Families in the Middle: A Cross-National Study of Middle-Income Families in High-Income Economies

Project Date:
Oct 2008
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

The United States has 9 times the total population and 11 times the gross domestic product of Canada. Yet the two countries are often grouped together as examples of liberal market economies. Both nations provide fewer welfare and workplace support systems to families than most European nations. But even as Canada offers a more generous family support system than the United States, middle-income families on both sides of the border are currently coping with economic challenges—from wage stagnation to rising medical insurance, education, and childcare costs. In the face of this, how are parents in the middle third of the economic distribution of both countries navigating these challenges while maintaining their “middle-class” lifestyle?


Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, will determine differences in the level of support each country provides to middle-income families and examine how those differences affect the way families function. Specifically, he will examine how parents in the United States are investing in, and planning for, their children’s futures in the face of growing economic pressures. Furstenberg’s fellow researcher, Anne Gauthier (University of Calgary) has conducted similar research on the Canadian middle class, and together they will examine the possibility that both classes share similar issues during periods of slow income growth. Furstenberg and Gauthier have reviewed datasets that provide comparable information on economic circumstances, economic pressures, and strategies used in childcare and childrearing. They will examine the level of adaptations to economic strain among all families across the economic spectrum at both the country and state/province levels to explore whether systematic differences exist in both the level of strain and the practices employed by parents in response to economic pressures. Furstenberg will study work/family allocation of time, childcare and after-school arrangements, involvement of children in school-based and community-based programs, educational choices, planning and savings, health practices for children, and various social capital investments from eighty families in the United States and eighty families in Canada. The goal is to understand the economic realities that parents face and how they are supported by the government and local community. Furstenberg and Gaulthier will project how the level of family policies and support systems determines the effectiveness of state social policies in moderating increasingly strained resources.


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers grants and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


Join our mailing list for email updates.