by segregation levels across the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. Recent studies speculate that segregation created distinct geographic markets that enabled subprime lenders and brokers to leverage the spatial proximity of minorities to disproportionately target minority neighborhoods. This study integrates neighborhood-level data and spatial measures of segregation to examine the relationship between segregation and subprime lending. Controlling for alternative explanations of the housing crisis, they find that segregation is strongly associated with higher concentrations of subprime loans in clusters of minority census tracts but find no evidence of unequal lending patterns when they examine minority census tracts in an aspatial way. Moreover, residents of minority census tracts in segregated metropolitan areas had higher likelihoods of receiving subprime loans than their counterparts in less segregated metropolitan areas. The findings demonstrate that segregation played a pivotal role in the housing crisis by creating relatively larger areas of concentrated minorities into which subprime loans could be efficiently and effectively channeled. These results are consistent with existing but untested theories on the relationship between segregation and the housing crisis in metropolitan areas.


In a paper forthcoming in the Urban Affairs Review, Jackelyn Hwang draws upon cognitive maps and interviews with 56 residents living in a gentrifying area to examine how residents socially construct neighborhoods. Most minority respondents, regardless of socioeconomic status and years of residency, defined their neighborhood as a large and inclusive spatial area and used a single name and conventional boundaries, invoking the area’s black cultural history and often directly responding to the alternative way residents defined their neighborhoods. Both long-term and newer white respondents defined their neighborhood as smaller spatial areas and used a variety of names and unconventional boundaries that excluded areas that they perceived to have lower socioeconomic status and more crime. The large and inclusive socially constructed neighborhood was eventually displaced. These findings shed light on how the internal narratives of neighborhood identity and boundaries are meaningfully tied to a broader structure of inequality and shape how neighborhood identities and boundaries change or remain.


Douglas Massey along with Camille Charles (University of Pennsylvania) is working on another book examining how the diversity of the black student population at selective colleges and universities (with respect to immigrant origins, socioeconomic status, multiracial origins, and an integrated versus segregated background) affect the college experience of African Americans.


In the coming year, Douglas Massey plans to continue research in the areas of urban studies and stratification, and the factors explaining minority under-achievement in higher education. With continued support from NICHD and the MacArthur Foundation, Massey will continue to focus on segregation, and racial stratification in higher education.


Douglas Massey is currently working on a new version of his 1993 book American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. It will describe how levels and patterns of racial and ethnic segregation have changed since the 1980s and draw together work he has done over the past 25 years to clarify the causes of segregation and trace out its continuing consequences for African Americans and, increasingly, Latinos. It will be titled, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Perpetuation of Poverty (Harvard University Press). Continuing his work on American Apartheid Massey authored a chapter, “Confronting the Legacy of American Apartheid,” which is forthcoming in Wachter, Susan M., and Ding, Lei (Editors): Shared Prosperity in America’s Communities.


Douglas Massey and Ph.D. candidate Jonathan Tannen researched trends in black hypersegregation from 1970 to 2010 in their note, “A Research Note on Trends in Black Hypersegregation,” published in Demography. In this note, they use a consistently defined set of metropolitan areas to study patterns and trends. Over the 40-year period (1970 to 2010), 52 metropolitan areas were characterized by hypersegregation at one point or another, although not all at the same time. Over the period, the number of hypersegregated metropolitan areas declined by about one-half, but the degree of segregation within those areas characterized by hypersegregation changed very little. As of 2010, roughly one-third of all black metropolitan residents lived in a hypersegregated area.


Douglas Massey along with Jacob Rugh (Brigham Young University), and Len Albright (Northeastern University) have written an article, “Race, Space, and Cumulative Disadvantage: A Case Study of the Subprime Lending Collapse,” published in Social Problems. In this article, they describe how residential segregation and individual racial disparities generate racialized patterns of subprime lending and lead to financial loss among black borrowers in segregated cities. The authors conceptualize race as a cumulative disadvantage because of its direct and indirect effects on socioeconomic status at the individual and neighborhood levels, with consequences that reverberate across a borrower’s life and between generations. Using Baltimore, Maryland as a case study setting, we combine data from reports filed under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act with additional loan-level data from mortgage-backed securities. The authors find that race and neighborhood racial segregation are critical factors explaining black disadvantage across successive stages in the process of lending and foreclosure, controlling for differences in borrower credit scores, income, occupancy status, and loan-to-value ratios. They analyze the cumulative cost of predatory lending to black borrowers in terms of reduced disposable income and lost wealth. They find the cost to be substantial. Black borrowers paid an estimated additional five to eleven percent in monthly payments and those that completed foreclosure in the sample lost an excess of $2 million in home equity. These costs were magnified in mostly black neighborhoods and in turn heavily concentrated in communities of color. By elucidating the mechanisms that link black segregation to discrimination we demonstrate how processes of cumulative disadvantage continue to undermine black socioeconomic status in the U.S. today.


In “The Legacy of the 1968 Fair Housing Act,” published in Sociological Forum, Douglas Massey examines Civil Rights activists in 1968 and their hope that the passage of the Fair Housing Act would lead to the residential desegregation of American society. In this article, he assesses the degree to which this hope has been fulfilled. Massey begins by reviewing how the black ghetto came to be a universal feature of American cities during the twentieth century and the means by which high levels of black segregation were achieved. He then describes the legislative maneuvers required to pass the Fair Housing Act and reviews its enforcement provisions to assess its potential for achieving desegregation. After examining trends in residential segregation since 1970, Massey concludes with an appraisal of the prospects for integration as we move toward the fiftieth anniversary of the Act’s passage.


Douglas Massey and Jonathan Rothwell’s (Brookings Institution) paper entitled, “Geographic Effects on Intergenerational Income Mobility,” was published in Geography. The notion that where one grows up affects future living standards is increasingly well established in social science. Yet research on intergenerational economic mobility often ignores the geographic context of childhood, including neighborhood quality and local purchasing power. The authors hypothesize that individual variation in intergenerational mobility is partly attributable to regional and neighborhood conditions—most notably access to high-quality schools. Using restricted Panel Study of Income Dynamics and census data, we find that neighborhood income has roughly half the effect on future earnings as parental income. They estimate that lifetime household income would be $635,000 dollars higher if people born into a bottom-quartile neighborhood would have been raised in a top-quartile neighborhood. When incomes are adjusted to regional purchasing power, these effects become even larger. The neighborhood effect is two-thirds as large as the parental income effect, and the lifetime earnings difference increases to $910,000. They test the robustness of these findings to various assumptions and alternative models, and replicate the basic results using aggregated metropolitan-level statistics of intergenerational income elasticities based on millions of Internal Revenue Service records.


Magaly Sanchez-R was invited by the Global Salzburg Seminar to actively participate at the Seminar 549 Youths, Economics and Violence: Implications for Future Conflict, at the “Social System- Roles, Promises and Realities Panel,” where she presented “Youth Options and Violent Life: Latino American Metropolis.” Her talk considered the analysis of social systems in relation to youth expectations as a way to understand if systems are sufficiently inclusive for all youth perspectives, especially those at the economic, social and political margin. While all contemporary theories in social systems agree that societal systems share similar structures and operate through communication and that society exists only when individuals communicate, she argues that one of the explanation of the youth exclusion and violence expression will be that society communicates just and only with the “integrated individuals.” The youths who are not integrated (through traditional mechanisms) continue to reproduce themselves by other logics of exclusion and violence, as a response to the impossibility of communicating their frustrations. Her analysis considered the youths in Latin America, specifically Venezuelan.


Edward Telles continues to lead the Project on Ethnicity and Race in Latin America (PERLA), which is funded in part by the Ford Foundation, by applying his comparative approach. Made up of researchers across the United States and Latin America, PERLA involves two sets of surveys meant to address a lack of demographic data and comparative analysis about Latin America.

In the first stage, Telles' group added a set of questions about ethnicity to the Americas Barometer, a Vanderbilt University-led survey in 24 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the second stage, PERLA conducted in-depth surveys of more than 100 questions on topics such as racial attitudes, inequality and health in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. Telles and his collaborators published their results in a book titled, “Pigmentocracies.” One of the striking findings Telles noted is that skin color is a better indicator than ethnoracial identity (what people call themselves — black, mulatto, white, mestizo or indigenous) in understanding income and educational inequality in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Mexico. In those countries, survey data based on ethnoracial identity suggested that blacks and mulattos may no longer suffer discrimination. However, interviewers also recorded respondents' skin color, and Telles found a strong correlation between skin color and income, occupation and education levels, with those with darker skin tones faring worse on measures of equality than those with fair skin.


In Marta Tienda’s chapter titled “Texas’s Educational Challenge: Demographic Dividend or Bust?” in Ten-Gallon Economy Sizing Up Economic Growth in Texas, Pia M. Orrenius, Jesús Cañas, and Michael Weiss (Editors), Tienda states that Texas is positioned to harness a demographic dividend—a productivity boost enabled by human capital investments in its outsized minority youth cohorts. She argues, Texas’ political leadership must act decisively and boldly to close achievement gaps along racial and ethnic lines and to raise college completion levels.

Drawing on selective national and international comparisons, she shows that Texas is falling behind in college completion rates even as the statewide share of graduates continues to inch up. Racial and ethnic differentials are more troubling because the largest gaps correspond to the fast-growing Hispanic population. Underinvestment in higher education has created a college squeeze that will constrain Texas’ ability to harness a demographic dividend.


Marta Tienda also wrote a chapter, “Affirmative Action and its Discontents: America’s Obsession with Race,” which was published in Past as Prologue: The National Academy of Education at 50, National Academy of Education, Michael J. Feuer Amy I. Berman, and Richard C. Atkinson (Editors). This chapter addresses the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to rehear the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, in the context of race consideration in admission decisions which was alleged to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.