How rich kids get ahead: 4 striking findings

Compiled by Lane Anderson, Deseret News National Edition

Published: Fri, Aug. 15, 2014, 5:20 a.m. MDT

 One 30-year study found how financial success was determined.

One 30-year study found how financial success was determined.

(moodboard, Getty Images)

In 1982, Johns Hopkins sociologist Karl Alexander began tracking 790 Baltimore school children when they entered the first grade. It was only supposed to last three years — but ended up spanning 30.

Alexander spent most of his career on the research, known as "The Long Shadow," which interviewed parents and their kids — many from disadvantaged families —from grade school until the subjects were in their late twenties and having kids of their own. The researchers were able to watch the children's lives play out. What they found?

For most, their lives played out just like their parents'.

Of the almost 800 children, a mere 33 bumped from a low-income bracket to high. Of the kids that started out affluent, only 19 dropped to low-income.

The implication seems to be that supposedly great equalizers — like economic opportunity and education — aren't so equalizing.

"A family's resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children's life trajectories," Alexander says in his book, "The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood." "This view is at odds with the popular ethos that we are makers of our own fortune."

"The implication is where you start in life is where you end up in life," Alexander said. "It's very sobering to see how this all unfolds."

Some startling findings from the study, according to Johns Hopkins HUB:

1. Poor kids didn't make it through college

Just four percent of kids from poor families had earned a college degree by their late 20's. Well-off kids clocked in at a 45 percent college graduation rate. "That's a shocking tenfold difference," Alexander told HUB.

2. White men received the best pick of blue-collar jobs

White men had less college education, but they snapped up 45 percent of what's left of Baltimore's high-paying industrial and construction jobs. Black men with similar backgrounds filled only 15 percent, and women had zero.

3. White women fared better — largely because they were married to better-paid white men

White and black women from poor backgrounds both made less money than white men. But white women were more likely to be in stable partnerships and benefitted from their higher incomes. Black and white women had similar teen birth rates, but white women were more likely to stay in stable unions.

"It is access to good paying work that perpetuates the privilege of working class white men over working class black men," Alexander told HUB. "By partnering with these men, white working class women share in that privilege.

4. White men were most likely to abuse drugs and alcohol

White men from comfortable backgrounds self-reported the highest rates of drug use and binge drinking, followed by white men from poor backgrounds. All men had high levels of arrest — by age 28, 41 percent of white men and 49 percent of black men had a criminal conviction.

Email: laneanderson@deseretnews.com

1. MNmamaof4
Lakeville, MN,
Aug. 15, 2014

I'm in the barrier-breaker category. My grandfather dropped out of 3rd grade, never learning to read or write. My father was the first high school graduate. I'm the only one in the family line to graduate from a 4 year university and find financial security.

It's true that wealthy parents can pay for opportunities that poor families can't. But they may also coach their children differently, role model differently, passing on skills and attitudes vital to success. My parents encouraged college. They associated college with security and success without understanding how education is used to get there. I struggled to find employment after college that justified the time and money put into my education. I didn't understand networking, relocation, resumes and interviewing skills, etc. I thought that if I just got the degree, a career would naturally follow. We hear complaints from millennials under the same misconception. I was blessed with mentors who helped me eventually understand. Money and higher education are useful keys, but only if you know how to find the right door and unlock it.

2. Ralph
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 15, 2014

Thank you MNmanaof4. I'm glad there are exceptions to the rule that opportunity is afforded to those that can afford it.

There is still some small amount of economic mobility that is possible in this great country.

Strangely, in this country, we keep voting for people and policies that help the already-rich have more advantages, but we neglect to improve the lot of our poorest, least advantaged.

3. Liberal Ted
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 15, 2014

High School is dumbed down enough, that if you show up occasionally or make an effort to make up a grade you can graduate. Community colleges have open enrollment policies. There are many Universities that will take the C and D students. So even when you put in very little effort through high school, you still have options to move up. It's a matter of getting off your butt. Learning what options there are. Such as grants, loans etc. The trouble is low-income people generally do not have parents with that knowledge. The kids don't pay attention at school or even ask questions about opportunities.

So yes the affluent are interested in the success of their off spring. They teach them to network, give them opportunities to be interns, pay for college giving their kid more time to study and network on campus.

I had to work 2-3 minimum wage jobs to get through my undergrad years. I didn't have time to network or do extra curricular activities. It was work, class, study for 5 years. Anyone that puts in effort can achieve what I did and move up. But it was a lot of work.

4. Feliz
Kaysville, UT,
Aug. 15, 2014

Ralph is a classic example of how the left just doesn't get it. The left is under the erroneous impression that for the poor to succeed, the rich must fail or road blocks should be put in their way to stifle their progress.

In all honesty I bet that most republicans would be willing to support some wealth redistribution policies to help the poor and under privileged provided that their was more accountability. The problem is most of the welfare policies are just free handouts that create an entitled mentality. The sad part about all of this is if our economy were to ever fail, the poor will suffer the most as there will be no one to take care of them.

5. UtahBlueDevil
Durham, NC,
Aug. 15, 2014

"by age 28, 41 percent of white men and 49 percent of black men had a criminal conviction."

I think point number 5 is that white middle class families also had more means to get their kids out of trouble, when they get in trouble, as evidenced by the ratios of people in our prisons. The numbers just don't add up. Here in Durham, we had the notorious Duke LaCrosse case... which highlighted that having good lawyers made a huge difference when you had over reaching district attorneys. Perhaps justice is slightly color blind now... but she surely recognizes the color green and it absolutely impacts the outcomes of people who enter the judicial system.