"I'm a middle-class New Yorker, and upper-class anywhere else," Klaitman says. "I know how astonishingly privileged we are, but at the same time we're dipping into savings for housing. I don't go out and buy shoes, but my kids have tons of classes."
Researchers say the expanding class gap in education is likely a byproduct of the country's widening income inequality. There's been an explosion in spending by well-to-do parents on their children: The amount has more than doubled in the last 30 years, according to work by Columbia University School of Social Work researchers Neeraj Kaushal and Jane Waldfogel and Katherine Magnuson of the University of Wisconsin.
Parents in the top quintile of income in the U.S. (households earning at least $102,000 in 2011, according to census data compiled by the Tax Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group) now spend more than double what parents in the second quintile (earning at least $62,000) spend on trips for their children-about $2,000 per year compared with $800, the Kaushal study found. They also spend significantly more on childcare, computers, books, and private-school tuition than their non-wealthy peers.
A 2013 study by sociologists Sabino Kornrich and Frank Furstenberg found that disparities in spending between the top and the bottom grew between the 1990s and 2000s, with parents in the bottom half of income distribution actually spending less on their children in the 2000s than previously--probably because of decreasing incomes.
"It's everyone trying to take care of their kids, but if you have a lot of money, you can do all of them, the Mandarin, the lacrosse, the SAT tutoring, the camps," says Richard Murnane, a Harvard University economist and editor of Whither Opportunity, a 2011 book that published the Reardon and Kaushal studies. "You can do a lot of extra things with extra money."
America's widening class gap shapes the hopes and prospects of families like the Lynches, who live just a few miles from the Klaitman-Smalls in Crown Heights, a mostly working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn where stately limestone townhouses and public housing projects stand side by side.
At first glance, the lives of Bryson Lynch, two, and his three-year-old brother London are not too different from the lives of the Klaitman-Small children. On a sticky afternoon in July, the two boys were busy in their shared room in the back of their parents' three-story home in Brooklyn. London was building a tower with Lego bricks. Bryson was toting around a plastic beach bucket and pretending to build a sand castle on the rug. A television set atop a dresser was tuned to a cartoon on Nick Jr., Nickelodeon's preschool channel.
Their quiet play didn't last long--after a while, they tumbled into the living room. London grabbed his scooter and did a circle around the room. Bryson found an iPad, turned on his favorite song, and began to dance. Their parents, Larry, 32, and Krystal, 29, seated nearby at the kitchen table, kept a watchful but patient eye on the boys' exuberant play.