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Long Shadow, The

Long Shadow, The: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood

Karl Alexander
Doris Entwisle
Linda Olson
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  • Book Info
    Long Shadow, The
    Book Description:

    A volume in the American Sociological Association's Rose Series in Sociology

    West Baltimore stands out in the popular imagination as the quintessential "inner city"-gritty, run-down, and marred by drugs and gang violence. Indeed, with the collapse of manufacturing jobs in the 1970s, the area experienced a rapid onset of poverty and high unemployment, with few public resources available to alleviate economic distress. But in stark contrast to the image of a perpetual "urban underclass" depicted in television by shows likeThe Wire, sociologists Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson present a more nuanced portrait of Baltimore's inner city residents that employs important new research on the significance of early-life opportunities available to low-income populations.The Long Shadowfocuses on children who grew up in west Baltimore neighborhoods and others like them throughout the city, tracing how their early lives in the inner city have affected their long-term well-being. Although research for this book was conducted in Baltimore, that city's struggles with deindustrialization, white flight, and concentrated poverty were characteristic of most East Coast and Midwest manufacturing cities. The experience of Baltimore's children who came of age during this era is mirrored in the experiences of urban children across the nation.

    For 25 years, the authors ofThe Long Shadowtracked the life progress of a group of almost 800 predominantly low-income Baltimore school children through the Beginning School Study Youth Panel (BSSYP). The study monitored the children's transitions to young adulthood with special attention to how opportunities available to them as early as first grade shaped their socioeconomic status as adults. The authors' fine-grained analysis confirms that the children who lived in more cohesive neighborhoods, had stronger families, and attended better schools tended to maintain a higher economic status later in life. As young adults, they held higher-income jobs and had achieved more personal milestones (such as marriage) than their lower-status counterparts. Differences in race and gender further stratified life opportunities for the Baltimore children. As one of the first studies to closely examine the outcomes of inner-city whites in addition to African Americans, data from the BSSYP shows that by adulthood, white men of lower status family background, despite attaining less education on average, were more likely to be employed than any other group in part due to family connections and long-standing racial biases in Baltimore's industrial economy. Gender imbalances were also evident: the women, who were more likely to be working in low-wage service and clerical jobs, earned less than men. African American women were doubly disadvantaged insofar as they were less likely to be in a stable relationship than white women, and therefore less likely to benefit from a second income.

    Combining original interviews with Baltimore families, teachers, and other community members with the empirical data gathered from the authors' groundbreaking research,The Long Shadowunravels the complex connections between socioeconomic origins and socioeconomic destinations to reveal a startling and much-needed examination of who succeeds and why.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-823-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  4. About the Authors
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  7. Chapter 1 The Long Shadow and Urban Disadvantage
    (pp. 1-20)

    This volume is an account of the developmental foundation that connects children’s socioeconomic well-being as young adults to family conditions growing up. It is set in Baltimore, Maryland, during the last two decades of the twentieth century into the first decade of the twenty-first, years that were not kind to the deindustrializing cities of the East Coast and Midwest. As these cities suffered economic decline, their residents suffered economic hardship.

    For children, family is the launching pad and the focus of this volume. A family’s resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children’s life trajectories—personal...

  8. Chapter 2 The Baltimore Backdrop
    (pp. 21-31)

    Urban disadvantage presents itself in children’s lives at every turn—at home when they awaken in the morning, outside when they head off to school, and then at destination’s end when they arrive. Family, neighborhood, and school, these settings dominate children’s development during their formative years and set the stage for their unfolding life scripts (Jessor 1993). But there also is a broader context to urban disadvantage, one that hovers in the background. For the children of the Beginning School Study Youth Panel (BSSYP, or Youth Panel), this backdrop is Baltimore City and its changing character over the latter half...

  9. Chapter 3 Family Disadvantage
    (pp. 32-49)

    The urban disadvantaged, families of low socioeconomic standing by the standards of this volume, make up half the Beginning School Study Youth Panel (BSSYP, or Youth Panel). Most research on the life conditions of the urban poor, including most community case studies, looks inward, focused on poor communities of color, African American or Latino-Hispanic. Such studies are valuable, but also limiting. Because the BSSYP is a probability sample of Baltimore’s entire first grade enrollment, it includes not just disadvantaged African American families, but also disadvantaged white families and middle-class households. The latter were decidedly better off than the majority of...

  10. Chapter 4 Neighborhood and School
    (pp. 50-74)

    Our coverage of urban disadvantage to this point has centered on the interior of family life, but the family also is gateway to the world beyond, first through its choice of neighborhood and then by determining the school its children attend. Neighborhood and school, when added to family, round out the overlapping spheres of influence that children experience firsthand, day in and day out.

    The urban disadvantaged live in the poorest parts of the city. The worst of these neighborhoods are distressed in many ways associated with urban decay—crime, drugs, boarded-up houses, and empty businesses—and family life in...

  11. Chapter 5 Transitioning to Adulthood
    (pp. 75-90)

    We begin life wholly dependent on our birth families; as adults, we are expected to be substantially self-sufficient. The transition to adulthood involves several role transitions that we use as touchstones to monitor progress: take a full-time job, marry, live apart from one’s parents, and then, the final step, become a parent.

    We are beyond the once-held notion that everyone ought to traverse the life course following the same predetermined sequence (Rindfuss, Swicegood, and Rosenfeld 1987). Indeed, so much has changed that the order in which these roles are assumed and their timing largely have become matters of individual taste....

  12. Chapter 6 Socioeconomic Destinations
    (pp. 91-120)

    The milestones along the path to adulthood taken up in the previous chapter differ from progress along the socioeconomic status (SES) gradient in obvious ways, but as well in a way that might not be so obvious. Marrying and becoming a parent are discrete events. The birthdates of children, anniversaries, and even leaving the parental home can be marked on a calendar, whereas progress through school and experience in the workplace are infinitely changeable. When some college students take twenty or more years to finish their degrees (Attewell and Lavin 2007) and dropouts sit for the general educational development (GED)...

  13. Chapter 7 Origins to Destinations Across Generations
    (pp. 121-156)

    So, how far from the tree does the apple fall? In stratification terms, the question becomes how much social mobility there is across generations. In popular thought, the United States stands apart as the land of opportunity where, through hard work and perhaps a bit of good fortune, anyone can rise to the top. As Joseph Stiglitz points out in theNew York Times Opinionatorblog, however, the truth is rather different (“Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth,” February 16, 2013). National comparisons of intergenerational mobility centered on occupation, income, and wealth find that socioeconomic well-being in adulthood depends more on...

  14. Chapter 8 Stratification by Race and Gender
    (pp. 157-172)

    To this point, our focus has been stratification along the socioeconomic gradient, largely governed by success at school. Conditions and experiences in the early years set the foundation; in the later years, the opportunities afforded by that success materialize or are closed off by its lack. Doing well in school surely is not the only path to upward mobility or status preservation at the high end, but in the modern era it is the one most deeply embedded in the national psyche and through labor market processes in social structure.

    It therefore is limiting that so few of the Beginning...

  15. Chapter 9 Life-Course Perspective of Urban Disadvantage
    (pp. 173-188)

    This book is about the reproduction of social advantage and disadvantage across generations in the experience of typical Baltimore youth, anchored in their childhood and extending into their late twenties. For most, their socioeconomic status as adults is about what it was when they were children, but their sense of their lives today is not simply a matter of how far they have gone through school or their workplace success. For disadvantaged youth growing up in a city with one of the nation’s highest homicide rates (The Atlantic2011), the clichéd “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” is not to...

  16. Appendix A Voices of the Beginning School Study Youth Panel
    (pp. 189-194)
  17. Appendix B Measurement Details and Technical Issues
    (pp. 195-212)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 213-232)
  19. References
    (pp. 233-256)
  20. Index
    (pp. 257-266)