Study tracking Baltimore kids with hundreds of interviews over 20 years shows rising out of poverty is hard

A recently published long-term study of Baltimore kids shows that escaping poverty is a difficult task:

First, its impressive length and scope; Alexander and his colleague, Doris Entwisle, devoted their careers to the project, conducting interviews of 790 children and their relatives over more than two decades. Alexander retires this summer as chair of the Hopkins sociology department; Entwisle died last year of cancer. (Linda Olson, a Hopkins instructor and researcher in the School of Education, is the third author of the report, published this month by the Russell Sage Foundation as a book titled “The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood.”)…

Only 4 percent of the children from low-income families ended up with a college degree by the time they were 28. Kids from a middle-class or affluent background did 10 times better than that, with 45 percent getting a diploma.

Nearly half of the 1982 first-graders ended up at the same socioeconomic level as their parents.

By the time they were young adults, only 33 children had moved from low-income families to the high-income bracket. That doesn’t mean they didn’t want to, Alexander told me. It means they faced too many obstacles.

Stories of rising from humble origins may be popular but they are not the common pattern. Indeed, such rags-to-riches examples tend to be based on anecdotes while a project like this highlights large-scale interview data.

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