Contextual Selection and Intergenerational Reproduction
Schachner, Jared Nathan
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CitationSchachner, Jared Nathan. 2020. Contextual Selection and Intergenerational Reproduction. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractNeighborhood and school contexts shape a wide range of children’s life outcomes and reproduce race- and class-based inequalities. However, neighborhoods and schools are, of course, not randomly assigned. Which families gain access to environmental contexts most conducive to their children’s development? This dissertation revisits this line of inquiry with a fresh lens. Sociological theories of contextual sorting have remained largely stagnant since the late 1990s, with the vast majority of relevant studies implicating structural factors – specifically, resources, racial preferences, and discrimination – as key drivers of residential mobility. Yet contemporary residential and educational opportunity structures have endured choice-oriented, market-based reforms (e.g., housing/school vouchers, charter school expansion, the large-scale destruction of public housing) and a simultaneous information explosion – factors that may amplify new drivers of contextual selection. In light of these shifts, I argue that accounts of contextual sorting should broaden from a primarily structural portrayal highlighting race, class, and residential mobility to also encompass factors central to the burgeoning intergenerational reproduction literature, including parental education, culture, and skills. Neighborhood, school, and childcare sorting should be conceived as related yet distinct social stratification processes.
Through four empirical chapters, I hone in on the independent and interactive roles of parents’ race, resources, cognitive skills, and socioemotional health in shaping children’s neighborhood and school conditions within a theoretically strategic ecology: twenty-first century Los Angeles County. I employ panel data on children and parents from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey and the Mixed Income Project from 2000 – 2012, linked to educational administrative data and geospatial measures from ArcGIS.
The first chapter, coauthored with Robert J. Sampson, leverages discrete choice models to predict neighborhood selection and reveals that parental cognitive skills (acquired knowledge, not IQ) predict neighborhood socioeconomic status, even after confirming the expected influences of race, income, spatial proximity, and housing markets. Moreover, highly-skilled upper/upper-middle class parents appear to sort specifically on the basis of average public school test scores rather than socioeconomic status, broadly. The second chapter proposes contextual sorting in general – and school sorting in particular – as an unexamined pathway linking parents’ socioemotional health to their children’s cognitive and socioemotional development. Congruent with this argument, logistic regression models show that parents who are more likely to be depressed are less likely to enroll their children in a school of choice (i.e., private, charter, magnet). These depression-based disparities appear starkest among disadvantaged minority – and particularly black – families.
The third chapter examines whether whites’ and Asians’ well-documented racial preferences to avoid Latinos and blacks are manifested through school sorting patterns not only in the core-city but also in the suburbs. Logistic regression models reveal that suburban white and Asian children living proximate to public schools with high concentrations of blacks and Latinos are more likely to attend non-assigned schools, often far from home. The fourth and final chapter proposes two theoretical accounts of contemporary school sorting: one centering on structural sorting and the other on intergenerational reproduction. Logistic regression models generate modest support for the former but strong support for the latter: parents’ cognitive skills and socioemotional health are the most consistently predictive factors of child enrollment in a magnet, charter, or private school.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365921
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