The Costs of Being Upper Middle Class

I want to read more about this researcher’s work, but this newspaper article on relatively high levels of distress among affluent youth caught my eye.

The researcher, Suniya Luthar, says that

upper-middle-class adolescents reported far more incidents of substance abuse, anxiety and depression than those in inner cities and the general American teen population.

She tells the reporter that it has been hard to find funding for her research, because few people think that the problems of rich kids are worth studying.

Ellen Brantlinger made similar points in her poignant case studies of “the winners” in high school who fared less well as young adults in Dividing Classes.

There are at least two things at work here that intrigue me:

First is the tendency of the press and academic community to local psycho-social problems primarily within “at risk” kids in poor and working class homes, in spite of how often studies like this show otherwise.

But second, is that the “problems of rich kids” are part of the story of how class works in America. We talk too little about the ways in which intensified competition for too few opportunities affect kids trying just to get in the game, but we’ve hardly talked at all about the costs for kids trying to hold their places there.

We can’t understand class without understanding both.

I wrote in a an article a few years ago about how seldom educational researchers “study up” to the upper-middle classes or the wealthy.

In part, I suspect, the children of powerful families are more protected from the scrutiny of researchers than are kids in poor and working class schools.

But I wonder, also, whether we’ve even been interested in what we might find there beyond the high test scores? Even as we insist that test scores can’t capture the full educational experiences of kids on the margins, do we have a lot more to learn about what lurks beneath the accomplishments of the poster children of achievement in upper-middle class schools?

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