Those born into poverty are unlikely to escape it—even if they have access to better opportunities through education. That’s a key conclusion drawn by the three scholars who have been named winners of the 2016 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Education.
In their 2014 book “The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood,” authors Karl Alexander, the late Doris Entwisle and Linda Olson followed nearly 800 Baltimore-area urban youths from first grade through adulthood and found that socioeconomic status trumps education when it comes to life outcomes. Their research spans nearly three decades and challenges the idea that access to public education means equal opportunity.
“Studies of this depth and breadth that include census data, historical narratives, personal interviews, race, gender, family background, neighborhood and school conditions and social mobility over a lifetime are quite rare,” said award director Melissa Evans-Andris. “The authors conclude that children’s life outcomes are substantially determined by the families they are born into. For example, just four percent of the youngsters from low-income families went on to get a college degree by age 28.”
“The Long Shadow,” published by the Russell Sage Foundation, is part of the American Sociological Association’s Rose Series in Sociology and has earned widespread recognition for providing a better understanding of how disadvantaged beginnings impact future social mobility.
All three authors of “The Long Shadow” were employed at Johns Hopkins University. Alexander is the John Dewey Professor Emeritus of Sociology; Entwisle, who died in 2013, was research professor of sociology; and Olson, who recently retired, was an associate research scientist with the university’s Center for Social Organization of Schools.
All 2016 Grawemeyer Award winners will be announced this week, pending formal approval by the university’s board of trustees. The University of Louisville presents the prizes annually the prizes annually for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology and education and gives a religion prize jointly with Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The 2016 winners will present free lectures about their award-winning ideas when they visit Louisville in April to accept their $100,000 prizes.