Qualitative Sociology

, 34:337 | Cite as

Class Reproduction by Four Year Olds

  • Jessi StreibEmail author


While scholars know that young children are active if inadvertent participants in social reproduction, little has been said about how young children engage in class reproduction. Through observing in a preschool classroom with a class diverse student body, I show that preschoolers are already class actors, performing class through their linguistic styles. Upper-middle-class children speak, interrupt, ask for help, and argue more often than working-class children. Upper-middle-class children’s classed linguistic style effectively silences working-class students, gives them less power, and allows them fewer opportunities to develop their language skills. The children’s linguistic class performances have immediate consequences and potential future implications for class reproduction.


Social class Education Social reproduction 



I would like to thank the following people for their support and advice with this paper: Al Young, Fred Wherry, Karin Martin, Karyn Lacy, Amy Cooter, Alexandra Killewald, Anju Paul, Jane Rochmes, Jessica Wiederspan, the members of the Culture, History, and Politics workshop, and the anonymous reviewers. Thanks, too, to Lynn Sametz for her many rounds of edits. Also, thank you to the Community Preschool teachers, staff, students, and parents for allowing me to conduct this research.


  1. Althusser, L. (1971). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses: Notes toward an investigation. In L. Althusser (Ed.), Lenin and philosophy (pp. 121–176). New York: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar
  2. Anyon, J. (1980). Social class and the hidden curriculum of work. Journal of Education, 162, 67–92.Google Scholar
  3. Barnett, S., & Bellfield, C. (2006). Early childhood development and social mobility. The Future of Children, 16, 73–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bernstein, B. (1971). Social class, language and socialization. In B. Bernstein (Ed.), Class, codes and control (pp. 170–189). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bettie, J. (2003). Women without class: Girls, race, and identity. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bottero, W. (2004). Class identities and the identity of class. Sociology, 38, 985–1003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bourdieu, P. (1980). The logic of practice. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Cahill, S. (1989). Fashioning males and females: Appearance management and the social reproduction of gender. Symbolic Interaction, 12, 281–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chafel, J. (1996). Children’s views of social inequality: A review of research and implications for teaching. Educational Forum, 61, 46–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Corsaro, W. (1993). Interpretive reproduction in children’s role play. Childhood, 1, 64–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Crosnoe, R. (2009). Low-income students and the socioeconomic composition of public high schools. American Sociological Review, 74, 709–730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Danby, S. (1998). The serious and playful work of gender: Talk and social order in a preschool classroom. In N. Yelland (Ed.), Gender and early childhood (pp. 175–205). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Danby, S., & Baker, C. (1998). How to be masculine in the block area. Childhood, 52, 151–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dillon, S. (2008). Obama pledge stirs hopes in early education. New York Times (
  17. Farkas, G., & Berton, K. (2004). The detailed age trajectory of oral vocabulary knowledge: differences by class and race. Social Science Research, 33, 464–497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hart, B., & Risley, T. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  19. Heath, S. (1983). Ways with words: Language, life, and work in communities and classrooms. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Johnson, H. (2001). From the Chicago School to the new sociology of children and childhood in the United States, 1900–1999. Current Perspectives on Aging and the Life Cycle, 6, 53–93.Google Scholar
  21. Kohn, M. (1969). Class and conformity: A study in values. Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press.Google Scholar
  22. Lareau, A. (1989). Home advantage: Social class and parental intervention in elementary education. Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  23. Lareau, A. (2003). Unequal childhood: Class, race, and family life. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  24. Lawler, S. (2005). Disgusted subjects: The making of middle class identities. The Sociological Review, 53, 429–446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Leahy, R. (1983). The development of the conception of social class. In R. Leahy (Ed.), The child’s construction of social inequality (pp. 79–107). New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  26. Lowe, K. (1998). The serious and playful work of gender: Talk and social order in a preschool classroom. In N. Yelland (Ed.), Gender and early childhood (pp. 206–222). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Magnuson, K., Meyers, K., & Waldfogel, J. (2007). Public funding and enrollment in formal child care in the 1990s. The Social Service Review, 81, 47–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Martin, K. (1998). Becoming a gendered body: Practices of preschools. American Sociological Review, 63, 494–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Moore, V. (2001). “Doing” racialized and gendered age to organize peer relations: Observing kids in summer camp. Gender and Society, 15, 835–858.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Nelson, M., & Schutz, R. (2007). Day care differences and the reproduction of social class. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 36, 281–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ramsey, P. (1991). Young children’s awareness and understanding of social class differences. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 152, 71–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Skeggs, B. (1997). Formations of class and gender: Becoming respectable. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  33. Tudor, J. (1971). The development of class awareness in children. Social Forces, 49, 470–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Van Ausdale, D., & Feagin, J. (1996). Using racial and ethnic concepts: The critical case of very young children. American Sociological Review, 61, 779–793.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Vincent, C., & Ball, S. (2007). Making up the middle-class child: Families, activities and class dispositions. Sociology, 41, 1061–1077.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Weinger, S. (2000). Economic status: Middle class and poor children’s views. Children and Society, 14, 135–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Willis, P. (1977). Learning to labor: How working class kids get working class jobs. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

Personalised recommendations