HBCU Money™ B-School: Head Start Assets

Thomas Shapiro uses the term head-start assets to refer to the assets that children can inherit from their parents that give them a “head-start” in life when compared to individuals who do not have these head-start assets. A good example of a head-start asset would be an inheritance that a child receives from his or her parents which gives them the amount of money required to put a down payment on a home. “This is a quick way of identifying families that might potentially receive large enough financial assistance to transform biographies, improve their class standing, and attain advantages for at least one child” says Shapiro. In order to examine the trends in head-start assets and inheritances between whites and African-Americans Shapiro used data from the Panel Study on Income Dynamics from the year 1984 to 1999. When examining head-start assets along racial lines, whites are 2.4 times more likely than blacks to have parents with substantial wealth resources that can be used to give them an advantage in life. Data also reveal that among white families who received an inheritance the amount received averages at $76,000, while the average inheritance received by African-Americans was $31,000. Even when African-Americans are lucky enough to receive some sort of a head-start endowment they are receiving, on average, less than half of what the average white person gets. A lower-income individual fortunate enough to receive a substantial inheritance from their parents at some point in their life will also have the opportunity to escape the debt trap that many low-income families experience in the United States today. Because people who live on low yearly income must resort to credit to finance a great deal of their purchases they often fall short on payments and fall into a perpetual cycle of constant debt that may last their entire lives. A substantial inheritance would enable such an individual to clear their debt and allow them to chance to possibly focus the investment of their earnings on cultivating the growth of human capital in their children.

One such advantage that an individual who receives these head-start assets can enjoy is in the form of enhanced cultural capital. “Cultural capital refers to an understanding of what gives a person advantages or disadvantages in school, business, and social situations” (Shapiro 66). Those individuals fortunate enough to inherit a substantial amount of money and propel themselves into a class above the one in which they are currently a member gain the associated higher levels of cultural capital that go along with belonging to a higher social class. For instance, an inheritance that allows a family to move from a neighborhood with a poorer public school to one with a more well-endowed school and reap the benefits in cultural capital from the greater range of extracurricular activities that are offered. The structured extracurricular activities that are absent in schools with low funding and present in schools with high funding provide students with structure in their lives and also the opportunity to interact with other adults and learn important social skills that may benefit them later in life. Those children without access to such programs lack the opportunity to develop certain forms of social and cultural capital that would have otherwise helped them to advance their status in their future. Low-income families who do not receive these head-start assets do not have the opportunity to develop the cultural capital that is necessary to advance oneself to a higher status later in life.

Relating back to intergenerational mobility, it is easy to discern that this type of pattern that is becoming more and more evident in recent decades has the overall effect of further solidifying one’s class and status position throughout life. Individuals who come from wealthy families will continue to get head-start assets while those from poorer families will continue not to. The effect of this is an overall decrease in intergenerational mobility, especially for low-income African-Americans who, on average, have much worse prospects concerning head-start assets and inheritance.

Source: Hidden Cost of Being African American with explanation provided via Wiki contributor.

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