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Study: The Family You’re Born Into Often Determines Your Fate

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(credit: thinkstock)

(credit: thinkstock)

BALTIMORE, MD (CBS) – Where you start out in life is largely where you end up.

That’s the sobering conclusion of a groundbreaking study out of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The long-range study, which followed nearly 800 schoolchildren in Baltimore from first grade to adulthood over the course of 25 years, claims that the family you’re born into often determines the path of your life.

Researchers say they conducted repeated interviews with the study’s subjects, their parents and teachers throughout the years, following the children’s journey from elementary school into the workforce and the start of their own families.

By the age of 30, nearly half of the subjects were in the same economic situation as their parents. Thirty-three moved from low-income in childhood to high-income in adulthood, but researchers say that number would have been closer to 70 if family situation had no bearing on an individual’s prospects. Meanwhile, of those who began life well-off, only 19 found themselves in the low income bracket later in life – about a fourth of the expected number.

An article on the Johns Hopkins news website, the Hub, also lists some of the study’s key findings, including that practically none of the children from low-income families graduated from college, and that low-income white men who didn’t attend college had the best chance of obtaining a well-paying job.

As for women, white females who grew up low-income households were on par with men in terms of financial situation, but largely because they were able to marry those men.

According to the study, “Though both white and black women who grew up in lower-income households earned less than white men, when you consider household income, white women reached parity with white men—because they were married to them,” the article claims. “Black women not only had low earnings, they were less likely than whites to be in stable family unions and so were less likely to benefit from a spouse’s earnings.”

Finally, men who were well-off were the most likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, followed by low-income men. And among those low-income men, arrest rates were high. By the time the study’s participants were 28, 41-percent of white and 49-percent of black men involved in the research had a criminal conviction, but the white employment rate still managed to be much higher.

“A family’s resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children’s life trajectories,” says Johns Hopkins sociologist Karl Alexander, one of the study’s three co-authors. “This view is at odds with the popular ethos that we are makers of our own fortune.”

The study’s results are published in an upcoming book by study co-author Alexander called The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood.

What do CBSPhilly’s Facebook users think?

Results were mixed; some felt the research reflected general truths, while others disagreed.

“I’m not so sure. I know one upper middle class family that’s having a lot of problems with one of their kids,” one person said. “Meanwhile, one kid we know from a lower class background is going to college on an academic scholarship. It’s not just what type of family you’re born into….it’s how you’re raised.”

“I think it is a very critical factor,” wrote another. “In many cases, kids can be swallowed up by the pitfalls of a bad neighborhood.”

Do you believe the study’s conclusions? Weigh in on the CBSPhilly Facebook page.

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