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The intersection of race and socioeconomic status (SES) in early family life: Why do the academic returns to SES differ for Black and White children?

Henry, Daphne A. (2018) The intersection of race and socioeconomic status (SES) in early family life: Why do the academic returns to SES differ for Black and White children? Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps appear in early childhood, persist into adolescence, and undermine long-term well-being. Scholarship typically examines whether family socioeconomic inequality explains racial skills gaps; however, increasing research indicates that the academic returns to socioeconomic status (SES) differ for Black and White children and that the size of Black-White achievement gaps vary by SES, with the largest disparities evident among the highest-SES students. The processes underlying the development of within-SES racial gaps remain unclear, though growing evidence suggests that racial disparities in proximity to (dis)advantage shape family life in critical ways. Nevertheless, little research has directly explored these pathways. This mixed-methods project addresses this limitation. Study 1 used nationally representative, longitudinal data to (1) investigate how SES moderates race gaps from kindergarten entry through eighth grade, and (2) determine whether skills evident in early childhood explain subsequent within-SES racial skills disparities. Study 2 collected semi-structured interview data from a socioeconomically-diverse sample of Black and White families to (1) explore disparities in SES-matched Black and White families’ proximity to intergenerational, spatial, and relational (dis)advantage, and (2) examine within-SES racial differences in young children’s family contexts that may be attributable to disparities in proximity to (dis)advantage. Study 1’s results reveal that household income and parental education operated differently, with Black-White gaps narrowing as income increased but growing as education rose. Additionally, Black children lost ground to their SES-matched White peers as they progressed through primary school. Finally, differences in early skills help explain why SES moderated Black-White disparities later in development. Study 2’s findings show that parenting values and beliefs are generally similar across race and SES. However, race intersects with SES to produce complex patterns of inequality in family life. Although economic disadvantage places limits on all parents, irrespective of race, constraints are more pronounced and take a more pernicious form among low-income Black parents. Higher-income grants parents escape from the most serious threats to their children’s well-being, but the returns to higher SES are not equivalent for middle-income Black and White families, and only among the most affluent families do race differences diminish considerably or disappear altogether.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Henry, Daphne A.dahst44@pitt.edudahst44
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairVotruba-Drzal, Elizabethevotruba@pitt.eduevotruba
Committee MemberBachman, Heatherhbachman@pitt.eduhbachman
Committee MemberBrownell, Celiabrownell@pitt.edubrownell
Committee MemberDuck, Waverlywod1@pitt.eduwod1
Committee MemberLeBaron Wallace, Tannertwallace@pitt.edutwallace
Date: 31 January 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 13 December 2017
Approval Date: 31 January 2018
Submission Date: 20 December 2017
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 198
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Black-White achievement gap; academic achievement; early academic skills; school readiness; inequality; intersectionality
Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2018 17:33
Last Modified: 31 Jan 2018 17:33

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