Impact of Poverty & Social Class on Families & Society

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  • 0:04 Family: Definition
  • 1:23 Impact of Social Class
  • 2:30 Concerted Cultivation
  • 3:17 Moynihan Theory: Poverty
  • 4:05 Structural Factors: Poverty
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emily Cummins
What forces shape family life in our society? In this lesson, we'll look at how poverty and social class impact families' experiences and create unequal opportunities.

Family: Definition

What do we mean by a family? This might seem like an obvious question, as many of you likely consider yourself part of some kind of family. According to sociologists, the term ''family'' isn't always easy to define, but it does suggest some basic characteristics. Generally, a family consists of two or more people who live together and are somehow related, such as a married couple, a mother and her son, or two parents and their adopted children. As a unit, the family is a sociological rather than a biological concept that can mean different things to different people. Sociologists believe that families are socially constructed, meaning different people might attach different meanings to a family.

Families are impacted by factors like poverty and social class
social class; families; U.S. society

Unfortunately, not all families have equal opportunities in society. Factors like economic and education levels, class, gender, and race can have a major impact on how families operate. For example, according to data collected by the United States Census Bureau, female-headed households are more likely than male-headed households to be poor, with those headed by single black mothers the most likely to be poor. Black and Hispanic families are also disproportionately poor compared to white families. Beyond the statistics, what does poverty among families look like? Let's talk a bit more about how poverty and social class affect families.

Impact of Social Class

Generally, sociologists define social class as an individual's education, income, and occupation level. Based on these factors, we can determine where an individual falls in our class structure. In the United States, we have a fairly rigid class structure, making it difficult for people to move out of their classes.

The sociologist Annette Lareau has found that social class plays a major role in the lives of families, particularly those with children. For example, let's say that your parents are highly educated working professionals with good jobs. This means that you'll most likely have more opportunities growing up than if you'd been into a lower class family. In lower class families, economic resources are much tighter, and sometimes even necessities like food might be a struggle to obtain. Middle class families are more likely to live in neighborhoods with a high tax-base, which means you'll probably attend a well-funded school. Additionally, studies have shown that children whose parents have advanced degrees are likely to obtain a college degree themselves. In a poor neighborhood, resources for such things as good schools might be much more limited.

Concerted Cultivation

Middle class parents, in both black and white families, are better able and more likely to provide their children with dance and music lessons, extra tutoring, and other opportunities. This is what Lareau calls concerted cultivation, a style of parenting that seeks to enhance a child's talents. It requires resources not available to poor families. For example, if you're a poor single mother working three jobs, you're not as likely to have the money or time to enroll your child in after school activities or help him or her with homework.

Things like ballet lessons might be considered part of concerted cultivation
social class; poverty; families

Extracurricular activities and homework help are the types of things that children from middle and upper class families might take for granted. In addition to enrichment experiences, these activities provide children with skills and values that can help them throughout life.

Moynihan Theory: Poverty

So what explains the different positions of families in society? Let's talk about a few key ideas.

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