Writing in the Observer recently, the writer and academic Richard Reeves challenged well-off parents in the US to acknowledge their role in hoarding opportunity for their own children at the expense of those from poorer families.
Reeves, who was born in England and was former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg’s director of strategy, suggests this hoarding of wealth and social capital means “the American class system is functioning more ruthlessly than the British one I escaped”.
Reeves argues that among the US’s top 20% – and not just the infamous top 1% – parents are suppressing social mobility by using their resources to give their own kids a leg-up in life. “Our natural preference for the welfare and prospects of our own children does not automatically eclipse other moral claims,” Reeves reminds us, adding that:
Opportunity hoarding does not result from the workings of a large machine but from the cumulative effect of individual choices and preferences. Taken in isolation, they may feel trivial: nudging your daughter into a better college with a legacy preference [giving applicants places on the basis of being related to alumni of the college]; helping the son of a professional contact to an internship.
So where should we draw the line? Reeves offers an example:
We would look kindly on a father who helps his son get picked as starting pitcher for his school baseball team by practising with him every day after work. But we would probably feel differently about a father who secures the slot for his son by bribing the coach. Why? After all, each father has sacrificed something, time in one case, money in the other, to advance his child. The difference is team selection should be based on merit, not money. A principle of fairness is at stake.
But is it possible to exercise our natural desire to help our children without harming the chances of someone else’s? Is opportunity a zero-sum game? And how much influence do you really have?
If you’re a parent anywhere in the world – or even if you’re not – we’d like to hear from you about the choices you’ve made, or one day intend to make, on behalf of your children. Given the choice of giving your kids a leg-up in life, were you (or will you be) still willing to expose them to a level playing field? Do you worry you’re entrenching inequality if you secure a spot for your children at an exclusive school, or use a contact to get your child a work internship?
Please use the form below to share your experiences and thoughts, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org