Two John Hopkins professors tracked the scholastic and employment developments of 790 students via annual interviews conducted over 25 years from the time the students were 1st graders in Baltimore’s public school system until age 28. Their findings are disturbing, although certainly not surprising. The Washington Post article tell us,
A mere 4 percent of the first-graders Alexander and Entwisle had classified as the “urban disadvantaged” had by the end of the study completed the college degree that’s become more valuable than ever in the modern economy. A related reality: Just 33 of 314 had left the low-income socioeconomic status of their parents for the middle class by age 28.
And the John Hopkins HUB frames the research results a bit grimly:
In a groundbreaking study, Johns Hopkins University researchers followed nearly 800 Baltimore schoolchildren for a quarter of a century, and discovered that their fates were substantially determined by the family they were born into.
“A family’s resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children’s life trajectories,” Johns Hopkins sociologist Karl Alexander says in a forthcoming 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.”
Alexander has sometimes been asked about the impact his team had on the lives of their subjects … if they
… followed the children long enough to learn something meaningful about their lives as independent adults. Occasionally, people ask him whether the study itself became an intervention. Did the presence of these curious researchers alter the course of any child’s life?
Alexander suspects that the forces they documented — the family backgrounds, the problem behaviors and the economic prospects — were much more powerful than any annual conversation.
“If it were that easy to reroute peoples’ life paths,” he says, “we should be doing it all the time for everyone.”