Racial and Ethnic Gaps in School Readiness Using Fragile Families

Audrey N. Beck, Princeton University
Carey E. Cooper, Princeton University
Sara McLanahan, Princeton University
Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Columbia University

A growing body of research indicates that large race/ethnic disparities in test scores exist at the time children enter elementary school. These gaps have been attributed to family background/socioeconomic status, neighborhood conditions, children’s health, parenting and early childcare experiences. This paper utilizes longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine the role of family structure and parenting practices in accounting for gaps in school readiness among black, Hispanic and white children. We improve on previous studies by examining how fathers’ characteristics and behavior, and a more detailed set of family and parenting characteristics, improve our understanding of school-entry disparities. Our sample also includes a large number of Hispanic children. Similar to previous research, we find that white children are more academically and behaviorally ready for school. Results suggest that while socioeconomic resources remain a key explanatory mechanism, family instability and parenting independently contribute to the gaps.

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Presented in Session 189: Parental Involvement in Diverse Family Forms