How the 'Long Shadow' of Family Background Helps Determine Which Children Succeed

How the ‘Long Shadow’ of Family Background Helps Determine Which Children Succeed 1

Patrick Semansky, AP Images

A boy shoots a basketball into a makeshift hoop in Baltimore. A new book, based on a study of nearly 800 children in that city, explains why conventional views of urban poverty are often wrong, and how schooling both helps and hinders social mobility.

To see how the circumstances of childhood shape the lives of young adults, Karl Alexander and his colleagues followed a sample of nearly 800 children from the start of first grade at Baltimore public schools into their late 20s. Their findings, documented in a new book, The Long Shadow, illustrate just how family background can impede a young person’s ability to get ahead. Students who fought through a set of socioeconomic disadvantages were rarely able to advance in life by