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Long Shadow, The

Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood

Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, Linda Olson

Publication Year: 2014

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 the rapid onset of poverty and high unemployment, with few public resources available to alleviate its economic distress. But in stark contrast to the image of a perpetual “urban underclass” depicted in television by shows like The 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. Based on a decades-long study, The Long Shadow focuses on children who grew up in west Baltimore neighborhoods, tracing how their early lives in the inner city have ultimately affected their long-term well-being. For 25 years, the authors of The Long Shadow tracked 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 in the study, despite attaining less education on average, were more likely to be employed than any other group due to family connections and long-standing racial biases in Baltimore’s industrial economy. Gender imbalances in the subjects’ incomes 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 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 Shadow unravels the complex connections between socioeconomic origins and socioeconomic destinations to reveal a startling and much-needed examination of who succeeds and why.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright, Series Page, In Memoriam

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List of Illustrations

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pp. xii-xiii

About the Authors

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pp. xiv

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pp. xv-xviii

The purpose of this book is to improve our understanding of how social contexts—especially those of family, neighborhood, and school—bear on the long-term well-being of disadvantaged urban youth. Well-being, for our purposes, is captured not only in objective...

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pp. xix-xxii

In the fall of 1982, we set out with graduate students and a small staff recruited for a project intended to last three years but that stretched over many. Children and their parents were interviewed individually, teachers responded to self-administered questionnaires...

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Chapter 1: The Long Shadow and Urban Disadvantage

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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...

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Chapter 2: The Baltimore Backdrop

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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...

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Chapter 3: Family Disadvantage

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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...

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Chapter 4: Neighborhood and School

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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...

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Chapter 5: Transitioning to Adulthood

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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...

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Chapter 6: Socioeconomic Destinations

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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...

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Chapter 7: Origins to Destinations Across Generations

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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...

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Chapter 8: Stratification by Race and Gender

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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...

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Chapter 9: Life-Course Perspective of Urban Disadvantage

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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...

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Appendix A

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pp. 189-194

Mae—black woman—lower SES (page 2) Mae grew up in a low-income neighborhood on Baltimore’s West Side. She had trouble in school academically and behaviorally. She lived alternatively with her mother, then one grandparent, and then another grandparent. Mae graduated from an alternative high school...

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Appendix B

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pp. 195-212

This appendix provides detail on the Beginning School Study Youth Panel (BSSYP or Youth Panel) research design and elaborates on the measurement of key constructs not covered adequately in the text. We also provide a nontechnical overview of multiple regression analysis, the statistical...


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pp. 213-232


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pp. 233-256


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pp. 257-266

E-ISBN-13: 9781610448239
E-ISBN-10: 1610448235
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871540331
Print-ISBN-10: 0871540339

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Youth with social disabilities -- Maryland -- Baltimore.
  • Youth with social disabilities -- Education -- Maryland -- Baltimore.
  • Poor youth -- Maryland -- Baltimore -- Social conditions.
  • Poor families -- Social aspects -- Maryland -- Baltimore.
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