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.25 comments on this story
"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.