Parenting Styles & Socio-Economics

Socioeconomic status is one lens researchers use in looking at parenting styles. Socioeconomic status refers to a variety of factors including income, occupation and education 1. SES also influences a family's quality of life in terms of health, school districts, neighborhood safety and nutrition. Parenting styles are generally considered a helpful measure of child success, control exerted in parent-child relationship and communication techniques. Studies show a correlation between parenting styles and SES, which enables researchers to examine how gaps in SES affect children and society as a whole.

A Look at Parenting Styles

Psychologist Diana Baumrind initially listed three parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative and permissive. Other researchers added a fourth, the uninvolved parent. Authoritative parenting is generally seen as the most effective, and is marked by a high level of communication between parent and child, provides clear rules and is responsive to the child's needs. Authoritarian parents tend to have restrictive rules and do not explain those rules. The authoritarian parent is demanding of the child without being responsive to the child’s needs. The permissive parent is viewed as lenient, with few rules and few expectations over her child's self-control. The uninvolved parent provides for basic needs and little else in the child's life.

Parenting Styles Among Lower SES Families

Studies show that parents in lower socio-economic strata tend toward a more authoritarian or rigid style of parenting. The stressors that accompany lower economic status have been shown to negatively influence the emotional resources of the parent leading to less responsive, more punitive parenting. In turn, children are often negatively affected and are less likely to succeed in school and have a positive relationship with the parent. However, in some cases, families living in unsafe neighborhoods had a more positive connection among family members as they pulled together to focus on safety.

Parenting Styles Among Higher SES Families

The authoritative parenting style is more widely employed among parents with higher SES, resulting in a more responsive, more positive relationship with their children. Access to after school and educational resources encourages more discussion between parent and child when considering which activities to pursue. In the long term, this benefits the child by strengthening self-awareness and autonomy. Authoritative parenting leads to clear expectations of the child and this correlates with findings in higher SES families, particularly regarding school success.

Practical Applications

Outcomes from many studies on parenting styles and socioeconomic status highlight the negative impact chronic stress for families in lower socio-economic strata has on parents and children 13. The American Psychological Association recommends several practical applications for this information such as including such socio-economic information in published work and in research. They also encourage clinicians to take these SES factors into consideration in counseling clients and developing coping strategies. For parents, it is beneficial to look at the connection between parenting styles and attendant SES as a tool for self-reflection in understanding how some of their responses are formed and in making every day parenting choices.