Are rich kids better off overall?

Linda Nielsen, one of the professors who presented research at the International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017, talked about critical analysis of shared parenting studies. Outcomes for children of separated or divorced parents in shared parenting (the Nordic researchers define this as 50/50 time, but most American researchers call any split of 35/65 to 50/50 “shared”) are better than for children who spend more than 65 percent of their time with just one parent. But perhaps this is because, at least in the U.S. where shared parenting has typically required agreement by the parents, the parents who do agree tend to have a higher income.

Nielsen looked at 27 studies where the income of the parents was available and determined that higher income for children in shared parenting does not explain the superior outcomes. Why is this believable? Nielsen said that if you look at the same metrics for children in intact families, excluding those in poverty, there are “not strong links between family income and children’s emotional, behavioral, and psychological well-being. In fact, richer kids may do worse.” Nielsen noted that the parent-child relationship, in particular, may be worse with children in wealthier families.

When we were kids in the 1970s (black and white TV, no Facebook, glaciers still covering most of North America, etc.), it was folk-wisdom that rich kids tended to be neglected by their parents, who were busy with cocktail parties at the country club, kid-free ski trips to Colorado, etc. They had their own rooms, sometimes with their own TVs (color!), and typically a car on their 16th birthdays (this was so long ago that teenagers actually got off their butts and learned to drive!). We envied them for their material prosperity, but would have conjectured that they were, on average, worse off.

With rage over inequality being, well, the current rage, the assumption seems to be that rich kids are actually better off. Thurston Howell V is getting his Mandarin lessons, the elite private school, and entry into a fancy college (see Elizabeth Holmes, of Theranos fame, as a real-world example).

Readers: Whom should we believe? The New York Times and the Zeitgeist? Or the research psychology professor and her data?


7 thoughts on “Are rich kids better off overall?

  1. From reference in the post “business selling C++ compilers to Chinese universities” Wow. What happened to free g++? Or steep MS student discounts? And very common free educational licensing?
    Based on what I observed I would go with the professor but than again what is the measure of success? Is young disturbed Wall Street clerk paid a lot for his/her connections worse off content and high achieving mechanical engineer who are paid regular amounts?

  2. “With rage over inequality being, well, the current rage, the assumption seems to be that rich kids are actually better off.”

    Greater material wealth has both advantages and disadvantages. It’s plausible that beyond a certain point (how many fancy cell phones can you have?), the benefits level off, while the costs (e.g. less parent-child time) may still be increasing.

    Of course that’s exactly the justification for progressive income taxes: if rich kids aren’t any better off, having their parents pay more taxes isn’t going to make them worse off.

  3. As always, reality isn’t black and white, and it depends on how you construct that argument. From what you quote, rich kids are not better off compared to… well, whom? The middle class? Then, if what you quote is correct, then apparently it’s not the NY Times.

    But the professor says «if you look at the same metrics for children in intact families, *excluding those in poverty*, [the outcomes are the same] ». But nothing is said about the fact that:
    – The poverty rate increased from 11% in 2000 to 15% in 2010, remaining at that level until 2014. [1]
    – «In 2014, 30.6 percent of households headed by single women were poor, while 15.7 percent of households headed by single men and 6.2 percent of married-couple households lived in poverty.» [2]

    What is the effect of Inequality in poverty? And what is the effect of inequality in the intactness of families? «Income inequality and relative poverty in the United States are among the highest in the OECD and have significantly increased over the last four decades.» [3] Also, inequality correlates highly with intactness of families, but the causal relationship is undetermined, so is it possible that inequality and poverty have been leading to more single-parent families?

    And then, what is better outcome? According to your quote, “not strong links between family income and children’s emotional, behavioral, and psychological well-being. In fact, richer kids may do worse.” Ok. But surely the rich live longer, e.g. «Men in the top 1% of the income distribution had an expected age of death of 87.3 years, which is 14.6 years longer than those in the bottom 1%.» [4]

    So, both the professor and the NY Times may be right, depending on how you frame your claims.

    [1] –
    [2] –
    [3] –
    [4] –

  4. Maybe the human condition is to want what we don’t have: fancy stuff for the poor, doting parents for the rich. Once these are achieved a new need is found as source of unhappiness and the process restarts. There was a dude at some point in the past that looked into that…

  5. Federico,

    I totally agree with that observation. We are amazingly better off these days and also more unhappy about virtually everything. Someone wore the wrong Halloween costume? Outrage. Maybe when people got Polio regularly, could possibly die from child birth and were burying their relatives every other week we learned to shut up and just appreciate what life we were given.

    I think a new facet of the unhappiness is the push to feel virtuous via virtue signaling. Gotta raise awareness about something! Gotta be against anything bad!

  6. Rich parents are busy with work and activities, and nannies to take care of the kids. So I would expect shared parenting to more helpful at low and middle incomes.

  7. “Rich” means urban in the modern context. They’re talking about university credentials gauntlets. Urban kids are increasingly racked with auto-immune diseases, myopia, and shorter stature, even rich ones. And apparently also psychological conditions requiring medication. The best upbringing for a child would make him tall and strong and physically energetic and without glasses. The distinction between growing up in a $2mm house vice a $115k house is relatively low here. It’s about nutrition, low stress, and exposure to nature and physical challenge. Being the child of a rich Manhattanite in this era is probably a worse fate than being born to pill poppers in west virginia in a lot of ways.

Comments are closed.