I

n this book I rely on information collected during in-depth interviews with ninety-three parents.11 asked parents to answer a series of questions about the two main issues of concern in this research: first, parenting practices and, second, attitudes toward and use of various new technologies of connection, constraint, and surveillance. In addition, I asked parents to answer questions about what worries, difficulties, and satisfactions they encounter as they raise their children today and to compare those with the worries, difficulties, and satisfactions they believe their own parents faced. I also asked some broader questions that were designed to shed light on motivations for parenting practices: for example, “What do you think are the greatest problems facing parents today?” “Do you think it is important to raise children within a religion of some sort or another?” and “Do you think there is too much surveillance in the United States today?”

I was interested in how parents across the country and parents from a vari­ety of demographic groups would respond to these questions. In order to gain access to this broad range of respondents, I hired a team of research assistants to conduct interviews in places with which I was less familiar and to which I might not have ready access. Nine of these interviewers were young men and women who had very recently been my undergraduate students; one was a woman who had been my student several years before, another was a woman who had been my student over a decade before, and another was an adult friend trained as a speech pathologist. Among the relatively recent students, five were teaching through subsidized programs such as Teach for America and Teach Kentucky. Several of these individuals conducted interviews in both their hometowns and in the places where they were working. In the latter sites, they drew on colleagues and friends as well as the parents of children in the schools where they were teaching. All but two of the interviewers were women.

Although hiring others to conduct interviews often results in the loss of appropriate follow-up to questions of interest, the reverse can be the case as well: some of the interviewers had broader interests than I did and were quick

to pick up on interesting issues I might have overlooked. In addition, these particular interviewers had access to populations with whom I might have had a far more difficult time establishing rapport. These populations include African American mothers in inner-city Philadelphia; Hispanics living in San Antonio, Texas; and whites living in rural (and semiurban) Kentucky.

Respondent Characteristics

Although only a relatively small proportion of the respondents are given pseudonyms in the text, the majority of those who were interviewed are men­tioned in other ways (e. g., with the use of quotes or as examples). An over­view of the entire sample of respondents is provided in table A. i. Altogether, four-fifths of the sample are women; a similar proportion of respondents are partners in heterosexual married couples.2 Among those who indicated race/ ethnicity on a brief questionnaire that respondents were asked to complete after the interview, 70 percent identified themselves as being white, 16 percent as black or African American, 10 percent as Hispanic, and 4 percent as Asian American. The parents ranged in age from thirty-one to fifty-nine; the aver­age age was forty-seven, and the median was somewhat lower, at forty-six.

TABLE A. I

Sample Characteristics

Gender

Working Class and Middle Class

Professional Middle Class

Total

Female

88%

66%

79%

Male

13%

34%

21%

Total

IOI%

IOO%

100%

(N)

(57)

(3b)

(93)

Marital Status

Divorced

7%

0%

4%

Married

76%

84%

79%

Single

13%

13%

13%

Widowed

4%

3%

4%

Total

100%

IOO%

100%

(N)

(57)

(36)

(93)

TABLE A. I

Sample Characteristics (continued)

Race/Ethnicity

Working Class and Middle Class

Professional Middle Class

Total

Black/African

American

17%

14%

16%

White

70%

71%

70%

Hispanic

13%

4%

IO%

Asian

0%

11%

4%

Total

100%

IOO%

100%

(N)

(57)

(36)

(93)

Age

Median age

44

48

46

Mean age

45

49

47

Median age

at first birth

28

Зі

29

Mean age at

first birth

27

Зі

30

Number of Children

I

24%

3%

16%

2

43%

56%

48%

3 or more

33%

41%

36%

Total

100%

100%

100%

(N)

(57)

(3 6)

(93)

Mean

2.3

2.4

2.4

Median

2

2

2

TABLE A. I

Sample Characteristics (continued)

Working Class Professional income and Middle Class Middle Class Total

Less than

17%

7%

14%

$50,000

$50,000-

33%

26%

30%

$99,000

$100,000-

26%

15%

22%

$149,000

$150,000 or

24%

52%

34%

more

Total

100%

IOO%

100%

(N)

(4b)

(27)

(73)

Education

Working

Class

Middle

Class

Professional Middle Class Total

High school or less

12%

3%

Some college or associate’s degree

88%

23%

Bachelor’s degree

IOO%

35%

Graduate degree

IOO%

39%

Total

100%

IOO%

IOO%

100%

(N)

(24)

(ЗЗ)

(36)

(93)

Approximately half the respondents said that they live in a suburban area; another 29 percent said that they live in an urban area, and one-fifth live in either a small town or a rural area. The vast majority of those who were inter­viewed own their own home—only n percent are renters.

On average, the interviewed parents have 2.4 children; the median num­ber of children is 2.0. All but 13 percent of the parents have at least one child who is a teenager; one-quarter of the parents have at least one child who has passed beyond her or his teen years as well as a teenager still living at home.

With regard to both income and education, the sample is a relatively privi­leged one. Only 14 percent of all parents have an annual household income of less than $50,000, and one-third of the parents have incomes over $150,000. In 2005, the median income for all U. S. families with children under eighteen was $56,886, and the mean was $74,037.3

As noted in the introduction, I divide the sample into three subgroups: I identify as working class those whose education does not include a bach­elors degree, as middle class those with a bachelor’s degree but no higher education, and as professional middle class those who have some post­graduate degree. This latter group includes two MDs, four JDs, and three PhDs. (For most of the analysis I combine the working and middle class.) Taken as a whole, the study population is well educated: only 3 percent of those interviewed have no more than a high school education, 23 percent have some college credit or an associate’s degree, 35 percent have a bach­elor’s degree, and 39 percent have a graduate degree. By way of comparison, in the United States as a whole in 2005, 40.7 percent had no more than a high school education, 25.4 percent had some college credit or an associate’s degree, 18.1 percent had a bachelor’s degree, and 9.5 percent had a graduate degree.4

Of course, there are many “deviant” cases within the groupings I identify for purposes of analysis. Among the sample, for example, are a woman who has achieved high educational status but lives on an extremely low income and a woman who, although she has but a bachelor’s degree herself, lives with a man whose professional position secures a very high income. Because I do not adjust for these exceptions, numerical differences in practices and atti­tudes (see, for example, the tables in appendix B) may often be smaller than if my measure were more precise or took into account more factors of class (e. g., by including income and occupation as well). However, because for the most part I rely on qualitative data, I can look at general trends and also high­light occasions when a respondent fits better within a different grouping than the one to which she or he has formally been assigned. The messiness that remains both within the categories of respondents—and within any given respondent’s approach to parenting—reminds us that in the United States at least, social classes are not neatly bounded and that ideal types are figments of our (sociological) imaginations.