Conservatives don’t believe in equality of outcome, because that, obviously, would be communism. But what about equality of opportunity – that sounds like something we can all agree on, right?

The trouble is that opportunity, like charity, begins at home. Differences in family environment have a huge effect on all aspects of child development, including educational attainment.

Consider something as basic as the amount of time that parents invest in their children – which has been studied by the eminent political scientist, Robert Putnam. Reporting on his findings, David Brooks of the New York Times, highlights the growing social disparities: 

  • "Putnam’s data verifies what many of us have seen anecdotally, that the children of the more affluent and less affluent are raised in starkly different ways and have different opportunities…" 
  • "A generation ago, working-class parents spent slightly more time with their kids than college-educated parents. Now college-educated parents spend an hour more every day. This attention gap is largest in the first three years of life when it is most important."  

Brooks has pretty good idea as why this gap has opened up: 

  • "A long series of cultural, economic and social trends have merged to create this sad state of affairs. Traditional social norms were abandoned, meaning more children are born out of wedlock. Their single parents simply have less time and resources to prepare them for a more competitive world." 

One of the positive social changes of the last few decades is that many fathers have become more involved in the upbringing of their children – changing nappies and reading bedtime stories is no longer considered to be ‘women’s work’. But the advantage of this greater equality between the sexes can only apply to those families where fathers are actually present on a regular basis.

Brooks argues that if we’re serious about equality of opportunity, then a serious rethink is in order: 

  • "Liberals are going to have to be willing to champion norms that say marriage should come before childrearing and be morally tough about it." 

But Brooks has a challenge for conservatives too: 

  • "The political system directs more money to health care for the elderly while spending on child welfare slides… Conservatives are going to have to be willing to accept tax increases or benefit cuts so that more can be spent on the earned-income tax credit and other programs that benefit the working class."  

It will be interesting to see which side is first to slaughter its sacred cows.

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