Socioeconomic status describes and encompasses your level of education, work opportunities, income, the area you live in, and your mental health. This affects how you build a relationship with your child and discipline them, with the poorest in society typically having less time available to spend with their children.
You may be wondering whether the way we parent our children is affected by our socioeconomic status. After all, parenting doesn’t equate to money or class, right? However, the matter is more complicated than just what’s in your bank account.
How true is it that your socioeconomic status will affect how you raise your child? And do those who have the advantage of wealth really make better parents? Let’s unpack the effects of socioeconomic status on parenting styles.
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Does Socioeconomic Status Affect Parenting Styles?
Whether you plan to have a baby or not, parenting will be significantly impacted by your circumstances. Raising children in abject poverty or extreme wealth not only makes the experience of parenting wildly different, but also affects how parents engage with their children. Let’s unpack what this means to determine whether parenting styles are influenced by socioeconomic status.
What is Socioeconomic Status and Does It Affect Parenting Styles?
Socioeconomic status refers to the class, economic status, and sociological place in which a person finds themselves. A combination of all these factors can see one person living in the worst socioeconomic environment, meaning they live in an impoverished area with little access to essential resources such as education, health care, work opportunities, and/or safety.
On the other hand, someone may be born into a socioeconomic environment where those things are not a problem and resources are abundant enough to make life easier. The vast differences between people on either side of the spectrum set the tone for eventual parenting styles.
While those in the upper echelons of society have a more carefree existence, in that they aren’t focused on the fear of not knowing where their next meal comes from or where they will sleep at night, those in the lower reaches experience more stress, higher anxiety rates, and may deal with more mental health issues. Naturally, this affects how they parent.
Here are some observable differences that impact parenting styles between those in opposing socioeconomic groupings:
- Education: Parental education levels may vary wildly, with those from more privileged backgrounds often afforded high-quality, private education, access to college or university, and generally more opportunities to study. Research shows that those with higher levels of education tend to manage to parent easier and with fewer stressors. Those who live in financially unstable or impoverished communities often have to make do with public school systems and fewer opportunities for further studies after school. Many may not be able to finish school as they could be required to drop out and assist with earning an income. This is not to say that it is impossible to overcome an impoverished upbringing and gain higher education, just that it is significantly more difficult and less likely.
- Earning an income: Finding work that pays a decent salary is generally easier and more likely for those who have completed post-secondary schooling and obtained a degree, diploma, or apprenticeship. A good wage takes a great deal of stress out of the equation for raising children. Parenting poses a much bigger challenge for those who struggle to pay bills or find stable employment due to a lack of qualifications or when the only jobs available are low-wage, menial jobs due to their lack of education/experience. Raising children isn’t cheap, and not having the resources to provide for your child is undoubtedly a significant factor in parenting styles.
- Demographics: Your home and area of residence also influence your ability to parent and how you approach the concept of parenting. For those who reside in areas where poverty and crime are rife, raising children will look very different to those who don’t have to be concerned about their physical safety, or that of their children, daily.
- Mental health: Parenting poses a much more significant challenge for those who have dealt with their own trauma. Research indicates that impoverished communities have a higher rate of domestic violence, abuse, rape, and serious crimes. These issues naturally find their way into parenting styles, too.
- Health care and nutrition: Once again pertaining to opportunities, those struggling to make ends meet will not have the same free and easy access to general health care, prenatal and post-birth care, and even family planning. Research has found that women having children in impoverished circumstances are often younger, have more children, and have fewer resources than those who have the luxury of planning to have a child when it suits them.
The Effect Of Socioeconomic Status On Relationships
Relationships are at the core of parenting – not just relationships between parent and child, but also between both of the parents and amongst parents and their support structure. These relationships are also affected by socioeconomic differences:
- Parental figures: Research has shown that many babies born into lower-income families are born into single-parent households. Young single mothers find themselves having to raise children on their own or enlisting the help of a family member to assist while they are at work to earn an income.
By contrast, wealthier families may enlist nannies or au pairs to assist, or they may have the luxury of one (or both) being a stay-at-home parent who spends much more time with their children. Quality time spent between a parent and child vastly impacts the strength and integrity of bonding and attachment.
That being said, it is often noted how those in the top reaches of the socioeconomic spectrum are overly career-focused or socially oriented. They are not present for their children either, instead paying nannies to do the hard work and spend quality time with their children as they pursue promotions and raises at work.
- Parental participation: Following on the point above, those who are less able to spend time with their children due to having to work (often more than one job to make ends meet) also are less involved in their children’s education. Being able to spend time doing homework with your child is less possible if you are working full days and only getting home after your children are asleep.
The same goes for discovering and investing in – or sharing – your child’s interests and hobbies. Research has also shown that poorer households share housekeeping responsibilities such as cleaning, cooking, and looking after other siblings. Those with more financial freedom may never have to do any of these things and will, instead, have that time to devote to developing and honing hobbies, interests, and skills.
- Discipline will also look very different depending on your lifestyle. Barring the fact that primary disciplinarians can vary from parents to grandparents to aunts or uncles raising the child, it is also tough to ‘remove privileges’ as a form of discipline when there aren’t many privileges, to begin with.
For those with more resources, it may be an effective discipline method to ground your child from their TV, Xbox, or cellphone, but those who have no access to these things have to find other ways to discipline. Additionally, parents who are not present at all will offer no direct discipline for their children, which is not a positive thing either.
- Leisure time: This may be a luxury only to those in the middle and upper classes of society. It is a fact that poorer communities see younger children working part-time jobs to contribute to the family or having to take care of younger siblings so their parents (s) can work a second job. At the same time, those who are better off have the luxury of extra-curricular, hobbies, or simply having downtime.
Similarly, parents who don’t have any downtime either may be more stressed out and less present in their children’s lives.
- Trust and dealing with conflict: The result of a good relationship is trust and mutual respect, and as is often the case in impoverished communities where parents themselves are working all the time while family members raise the children (or even wealthy families who are career-oriented and have less time for parenting), this bond isn’t as strong.
This lack of trust naturally affects how conflicts are resolved, and for families that are closely bonded, issues are often dealt with in more productive ways.
- Help and support: Getting help and emotional support in parenting is much easier if you have the resources and the time to do so. For those forced to work long hours to make ends parenting with guidance and support is much harder.
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Socioeconomic status, including; class, education, work opportunities, and access to resources, is a vital component in predicting how children will be parented. It is much easier to be present in your child’s life when you are not struggling to provide the essentials, like shelter and food.
That being said, being well off or at least financially stable does not automatically mean you parent better. There are many instances where financially driven parents aren’t present in their children’s lives either. However, building a solid relationship with your child is undoubtedly much easier if you are in a fortunate position not to be struggling to make ends meet.
After earning his Master of Social Work from the University of Toronto, Stuart gained experience working with families in community mental health settings and in the child protection sector. Since becoming a father himself, Stuart now works in private practice offering psychotherapy services. FatherResource is an opportunity for Stuart to share what he learns on his journey as a father with a larger audience.