Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Preschool-Age Skills Gaps and the Changing Technology of Parenting

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 1:50 PM
Merrick I (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Rebecca Ryan1, Ariel Kalil2, Kathleen Ziol-Guest3, Greg J. Duncan4, Sean F. Reardon5 and Anna Markowitz1, (1)Georgetown University, (2)University of Chicago, (3)New York University, (4)University of California, Irvine, (5)Stanford University
Few trends are more striking than increases in class and achievement gaps between low- and high-income children in the United States over the last 40 years. For instance, between 1950 and 2000, test score gaps between low-income (10th income percentile) children and their better-off (90th income percentile) peers doubled in size (Reardon, 2011) before leveling off in the most recent cohorts.

One potential contributor to these gaps may be differences in parenting. It is increasingly evident that economically advantaged parents differ from their less advantaged peers on many relevant dimensions of parenting (Kalil, Ryan, and Corey, 2012). Economically disadvantaged children’s more limited access to cognitively enriching and emotionally supportive home environments in early childhood may play a role in gaps in child development, producing a feedback cycle that leads to low socioeconomic mobility and growing inequality. Indeed, measures of the quality of the home environment account for up to half the income-achievement association in cross-sectional studies.

We aim to identify the home-environment drivers of increasing gaps in cognitive and non-cognitive skills between poor and more affluent children. These gap increases could arise in multiple ways. The most obvious is that the gap between the quality of home environments available to poor and more affluent children could be growing. This might happen if rapid increases in the incomes of affluent families have led them to spend more on children’s early education, lessons, books, computers, etc. in ways that have enriched the home environments of affluent children more rapidly than the home environments of poor children.

We draw on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth – Child Supplement (1988/1990 n= ~ 2,700 children ages 3-5), the Panel Study of Income Dynamics Child Supplement (1997; n = ~ 800) and National Household Education Surveys covering the period 1991-2007 n = ~ 30,000). In this paper we document over-time class-based gaps in children’s home environments in the three different data sets. The measure of the home environment is multifaceted, including measures of parents’ time inputs, emotional support, and provision of a physical environment conducive to children’s learning and emotional well-being.

Our initial results are consistent across two different sets of comparisons (i.e., NLSY90 vs. PSID1997 and NHES 1991 through 2007). We find a strong education gradient across many measures of parenting, such that mothers with college levels of education are more likely to report higher levels of cognitive stimulation and emotional support. We also observe a general time trend in parenting such that amount of cognitive stimulation in the home is increasing for all parents over time. However, for most aspects of the home environment education gaps appear constant or even shrinking over time. The latter trend reflects that fact that the least educated parents appear to be “catching up” to the college educated parents across many dimensions of parenting.

The completed paper will examine the role of income as a marker of socioeconomic status and will also document trends in the gaps in children’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills across the time period.