Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn discuss ways to address opportunity gapPosted: October 3, 2014
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s new book “A Path Appears” looks at barriers to opportunity around the world, and what can be done to overcome them. Some of those barriers are already in place at the beginning. As WuDunn puts it, some kids are born “behind the starting line.” She says a child born in the bottom 20 percent of the economic spectrum has a one in 12.7 percent chance of making it to the top 20 percent.
WuDunn and Kristof spoke at Sacred Heart University on Friday to talk about the book. WSHU’s Craig LeMoult asked them about the gap, and how it can be addressed with early intervention.
WuDunn says by the age of four, a child of professionals has heard 30 million more words than the child of parents on welfare. That gap can make a significant difference in a child’s development.
“Part of that is an income issue,” says Kristof. “People don’t have resources for babysitter, or may send somebody to a child care program that may be inadequate. But it’s also, to some degree, cultural.”
Kristof says the gap between wealthy and poor children is increasing.
“Middle class parents have been investing more and more and more in their kids’ enrichment programs, and sending their kids to music lessons, then chess lessons, and soccer practice,” he says. “So the gap in those enrichment programs has gotten greater over the last generation, rather than smaller.”
But, Kristof says, it’s a mistake to think there’s not much that we can do to narrow that gap. Here’s what they had to say about early interventions that can make a difference:
“There are very very few people who don’t want the best for their kids,” says Kristof. “And where there are shortcomings, they may be raising their child the way they were raised. And if they get some support, some parental coaching, some help – especially with the incredibly difficult job of being a single parent – then they can dramatically improve those outcomes.”
In particular, Kristof and WuDunn point to the effectiveness of the Nurse Family Partnership, which provides coaching to new parents, even before a child is born. Teaching parents not to smoke or drink, and to breastfeed and hug a baby, can have a huge impact on a child’s development. They say families who get coaching from the Nurse Family Partnership see a 79 percent drop in state-verified child abuse, and the children are half as likely to be arrested by age of 15.
A program that’s working to close that 30 million word gap is Reach Out and Read, which provides books to low income families to help with the cognitive development of children. The program provides books, and doctors “prescribe” nightly bedtime stories to families. Here’s Kristof and WuDunn describing the program.
The cost is $20 per child per year. But Kristof says only a third of children who would benefit from the program in the U.S. get that intervention.
Kristof says unlike the U.S., economic inequality has declined globally. In particular, he says one of the great global changes has been an increase in literacy.
You can hear the full audio of Kristof and WuDunn’s discussion here.