Culture in the United States is a product of three separate factors which are socio-economic status, family dynamics, and level of education. Socioeconomic status is the position of an individual’s economic and social position in relation to others, on a hierarchal scale that is determined by measurements of such factors as educational level, income, occupation, place of residence, or a composite of these dimensions. Socio- economic status is often used a predictor and indicator for a variety of positive and negative health and social outcomes, and is often used as a benchmark for investigating social or health inequalities. Socioeconomic status is interrelated to family dynamics and educational attainment level. Recent research has investigated the relationships between socioeconomic status and social outcomes including early morbidity, high school SAT scores, and family parenting styles (Hannon, 2015; Galliot, 2014; Dixon-Roman, 2013). Common themes in the conclusions of the studies reinforces the strong relationship between income, class, education and family dynamics on an individuals cultural success.
The relationship between SAT scores and family socioeconomic status and income has been the subject of recent research that examines data released by the College Board on SAT scores and reported family income. There is a strong positive correlation between income and test scores. Surprisingly, the largest test score increase occurred between families with incomes of $160,000, and incomes of $200,000. Academic researchers analyzed family dynamics, academic culture and expectations, access to quality education, and even nutritional deficiencies as possible explanations (Hannon, 2015; Galliot, 2014; Dixon-Roman, 2013). In the media, journalists investigated the role of expensive SAT prep classes, which promise admission to the Ivy League (Waldman 2014). Others blamed the structure of the SAT test, as biased against students from minority and lower socioeconomic status families, claiming “these four charts show how the SAT favors rich, educated families” (Goldfarb, 2014). The data does show that individuals with higher socioeconomic status have better opportunities to attend a selective university. In fact, income, education and socioeconomic status are intertwined as predictors of success. An individuals cultural and socioeconomic status plays a large role in increasing the likelihood of positive sociological outcomes, or cultural success, including lack of incarceration, obtaining higher education or job training, economic independence, good health, and a stable family life. Culture in the United States is a product of three separate factors which are socio-economic status, family dynamics, and level of education.
Socioeconomic Status (SES)
The first factor the influences an individuals likelihood of cultural success is socioeconomic status, which is the position of an individual’s economic and social position in relation to others, on a hierarchal scale that is determined by measurements of such factors as educational level, income, occupation, place of residence, or a composite of these dimensions. Socioeconomic status (SES) is often used a predictor and indicator for a variety of positive and negative health and social outcomes, and is often used a as a benchmark for investigating social or health inequalities. People with lower socioeconomic status are more likely to drop out of high school, be incarcerated and engage in criminal activity, have poor health, rely on governmental public assistance, have children out of wedlock, experience long period of unemployment, live in a cycle of poverty, and die at an earlier than average age.
More recently, Pudrovksa (2014) used Wisconsin Longitudinal Study information to tracked ten thousand Wisconsin subjects to see if SES at age 18, had an observable effect on health at 72. Subjects with higher SES lived an average of six years longer than lower SES subjects (Pudrovska, 2014, p. 190). The sociological explanations for this relationship vary but focus on socioeconomic health disparities, and a lack of access to quality health care information and care for lower SES subjects. Similar to the relationship between high SAT scores and high income, researchers are unable to definitively concluded why lower SES subjects die younger, but a number of common sense explanations include both behavioral and societal explanations, which may contribute to early mortality for low SES subjects. Culturally, all individuals and families want to live long and healthy lives, however, the populations with lower SES have more negative health risk factors and health outcomes (Winkleby, Jatulis, et. al, 1992).
Family dynamics are also linked to culture and positive social outcomes. Members of a family interact and support each other in response to their individual goals and preferences. To be healthy and cohesive, family members balance their personal interests, lifestyles and resources with the best interests of the unit. This is how family dynamics – the way family members interact – influences an individuals culture.
Families are cultural, economic, and emotional units. According to Murray Brown, in Family Therapy in Clinical Practice (1993), “families are systems of interconnected and interdependent individuals, none of whom can be understood in isolation from the system” (p. 11). Dr. Brown argued that many macro-level societal problems were caused by dysfunctional families and individuals having poor social outcomes because they lacked positive family support.
In contrast, some recent research has focused on what kind of family dynamics encourage high levels of individual achievement and positive social outcomes. One study examines the role of parenting style on improving an individuals life chances, and argues that “concentrated cultivation” or a strict and supportive parenting style is increasing common and successful in families raising middle class black children. (Vincent, Ball & Rollack, 2013). Parenting style is the manner in which parents raise their children, and involves expectation levels, performance demands, attentiveness to rules, accountability, and punishment styles (Hannon, 2015). Parenting styles range from highly authoritarian to a hippy, anything goes sytle, and are closely aligned to SES. It could be considered a structural part of family dynamics and a social mechanism within the family unit. Vincent, Ball & Rollack (2013) investigated why black middle class children from Caribbean heritage families perform better in school, and have higher SES indicators than other black students. Their theory is that a tradition of “concerted cultivation,” which involves constant, careful supervision, guidance, support and seeing “the child as a project with skills and talents to be fostered and developed” (Vincent, Ball & Rollack, 2013, p. 337). Their thesis is similar to a sociological standards and educational phenomena seen in the Asian American community. A “Tiger Mom” is a term used to describe an Asian mother with very high expectations and a strong involvement and control over their child’s academic and social life (Kohler, Aldridge, et. al, 2012). Some sociological and educational researchers have focused on how different cultural backgrounds construct parenting styles and look at academic expectations and performance. Family dynamics play an important role in how an individual interacts with the educational system. It is clear Supportive families with high educational expectations encourage students to reach higher levels of education attainment (Kohler, Aldridge, et. al, 2012).
Level of Education
Along with SES and family dynamics, high educational success and attainment have been attributed to family background and a culture of learning and reading in households. There is a clearly a close relationship between SES, family and education. Recent research has focused on how race/ethnicity, gender and family composition play a role in educational attainment (Everett, Rogers, et. al, 2011). The authors focus on disparities in education, and the effects of social class to identify “vulnerable populations” that have limited educational opportunities and attainment. A long term study looking at U.S. National Health Interview Survey data between 1989 and 2005, the authors concluded that women have enjoyed increased educational attainment during the period; while Mexican-American immigrants have consistently low educational attainment (Everett, Rogers, et. al, 2011, p. 1543). The study examines if SES differences are associated with decreased educational attainment and if there are any unique relationships between cultural, gender, racial/ethnic and SES backgrounds and positive educational outcomes. There is not much surprising information in this study, it reinforces many of the themes and conclusions that are explored in much of the research involving SES and cultural factors relationship with increased educational attainment, and increased standard of living. Individuals from higher SES status families, with family support that involves high expectations, are more likely to pursue and complete higher education (Everett, Rogers, et. al, 2011).
Without education, it is impossible for individuals to be socioeconomically successful. Some researchers believe the educational system is unfair, and is used to reinforce class structures and maintain societal stratification. have studied educational attainment in the US as a form of social reproduction and stratification. Pierre Bourdieu looked at social capital and class networks, arguing that education was not equally accessible for a reason. Higher education, and high paying careers in particular, were reserved for the elite, who had more social and cultural capital. The lower classes were socialized for service position and manual labor (Bourdieu, 1990). From his perspective, defined in Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture (1990), SES is relatively static, and resources and capital associated with higher education and wealthy were deliberately inaccessible to large segments of the population. His argument reinforces the importance and codependence of education on SES.
The word culture is used by anthropologists, sociologists, and educational researchers to describe a variety of social processes. In high SES families and schools, there is a “culture of excellence.” In many inner-city neighborhoods there is a “culture of poverty,” and “culture of violence.” Anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor acknowledged the complexity of defining culture, calling it the “complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society" (Tylor, 1871, p. 6). The three factors of culture - SES, family dynamics, and educational level – are so closely intertwined that it is impossible to analyze them separately. Together, they play a role in determining how “good” a persons life can be; or what opportunities they have, and the likelihood that they will be successful. They are the “panopoly of circumstances that define the quality and character of our social lives” (Weeden& Grusky, 2005, p. 230). Education, health, wealth, and family are parts of the human existence that can contribute to a healthy and successful culture. Negative social outcomes are often grounded in a cultural environment with low SES, lack of educational opportunities and attainment, and dysfunctional family dynamics (Dixon-Roman, Everson & McArdle, 2013). These can range from dropping out of high school to dying at a young age from heart disease. The link between the three factors of culture is often direct. By attaining higher education, and better employment opportunities, an individual can have a higher SES. They are then better able to financially support a family, and supervise the education of their children, which continues a positive cultural cycle of success. A higher standard of living creates increased opportunity to enjoy and participate in cultural activities, from art to literature or sports; which can increase health outcomes. High income is highly correlated with higher levels of educational attainment. The positive and negative links are easily identifiable. The research shows that low SES is associated with a variety of social and individual problems, including early death, which clearly inhibits cultural development. Overall, research shows that education and family support can increase an individuals life chances, create better individual social outcomes, and raise their SES.
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