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White-Glove Test

Clean homes tend to house more successful children, according to researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Their study relates home cleanliness to how long students in those households stayed in school, and how much they earned when they got jobs.

The long-term project by the university's Institute for Social Research averaged interviewers' impressions of tidiness in the homes of 3,395 children over five years, from 1968 through 1972. The homes were rated on a 5-point scale, from dirty to very clean, during in-home interviews conducted by the researchers.

The data were collected as part of a larger long-term study called the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Researchers were able to control for income, parent education, and other factors that could also affect children's achievement.

Rachel Dunifon, one of the researchers, said this month that cleanliness was an indication of parents' organization and efficiency, traits that could "translate into more organization in other areas," such as parenting.

A survey of grown children taken 25 years later showed that the children from clean to very clean households had attended school for an average of 13.6 years. Those from dirty to not-very-clean homes averaged 12 years of schooling.

Adult children from clean homes earned an average of $14.17 per hour in their jobs. Compared with adult children from less clean homes, who earned an average of $12.60 an hour, those from cleaner homes made about $3,000 more a year.

Researchers not only looked at how clean a household was, Ms. Dunifon said, but also controlled for how much time it took to clean it. If a parent spent many hours each week cleaning, that did not necessarily reflect efficiency and organization.

Ms. Dunifon said that the researchers "don't think it's the cleanliness of the home, per se, but the traits of the parents" that affect children's success.

—Vanessa Dea

Vol. 20, Issue 28, Page 3

Published in Print: March 28, 2001, as Take Note
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