Today's book, Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class, by Barbara Ehrenreich was published in 1989. I picked it up because I read a reference somewhere that made me think that Ehrenreich might have made the connection I've been trying to draw between high-intensivity parenting and the increasingly competitive economy.
Ehrenreich does argue that middle class parents are highly insecure about their ability to pass their class status on to their children, but doesn't really go with it in the direction that I'm interested. Rather, she suggests that middle-class status is largely a function of the willingness to defer gratification, whether in the form of extended education and low-paid entry level jobs or in the form of the savings needed for homeownership. Parents are anxious because there is little they can do to assure these values among their children. Ehrenreich argues that this is why the 60s were so unsettling to middle class adults -- their children were rejecting the very values that made them middle class.
While the book made some interesting points, overall, it was so dated as to be of little interest. Fundamentally, Ehrenreich is trying to explain the shift to the right of American politics in the 1980s. She rejects the idea that it was due to a significant shift of the working class (the Reagan Democrats) and argues instead that it's because the upper middle class chose to identify with the upper class corporate elite, rather than joining in solidarity with the middle and working class. I find that an unconvincing argument.
I also think it's absurd to talk about the increased appeal of investment banking and law to college graduates in terms of an ideological shift without any acknowledgment of the increased burden of student loan debt. And as a Gen X-er myself, I found myself irritated by her idealization of the 60s without any acknowledgment that the boomers didn't exactly live up to their youthful promises to build an egalitarian society. Ehrenreich also discusses the middle-class "discovery" of poverty in the 60s without any mention of the role that poor people played in the war on poverty.
So, I can't recommend the book. But I don't regret taking the time to read it. I found parts of it very interesting, especially the discussion of how the media hyped the idea that blue collar workers were opposed to the social activism of the 60s, and downplayed the role of unions in progressive coalitions.