Check Out upload Down below! Thanks!Putnam Ch. 6 (APA) Read Ch. 6 The American Dream: Myths and Realities in Our Kids by Putnam. Due 12/4 by 11:00 am. (Chapter 6 – What is the be done?)In 2 double-spaced pages, A) Identify 2 important findings or main points the author discusses in the reading, B) Why are these two findings important to the wider society as a whole/what are the implications of these findings? C) One concept you’d like to question the author about or would like to know more about.ReferencesPutnam, R. D. (2016). Our kids: the American Dream in crisis. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
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Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis
Robert D. Putnam
(Simon & Schuster, 400 pp, $28.00)
by Meghan McQuiggan
conomic and social inequality in the United States has
been widely discussed by researchers and policymakers
alike. Many experts agree that the rich are getting richer
and the poor are getting poorer, leading to the disappearance of
the middle class (Pew Research Center, 2015). In addition to this
discourse, the issue of class inequality has attracted significant
media attention, igniting public opposition to unequal economic
conditions. Consequently, the issue has become a major talking
point among political leaders and candidates as they search for
ways of restoring equitable opportunity to all citizens.
Harvard social and political scientist Robert Putnam
conducts an in-depth analysis of inequality in his 2015 work Our
Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. Specifically, he examines the
waning American Dream, the growing opportunity gap between
lower- and upper-class children, and the resulting impacts on our
nation’s youth. Putnam says that the central question of the book
is, “Do youth today coming from different social and economic
backgrounds in fact have roughly equal life chances, and has
that changed in recent decades?” Throughout the work, Putnam
uses a combination of qualitative narrative and quantitative
Policy Perspectives / Volume 23
analysis to argue that children from different socioeconomic backgrounds do not have
the same chances of success and that the gap between them is growing. The generally
approachable and engaging text synthesizes and presents an impressive breadth of
academic research on inequality’s seemingly endless contributing factors. As the topic
has been popular during the recent presidential debates, the work is informative and
In Chapter 1, Putnam begins by describing the American Dream using his own
hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio, where he graduated from high school in 1959.
Putnam details the lives of his classmates Don, from a poor, working-class family, and
Frank, from a local wealthy family. Despite these economic differences, both Don and
Frank went on to obtain college degrees and have successful careers. Putnam describes
this as typical for the town, where even lower-income children could achieve upward
mobility. These children made it “higher up the economic ladder” than their parents
(p.7). He asserts that, at the time, adults invested in all children in the community and
ensured they could attain success regardless of their background.
In contrast, the author describes the Port Clinton of today as a “split-screen
American nightmare,” in which class origins create monumental barriers to success
(p.1). Putnam describes the manufacturing industry collapse in the 1970s and how
the population declined. He goes on to detail the resulting increases in juvenile
delinquency, single parenting, divorce, unwed births, and child poverty. Additionally,
Putnam likens the Port Clinton story to towns all across America, suggesting these
trends simultaneously occurred throughout the country. He asserts that Port Clinton
today is a town of contrasting realities between the upper-class children of the lakeshore
region and the poor children of the downtown area. He uses the accounts of Chelsea
and David to juxtapose their lifestyles. Chelsea has a very involved mother, a family that
holds nightly family dinners and elaborate birthday parties, and she also participates
in numerous extracurricular activities. Meanwhile, David has an imprisoned, drugaddicted father, was on probation as a teen, and has a child of his own. Putnam uses
these narratives to argue that opportunities available for lower- and upper-income
children are diverging. Rich children have more opportunities than in the past, while
poor children’s chances of success are declining.
While these two anecdotal stories alone represent extreme family situations,
Putnam’s subsequent quantitative analysis is more convincing. The author uses rigorous
data sources, such as Census data, and displays the information using graphs and maps
that clearly illustrate the prominent wealth gap and neighborhood segregation between
upper- and lower-class families both in Port Clinton and across the country. At the end
of this chapter, Putnam explains his methodology for most of the analyses in the book:
he uses education as an indicator of social class. Therefore, he refers to those with a
bachelor’s degree as upper-class and rich and those with no more than a high school
education as lower-class and poor. Although the analyses throughout the book certainly
make a persuasive case for contrasting opportunity levels, education may not be the best
proxy for social class. Many individuals with only high school diplomas have achieved
great economic success and would not be considered poor. Similarly, some individuals
with higher education live in poverty and are not upper-class. Although Putnam
Book Review: McQuiggan
explains that income data is often “noisier” than is education data, with more errors and
missing data, the use of education as a measure of social class and the interchangeability
of language he uses throughout leaves room for skepticism.
In Chapter 2, Putnam dives into explaining how the families of upper-class and
lower-class children differ. Again, he begins with a narrative account of two vastly
different children. Andrew has extremely supportive, loving parents who strive to make
their children happy and successful, while Kayla has an absent mother and a family
plagued by crime, alcoholism, and failed marriages. The author explains how family
structures in America are moving away from the traditional two-parent, working father
household, but these divisions occur across class lines. He argues that, in the collegeeducated upper class, families still look relatively similar to the traditional family, but
generally now include a working mother. Putnam asserts that unwed births, divorce,
single parenting, and blended families disproportionately occur in the bottom third of
American families. He asserts that this difference has led to two very different tiers of
family structures. Putnam uses “scissor charts” in this chapter, a term he uses to describe
graphs that show the widening gaps between lower- and upper-class families (p.64).
The striking trends depicted in the graphs make an almost undeniable case for the
differences in family situations by class. Additionally, he considers competing theories
for the decline of the American family, including economic hardship, cultural changes,
and shifts in religious and political ideology. Finally, he concludes by discussing the
impacts of this two-tier family structure, providing a comprehensive review of how nontraditional families correlate with weakened life outcomes for children.
In the next chapter, the author explains the differing parenting styles between
upper- and lower-class families. He starts by contrasting the parenting styles of three
black families from Atlanta, likely to control for race in discussing family differences.
In these narratives, we see a wide continuum of parenting practices, from those very
engaged in their children’s education to those who abuse their children. Putnam asserts
class-based parenting differences not only exist among black families, but among
white families as well. After the individual accounts, Putnam shifts to discussing the
neuroscience research on the effects of early experiences on children’s development.
He summarizes findings about the importance of caring and cognitively stimulating
interactions with parents. Additionally, he notes the negative impacts of chronic stress,
poverty, and neglect on children’s outcomes. Putnam zooms out and explains how
parenting practices and children’s brain development link to social class. Upper-class
parents can invest more money and time in their children, including enrollment in
high-quality childcare. Again, Putnam’s review of the most renowned research on
child development, as well as his own analyses and graphs, makes a strong argument
for the link between social class and parenting styles. However, Putnam should have
acknowledged that these differences are generalizations; certainly some well-educated,
high-income parents are so busy that they neglect their children, leading to adverse
outcomes. Similarly, some lower-class parents invest substantial time to ensure their
own children fare better.
Chapter 4 discusses the schooling differences between upper- and lower-class
children. Similar to the other chapters, it begins with a narrative account to depict
Policy Perspectives / Volume 23
the class differences. Isabella, Lola, and Sofia are all Hispanic young women living
in Orange County, California. However, their experiences at Troy High School and
Santa Ana High School greatly differ. Consistently top-ranked nationally, Troy offers
a plethora of Advanced Placement (AP) classes and a distinguished science and
technology program, and 99 percent of students advance to college. Just miles away,
Santa Ana is located in a neighborhood combating drugs, crime, and violence, and
academics seem to be an afterthought. Putnam says that the “stark comparison between
them heightens our awareness of the many contrasting features of schools in rich
and poor communities today…” (p. 159). After providing this illustrative perspective,
Putnam explains that residential segregation by income leads students to attend schools
of varying levels of quality. Although Putnam nods to the differences in class offerings,
funding levels, and teacher quality, he generally downplays how schools may contribute
to the class gap. Rather, he asserts factors such as parent involvement, community
fundraising, peer pressure, and extracurricular involvement explain differences in
children’s school experiences. In sum, Putnam argues that schools do not widen class
gaps, they merely reflect differences in society. While some points of the chapter are
credible, such as data to showing low-income schools have more disciplinary problems
and fewer team sports, Putnam leaves the reader with questions. He leaves politics out
of the discussion, not explaining the causes of differential funding, teacher quality, and
extracurricular offerings between low- and high-income schools. Similarly, he attributes
school issues to the residential separation of low-income students, yet does not explain
the underlying political causes of housing segregation. However, Putnam takes an
uplifting stance at the end of the chapter in suggesting that even if schools are not causes
of opportunity gaps, they may be part of the solution. In the final chapter of the book
(discussed below), Putnam offers a plethora of school-based reforms for increasing
equality of opportunity, demonstrating that schools have the potential to be part of the
In Chapter 5, Putnam discusses how community factors differ among children
from lower- and upper-class backgrounds. This time, he contrasts the lives of two
Philadelphia single moms and their daughters. Specifically, the author describes the
girls in Lower Merion, a wealthy suburb, as having nannies, tutors, Ivy League classes,
and religious mentors. At the same time, the girls in Kensington, a poor inner-city
neighborhood, have lives impacted by drugs, crime, homelessness, and teen pregnancy.
Putnam acknowledges that even the wealthy family faced challenges, yet argues they
could deploy an “airbag” of private resources to ensure their children’s success (p.
210). Additionally, he underscores the importance of social networks, even though
society is becoming more individualistic (a main argument in Putnam’s prior book,
Bowling Alone). He connects the concept of social networks to children by using
data to show lower-class children have access to fewer mentors and live in areas with
less neighborhood trust. Putnam weaves these qualitative accounts, quantitative
analyses, and literature together to stress that communities have moved away from a
communal concern for all children in favor of a more self-interested approach, which
disproportionately affects poor youth.
Book Review: McQuiggan
In the first five chapters, Putnam explains the opportunity gap and uses families,
parenting, schools, and communities to show how experiences differ between lowerand upper-class children. In the final chapter, titled “What is to be done?” he suggests
that current social policies prevent others’ success. Putnam discusses a breadth
of reforms, including parental leave, center-based childcare, parental coaching,
mixed-income housing, more experienced teachers, more extracurricular activities,
community health and social services, vocational education, more adult mentoring,
and neighborhood revitalization. He cites examples of how each of these programs
has proven successful in the past and urges leaders to look for cost-effective ways to
expand these policies. Although it is easy to understand how each of these solutions
could reduce the opportunity gap, these ideas are not new. Therefore, the reader is left
wondering why these programs have not been widely implemented already. In order to
provide a comprehensive answer to “What is to be done?” a discussion on the political
and financial feasibility of these policies would have contributed to the book.
Overall, Our Kids is a timely, well-written, thorough, and eye-opening book.
It combines the fields of economics, psychology, neuroscience, public policy, and
history to argue it is increasingly difficult to achieve the American dream, particularly
for lower-class families. Putnam’s extensive use of data creates a highly persuasive
argument, and an abundance of research forms the foundation of his work. He
strives for transparency about his methods, frequently mentioning that many of the
studies cited are not randomized controlled experiments and correlation does not
equal causation. He also acknowledges the individuals’ stories in the book came from
convenience sampling and do not show all of the exceptions to lower and upper class
families’ lives.
The main limitations of the book exist in the narrative accounts and the final
chapter on policy solutions. The qualitative accounts capture the reader’s interest and
juxtapose the varying situations of upper- and lower-class families. However, they are
difficult to follow, especially when referred to in subsequent chapters. Putnam seeks
to help readers see “how the other half lives,” yet selecting extreme family examples
may have the reverse effect and reinforce stereotypes of poor and rich families’ lives
(p. 41). Putnam dedicates over 200 pages to make a convincing case for the growing
opportunity gap America. However, fewer than 20 pages describe potential solutions.
While he lists many suggestions about what is to be done, there is little explanation as to
how these policies should be accomplished.
Anyone interested in social, urban, or educational policy would enjoy this book for
its comprehensive and intriguing analyses. Putnam explains the economic, political,
and moral implications of class differences on society as a whole, including upper-class
individuals. He demonstrates that in order to restore upward mobility, everyone needs
to be invested in the well-being of all children. Therefore, Our Kids is a worthwhile,
though flawed, read for anyone interested in the social, economic, and political future of
our country.
Policy Perspectives / Volume 23
Pew Research Center. 2015. “The American Middle Class Is Losing Ground: No longer
the majority and falling behind financially.” Washington, D.C.: December.
Putnam R. D. (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.
New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
MEGHAN MCQUIGGAN is a first year Master of Public Policy
(MPP) student at the George Washington University where she is concentrating in
education policy and program evaluation. She earned a BS in Psychology and Urban
Studies from the University of Pittsburgh in 2014. Meghan currently works at the
American Institutes for Research (AIR) supporting the National Household Education
Survey (NHES) and Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). Professionally, she is
interested in developmental psychology, education policy, and survey methodology.
Meghan would like to thank the editorial team for their guidance in writing this review,
especially Associate Editor Callie McLean for her insightful feedback and comments
throughout the process. Meghan would also like to thank her professor and mentor
at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal, for piquing her interest
in children’s social policy issues. Finally, she would like to thank her bosses at AIR for
their continual support of her graduate school education and plentiful professional
development opportunities.

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