Notes from Home Advantage by Annette Lareau

Although Annette Lareau’s book Home Advantage: Social Class and Parental Intervention in Elementary Education was originally written in 1989, I found it interesting to revisit given current decision-making about my children’s school. This book faces the importance of social class in how American families approach school. It studied schools where social classes did not seem mixed; they were even located in separate towns/cities. This somewhat limits how useful the educational policy recommendations in the back might be to my own context, however there were still many useful points.

1. Middle class parents do not set out simply to display their cultural resources. They are trying to pass these resources on to their children. They know that children will not automatically attain the same social status as their parents unless they do well in school.

2. Working class parents also believe that their children won’t necessarily attain the same social status as themselves, and recognize that doing well in school will help children succeed in later life as well. This means of course that both groups care a great deal about how well their children do in school, but…

3. Working class parents have fewer resources to bring to bear to understand their children’s school experience and less confidence to shape it. They see the teachers as professionals and trust them to have the children’s best interests in mind. They use extrinsic markers like grades, stickers and comments on papers to track how their kids are doing in school. Since teachers almost always try to be positive the parents do not always recognize when a child is falling behind. Middle class parents are more interested in what their child knows and understands than necessarily in the grade mark.

4. Middle class parents differ in the conditions under and the extent to which they activate their cultural resources to shape their children’s school experience. Being equally or more educated than teachers they evaluate teachers’ performance. They may obtain supplemental experiences (tutoring, lessons, etc.) if they feel their child isn’t getting all they need at school and/or they may be more likely to make requests of the school (for special programs, specific teachers, etc…). Middle class parents were most likely to activate their resources for a low-achieving child.

6. Only certain kinds of family involvement are desired by schools. Mainly: nurturing the child at home and sending them to school fed and groomed; reading to them; reviewing papers and homework; reinforcing behavior standards; and respecting the teacher. Families differ in their ability to do these things. Also middle class parents were more likely than working class families to not back up the teacher’s discipline and to criticize the school or teacher for their educational program. Working class parents’ criticisms were typically not about the academic program. But getting deeply involved in a child’s inner life and school career can cause stress for the child and even exacerbate sibling rivalry or even marital tensions for some middle class families. By leaving schooling to the school, Lareau says working class families protected themselves from this particular kind of stress.

7. Teachers tried to be fair, but it seems that their expectations and even perceptions of children were colored by the involvement of their parents. I recall reading this as advice in Sara Lawrence Lightfoot’s book, The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers can Learn from Each Other. She said get involved, go to all conferences, PTA nights, etc–it will help the teacher see your family/child in a better light.

8. Lareau suggests that parent involvement “pays off” more in a school where it is rarer. In a school where most of the parents are busily involved, the parents end up competing for what then become scarce resources.

9. Lareau also looks at the parents’ networks, suggesting that the middle class parents were more likely to form relationships with one another whereas working class parents socialized more with their kin groups. Whether among their friends or relatives, middle class parents were more likely to know (or be) change agents like principals, teachers, media, lawyers, judges, etc and thus informally learned how to meet criteria. She suggests teachers might invite an involved working class parent to bring a relative or friend with her the next time she volunteers as an example of how to leverage existing networks into a sort of mentoring system to expand parental involvement among the working class.

10. While this research added to knowledge of an intra-institutional relationship (home to school), it would be interesting in my context to see how a mix of middle and working class families in one school can work well. What are the advantages and disadvantages? Even if a family is working for a particular child, does this improve the environment for all children? I know many middle class parents who consciously strive to upgrade their child’s school environment with all students in mind (but then again see #8…).

Overall, an interesting book worth thinking about even 21 years later.

6 thoughts on “Notes from Home Advantage by Annette Lareau

  1. Hi Christine. It’s seems like we’re interested in many of the same things. I like Lareau’s work too and your summary of it is good and helpful. There’s some new research on parental involvement that just came out by William Jeynes at Cal State Long Beach. It’s a meta-analysis which I have just learned is much, much easier to do now that computers can crunch the numbers from 100 or more studies. Anyway here’s a link to an article I just wrote on this research at Miller-McCune, an online magazine that specializes in reporting on research that could affect public policy. Jeynes found that parents’ expectations are the #1 factor affecting kids’ achievement in school. Another researcher Nancy Hill (haven’t written yet about her work) found that both college educated and non- college educated parents had high expectations for their kids, but that the college educated parents were much better at advocating for their kids — making sure they took the best classes, for example — and at getting them into activities outside of school ( congruent with Lareau.) Anyway I hope you find it interesting:

  2. mariawest says:

    Hi Christine,

    I appreciate your clear and thorough summary of the book. I find it so hard to read all the books I want to read, and you always have great suggestions of more I should look into, so I especially appreciate the time you took to give us the highlights here. Do you have other book summaries on this blog which you could recommend to me?


  3. christinerafal says:

    Thank you, Kathy and Maria.
    Maria, I have reviewed a couple books here, like Peter Sack’s Tearing Down the Gates (More re: what to do about educational prospects for rich and poor), but nothing as thorough as this one. I have tended just to note a few things that interested me, quick takeaways. Maybe I will try to do more summaries for future. Also, you could friend me on if you like.

  4. Hi Christine,

    This is a great post, I have just finished writing a post about the class divide from a different perspective in allowing young people to express themselves freely. A young person does not need to be weighed down with the heaviness of ‘class’ issues and in my belief should be allowed to explore the world free of these categories. It is through this that perhaps many young children are able to succeed in life. Many young people are no different from caged animals when saddled with the label of class, when they should be new-born birds trying to spread their wings.

    Please have a look at my post here:

    Ilook forward to reading more posts of yours!


  5. christinerafal says:

    Thank you all for your comments. Silky, I wonder if class works differently here from where you live. I agree with trying not to label or pigeonhole anybody. Still I think it is not fair to children to ignore differences that may really impact their ability to succeed in school. I am adding more posts at another blog. Here is one about the “Achievement Gap” that mentions how different parenting styles impact school success: Of course, it could be the culture of schooling that needs to change, or both…!

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