All Middle-Class Families Are Not Created Equal: Explaining the Contexts that Black and White Families Face and the Implications for Adolescent Achievement


  • *Direct correspondence to Constance A. Lindsay 〈〉. The author sincerely thanks Professors David Figlio, Jelani Mandara, and the participants of the Education Policy Laboratory Group at the Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research for their reviews of several versions of this article. This research uses data from Add Health, a program project designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the NICHD, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Special acknowledgment is due to Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Persons interested in obtaining data files from Add Health should contact Add Health, Carolina Population Center, 123 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, NC 27516–2524. The author will share all data and coding for replication purposes.


Objectives. This article examines the relationship between race, socioeconomic status, and achievement using an ecological perspective.

Methods. Conventional theory suggests that as parent human capital increases, family resources increase, and therefore student achievement should increase. However, differential academic achievement is still observed between black and white adolescents in similar middle-class families. I first provide a descriptive analysis of three domains of the local ecology that I theorize influence adolescent achievement: neighborhoods, parenting styles, and time use. I then use OLS regression analysis to explore whether the inclusion of various domains of adolescents' environments eliminates the black-white test score differential.

Results. I find that the inclusion of the three domains lessens, but does not eliminate, the black-white test score differential.

Conclusion. Black and white adolescents at all socioeconomic levels face different contexts; these different contexts are associated with differences in achievement.