Parental engagement is one of the most important factors in a child’s development, yet it varies dramatically based on socioeconomic advantage. Kalil recently sat down with the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy to discuss; the science behind parental decision-making; talk about her innovative work as co-director of the Behavioral Insights and Parenting Lab.
You’ve written about the impact that economic disparities can have on children’s development. How have these disparities changed the last five years? While it’s important to look at external factors when assessing disparities such as stable housing, fair wages, health care, etc., I’m especially interested in the gaps in children’s home learning environments and the big differences; in what parents can do to promote this development.
Richer and poorer families
Overall, the home learning gaps between richer and poorer families have slowed down in their divergence that was very characteristic of the past 25 years. But the bottom line is that they remain quite sizable. All parents are investing more in their children’s development lower- and higher-income families alike so they still see a lot of inequalities in children’s early opportunities.
The corollary is that they then see big gaps in early skills development because the lower-income families; simply can’t catch up. While there are macro-level policies that ought to in place so no parent has to choose between working and taking care of their kids like high-quality; child care or paid leave They also need support at a more micro level. Research shows that the things that help promote kids’ development over the long run are small adjustments and small matters of habit that happen regularly.
The low-income kids
For example, reading to children for 15 to 20 minutes every night. This activity alone has shown to achieve incredible outcomes in children’s cognitive and social development. What they need to do is complement any big macro policies with support for families to succeed in making steady; modest investments in their children’s early learning.
They know that these income-based gaps in children’s skills that are observable at age two or three; long before they reach formal schooling, tend not to close or shift over the course of the schooling years. So the low-income kids who at age three show lower scores on early skills development are going to the same kids who graduate from high school at lower rates. Drawing the causal link between all of those things is tenuous, but they know that kids who start behind will rarely catch up.
The hope is that they find new ways to address this problem. They cannot assume schooling is going to be the great equalizer and close all of these persistent gaps. Schools are important, of course, but children don’t spend all of their waking hours in school. They spend many hours each day in their home environment with their parents or in an environment that their parents select for them. If that environment is of low quality; the consequences are significant.
This is not an absolute, but in order to stave off the possibility of continuing this trend; they need to support low-income families with meaningful learning opportunities in their own home environments designed to really improve outcomes. They do not have to be expensive or complicated, but they do need to able to dramatically change the trajectory for their kids.