Rooted in Relationships

Just as a system of roots supports and nourishes trees as they develop and grow, nurturing relationships with adults provide a foundation for young pe…
May 18th, 2022 | 55:37

Episode 2.1 - Richard Reeves - Class and the role it plays in relationships and equity

In the first episode of season two of Rooted in Relationships, Search Institute CEO Ben Houltberg introduces Kent Pekel, education leader and former CEO of Search Institute. Season two of the Rooted in Relationships podcast will feature interviews conducted by Kent with a focus on how social capital – family, class, culture and other factors – influence relationship-building. In this episode, Kent talks with Richard Reeves, a senior fellow in economic studies with the Brookings Institute and director of the Future of the Middle Class Initiative. His research is focused on social mobility, inequality and the middle class.

Podcast: Rooted in Relationships

Episode: Class and the role it plays in relationships and equity


Welcome to the Rooted in Relationships podcast, where we talk with renowned researchers and experts to explore how connections to resources, relationships and social networks provide the key conditions that all young people need to thrive. Kicking off season two of the podcast, Search Institute CEO Ben Houltberg introduces Kent Pekel, education leader and former CEO of Search Institute. Today, Kent has a conversation with Richard Reeves, a senior fellow in economic studies with the Brookings Institute and director of the Future of the Middle Class Initiative whose research focuses on the middle class, inequality and social mobility. 


The Brookings Institute initiated the Future of the Middle Class Initiative in 2016 out of a growing sense that policy makers hadn’t taken issues facing America’s middle class seriously enough. Behind it was the idea that the gap between the middle and low class had only narrowed, while the gap between the middle and upper class grew enormously. Richard ran the project, where he explored the impact of relationships on the quality of a person’s life. The increasing relational inequality refers to the growing difference between people of different classes and backgrounds. We know that the key ingredient of any relationship is mutual respect. Thus, respect is a critical determinant for many of these things we’re after. Adolescents are especially sensitive to signs of disrespect. 


According to a survey conducted by Search Institute, the number one priority in the feld is research on interventions to strengthen social capital. From Richard’s perspective, the best hope is to create the conditions in which relationships can be built rather than try to directly build them. It's crucial to ensure that we are not excluding any group of people in this. While we can’t necessarily scale relationships themselves, we can scale the conditions of good relationships on the ground. 


Richard brings his unique English perspective to his work surrounding largely American topics. Issues around race specifically took him a while to come to terms with in his work. He describes anti-black racism in America as a cement-like structure and was shocked at the immobility in black communities. He sees the ruthlessness of the class reproduction machine with more clarity than many of his American born colleagues. He notes the higher awareness of privilege in the U.K. compared to the U.S. 


It is Richard’s observation that it is in higher education where class issues in the U.S. are illuminated. The relationship between income background and post secondary education is profound. Richard speaks of the major leap of immobility of a low class youth between the ages of 18 and 23. Then, there is less mobility in career options than there used to be. It is now more about how much human capital you receive earlier on in life, which means the stratification of higher education has massive lifelong implications. There are, however, solutions to this including investing in community colleges, making higher education a public good and breaking the current admission system. He highlights the absurdities of the U.S. higher education system compared to European contemporaries. 


Shifting gears, Richard discusses his work focused on building the capacity of parents as a way to advance equality. The first few years of a child’s life are crucial to their development and to ignore these years is a huge mistake. It is a difficult territory to address because of the apprehension to tell people how to parent their own children. If a family is economically insecure, it is increasingly difficult to build stable relationships between parents and children. Investing in support for new mothers is one solution to this. 


As the episode wraps up, Richard shares the most important lessons the pandemic taught us that we must not forget. We must find ways to help parents and children have a less fraught relationship with time and let them have an opportunity to breathe. 



0:34- Ben Houltberg introduces himself, Kent Pekel and season two of the podcast. 

2:12 - Welcome Richard Reeves to the podcast. 

2:42 - The Future of the Middle Class Initiative and the increasing relational inequality. 

15:02 - The heightened adolescence sensitivity to respect. 

17:38 - Creating the conditions for relationships to thrive. 

24:13 - Richard’s unique British perspective on American issues. 

32:22 - Rochard’s work around higher education. 

41:21 - Investing in the higher capacity of parenting.

45:43 - Key policies for supporting youth. 

51:38 - What has the pandemic taught us that we must not forget? 


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