NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 9, 2007


Our economic system is delivering more opportunities for comfortable, challenging lives than our culture enables us to take advantage of.  Far from underperforming, our productive capacity has now outstripped our cultural capacity, says Brink Lindsey, vice president for research at the Cato Institute.

The most obvious and heartrending cultural deficits are those that produce and perpetuate the inner-city underclass.  Consider this arresting fact:

  • While the poverty rate nationwide is 13 percent, only 3 percent of adults with full-time, year-round jobs fall below the poverty line.
  • Poverty in America today is thus largely about failing to get and hold a job, any job.

Other, less acute deficits distinguish working-class culture from that of the middle and upper classes:

  • According to sociologist Annette Lareau, working-class parents continue to follow the traditional, laissez-faire child-rearing philosophy that she calls "the accomplishment of natural growth."
  • But at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale, parents now engage in what she refers to as "concerted cultivation" -- intensively overseeing kids' schoolwork and stuffing their after-school hours and weekends with organized enrichment activities.

Consider these data from the National Education Longitudinal Study, an in-depth survey of educational achievement:

  • Among students who received high scores in eighth grade mathematics (and thus showed academic promise), 74 percent of kids from the highest quartile of socioeconomic status (measured as a composite of parental education, occupations and family income) eventually earned a college degree.
  • By contrast, the college graduation rate fell to 47 percent for kids from the middle two quartiles and 29 percent for those in the bottom quartile.

Perhaps more generous financial aid might affect those numbers at the margins, but at the core of these big differentials are differences in the values, skills and habits taught in the home, says Lindsey.

Source: Brink Lindsey, "The Culture Gap," Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2007.

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