Race, class, and opting out

Moxie more or less tagged me to respond to this New York Times article, about upper-income black mothers, and their reactions to the whole work-family debate.

Jill at Feministe gives the Times credit for talking about race, but complains that once again, the discussion is limited to upper-income college-educated professionals.  She’s right, but the article is clearly framed in the context of the Times’ obsession with "the opt-out revolution" which is all about upper-income women with lots of choices.  So I’m willing to cut them some slack on that.

Overall, I do think that class probably matters more than race in determining who stays home.  I know Lareau deliberately studied a racially diverse population and found that parenting styles didn’t vary much across racial groups, holding class constant.  Edin and Kefales also didn’t find much racial differences.  (I think ethnicity/immigration status probably does matter; there are definitely ethnic groups where there’s still great cultural pressure against moms of young children working.)

Of course, "holding class constant" is a heck of an assumption.  As I’ve discussed before, stay-at-home parents are concentrated at the very high and very low income ranges.  And there are relatively few African-American families with a single wage-earner making over $100,000 a year.  And even holding income constant, African-Americans have significantly lower assets, making relying on a single income more risky.

The article suggests that there’s more support/pressure for African-American women, especially those who have higher education, to work outside the home.  That may well be true.  But it’s also true that, as Cashin argues, even well-off African-Americans are more likely to live places with higher crime rates, and worse public schools.  So that may provide an incentive to have a parent at home to keep an eye on things.  I don’t know what the net effect is.

6 Responses to “Race, class, and opting out”

  1. Jennifer James Says:

    I actually got interviewed for this article, but didn’t make it in. The reporter framed our discussion primarily around the “mommy wars” issue and whether or not it’s as important an issue among black mothers and if it elicits as much ire among us as it does white moms.
    I have a problem with these articles that link upper class women with the priviledge of opting out. Although I don’t know the precise numbers, I do know that from the growing middle class we’ve seen a huge increase of black moms who’ve opted-out.

  2. Ailurophile Says:

    Something that struck me in the article was the way that the black women interviewed factored extended family – not just hubby and kids – into their decisions on working and spending money.
    In all the ink spilled on the “mommy wars” and to work outside the home or stay at home etc. this is the first time I’ve ever heard extended families mentioned, except for the occasional reference to Grandma as childcare or difficulties in balancing elder care and work.
    I sincerely doubt this is just a “black thing,” but I surmise that more white families have been affluent enough for long enough that their extended family members aren’t needy. I mean, I’ve never thought of my spending in terms of “I could pay for my cousin’s schoolbooks.” But I bet this does come up for people who are the first, or only, members of their families to attain affluence.

  3. lorrie Says:

    We’re helping to support the inlaws. Just another reason why the whole opt out thing is simply an intellectual discussion for me and nothing that will ever be reality…

  4. lorrie Says:

    Oh! Lily white here, inlaws live in nice middle class home–fil blew hundreds of thousands in a failed business–

  5. Devra Says:

    Having received my grad degree in social work from Gramblings State Univ, a historically Black univ, there is a cultural norm “The Black Helping Tradition”. This tradition does stipulate the degree of help one receives or gives to extended family. It is not based solely on monetary need, but on the concept of having an informal system of care within one’s community.

  6. Devra Says:

    Wish there was an edit feature in comment sections! Sorry for the additional post…
    Meant to say “This tradition does NOT stipulate the degreee of help…” Additionally,the Black community certainly is not the only community to have informal systems of care. So it is a black thing, a latino thing, a Jewish thing…

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