In this article, developmental psychologists Ariel Kalil and Rebecca Ryan examine the relation between parenting practices and socioeconomic gaps in child outcomes. They document substantial differences between richer and poorer families, including growing gaps in parental engagement and time use. These gaps matter: the fact that children born to lower-income, less-educated parents are less likely to spend quality time with their parents only compounds their relative economic disadvantage.
Evidence suggests that disadvantaged parents want to do many of the same things that higher-income parents do, such as reading to their children and engaging them in educational experiences like trips to parks and museums. But they’re nonetheless less likely to do those things. The authors consider a number of explanations for this discrepancy. One important contributing factor, Kalil and Ryan write, appears to be financial strain and family stress, both of which can impede parents’ emotional and cognitive functioning in ways that make it harder for them to interact with young children in intellectually stimulating and emotionally nurturing ways.
The authors conclude with a discussion of the types of policies and programs that might narrow income-based parenting gaps. They find encouraging evidence that relatively low-cost, light-touch behavioral interventions could help parents overcome the cognitive biases that may prevent them from using certain beneficial parenting practices.