Class Notes: Parents are worried about their sons, falling college enrollment, and more

People walk on the esplanade of La Defense, in the financial and business district, west of Paris, France, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau - RC1B9BB86D30
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This week in Class Notes:

    • Higher-income families are snapping up Child Tax Credits while lower-income families—the “progressive” policy’s ideal beneficiaries—are often ineligible to receive it.
    • Dads spend more time with boys than girls when they are first born, but more time with their girls by the time they are five years old.
    • Grandparents play a key role in supporting their grandchildren, especially if they are raised by single or cohabiting parents.
    • This week’s top chart shows that college enrollment rates are falling—especially among male students.
    • Middle- and upper-middle-class Americans are a barrier to progressive tax reform; Christopher Faircy argues it’s time to outgrow our “fiscal adolescence.”
    • Check out our new piece, “Americans are more worried about their sons than their daughters.”
    • Tell us what being in the middle class means to you by submitting a short video!

Who benefits from the child tax credit?

Tax credits are an integral element of the American social safety net, and cash transfers are known to have a positive effect on children’s health and education. The Child Tax Credit, which grants eligible families $2,000 per child under 17, is aimed at providing relief to low-income families with children. But many low-income families are ineligible to receive the credit. Using Current Population Survey data, Jacob Goldin and Katherine Michelmore analyze eligibility based on race, income, and family structure. Despite the credit’s progressive mission, the majority of families in the bottom income decile are not eligible to receive it, while almost all families in the top half are. The differences by race are striking: three in four white and Asian children are eligible for the entire credit, compared to only half of Hispanic and Black children.

Does race or a child’s gender or impact the time their dad spends with them?

Does a child’s gender impact how much time their dad spends with them? Yes, but it depends on the child’s age. Jinhee Lee studies the time dads spend with their sons and daughters throughout their early childhood using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS). Fathers spend less time overall with their young children when they are five than when they’re first born, regardless of their child’s gender. But in the first year, fathers are more engaged with their sons than their daughters. The script flips by the time children turn five—dads become more engaged with their daughters than their sons. The time-use trend differs by race, however; Asian dads spend less time overall with their children than white or Black dads, and comparatively more time with their sons than daughters.

Grandparents’ role in raising kids

As children become less likely to live with married parents, grandparents become more likely to chip in. Teresa Cooney analyzes the Add Health Parent Study results and finds a shift in grandparental assistance trends: in the 1980s and 1990s, grandparents were more likely to help their married children than their cohabitating and single children. Since then, cohabiting and single parents became more likely to receive extended-family support, and their children have benefitted the most. Among the most likely to receive help from grandma and grandpa? Cohabiting mothers. While grandparents are willing to provide more instrumental and financial support, they are less close emotionally to their unmarried children, compared to married children.

Top chart: College enrollment rates down, with stark gender gap

This week’s top chart from the National Student Clearinghouse shows a drop in undergraduate enrollment for Fall 2020, with a decline in male enrollment three times greater than female enrollment.

Undergrad enrollment changes by gender and age

Choice opinion: The American Dream is tax reform’s biggest obstacle

“There are no bigger supporters of the current tax system than the exemplars of the American dream: middle-class and upper-middle-class families living in large homes, with multiple children and employment-based insurance. We find in our analysis that these characteristics — more than partisanship, ideology or political values—predict strong support for a range of the most expensive and regressive subsidies in the tax code. This support is politically weighty since this group also votes, donates and volunteers on a consistent basis…. If we want policymakers to create a fairer tax code, we must outgrow our prolonged fiscal adolescence. We must stop acting like any increase to our taxes—whether through a reduction in tax breaks, or a slight increase to marginal rates—is a bigger threat than climate change, a crumbling national infrastructure, or an inadequate public health system,” argues Christopher Faricy for the New York Times.

Self-promotion: Americans are more worried about their sons than their daughters

Gender equity is a top-of-mind issue for politicians and parents alike; women face obstacles in accessing reproductive health care, inadequate compensation, and endure gendered harassment. But Americans are more worried about their sons than their daughters. In our latest piece, Richard Reeves and I dive into the 2019 American Family Survey results and find that almost all subgroups of Americans—gender, political affiliation, etc.—are more concerned about boys’ futures than girls’. Parents think their sons are less gritty than their daughters, and that their sons are less able to be president, too (pretty stunning, given that the U.S. has never elected a female president). Many of these concerns are legitimate, and more work needs to be done to ensure boys have a bright future: “There are a lot of feminists out there still fighting for women’s rights, but also worrying about their sons—both for good reason.” (We have some work brewing on this topic ourselves).

Call for videos: What does it mean to be in the middle class?

The Future of the Middle Class Initiative is looking for one-minute video submissions, introducing yourself (first name only) and answering one or more of the following questions:

  • What does being in the middle class mean to you?
  • How has being middle class shaped your identity?
  • What is the most important issue facing the middle class today?

Please submit your videos to [email protected] by November 2, 2020. Your video could be featured in a public Brookings event highlighting voices from the American middle class on November 17, 2020. Check out our tips for at-home recording, and feel free to film with a cell phone—just make sure you hold your phone horizontally.