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The Meritocracy



One thing I care very deeply about is the ability of working-class kids to become upwardly mobile. That’s of course because I am a first-generation college graduate in my family and my father worked in a plywood mill. So I want other kids like me to be successful. One thing that these kids believe in is that if they work hard, they will succeed. It’s America, right! This is our national myth.

But of course while this can be somewhat true, there’s a pretty hard ceiling on just how high working kids can rise because the truly desirable and powerful positions are all held by the American class elite, often regardless of actual intelligence or work ethic. Henry Farrell interviews Lauren Rivera about her new book that argues that working-class students don’t rise as high as they could because they study too much instead of making social connections. It’s a little depressing and all too believable.

Whether intentionally or not, elite parents expose their children to different experiences and styles of interacting that are useful for getting ahead in society. Many of these are taken for granted in upper and upper-middle class circles, such as how to prepare a college application (and having cultivated the right types of accomplishments to impress admissions officers), how to network in a business setting in a way that seems natural, and how to develop rapport with teachers, interviewers, and other gatekeepers to get things you want from those in power. Basically, if we think of economic inequality as a sporting competition, elite parents give their kids a leg up, not only by being able to afford the equipment necessary to play but also by teaching them the rules of the game and giving them insider tips on how to win.

Working and lower-middle-class children are less likely to participate in structured extracurricular activities than their more privileged peers while growing up (and when they do, they tend to participate in fewer of them). This hurts their job prospects in two ways. First, it affects the types of schools students attend. Elite universities weigh extracurricular activities heavily in admissions decisions. Given that these employers—which offer some of the highest-paying entry-level jobs in the country—recruit almost exclusively at top schools, many students who focus purely on their studies will be out of the game long before they ever apply to firms. Second, employers also use extracurricular activities, especially those that are driven by “passion” rather than academic or professional interest and require large investments of time and money over many years, to screen résumés. But participation in these activities while in college or graduate school is not a luxury that all can afford, especially if someone needs to work long hours to pay the bills or take care of family members. Essentially, extracurriculars end up being a double filter on social class that disadvantages job applicants from more modest means both in entering the recruiting pipeline and succeeding within it.

This is a good moment to mention how college administrators, like employers, love the idea of the “well-rounded student” as well. Let me relate a story told from my M.A. advisor Susan Becker (also co-author of the best book available for history survey course discussion sections). At the University of Tennessee in the 1980s or early 1990s, she started an honors program and while she ran it, it was strictly on academic merit. She said it was great because it was a place where all these Tennessee-born nerds and geeks found people who were interested in what they liked, fell in love, etc. And then the administrators took it over, made it about the well-rounded student, and filled it with their favorite frat boys and student government leaders and all the same people who college had always solidified as the next class of Tennessee elites. Working-class kids simply don’t have the cultural capital to access the sort of jobs that these people will hold. They think hard work will make it happen. And while that will take them so far, it isn’t going to take them to the top. I can write all I want, but there’s no way an Ivy League school or top liberal arts school will ever hire someone with a University of New Mexico PhD. I realize that now, but the myth of hard work suckered me in too. It’s hard to escape American mythology and I can assure you that my students believe in it as much as I did.

Also, here’s where I pulled that great image at the top.

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  • Jordan

    made it about the well-rounded student, and filled it with their favorite frat boys and student government leaders and all the same people who college had always solidified as the next class of Tennessee elites

    At Ivies, I was initially pretty surprised at the number of students who are on the various varsity sports teams. Some sports (football, basketball, hockey) are because they really want good teams with acceptable academics (maybe less so for one of those sports)). But for the rest: Hey, we NEED a good crew/squash/waterpolo/lacrosse/fencing/golf/tennis/rugby/etc team! Gotta admit new athletes! You’re telling me those sports are wildly overrepresented by children of the wealthy? … Well …. good.

    • Crusty

      Another thing that happens at Ivies is that the athletic department tends to prefer student-athletes from wealthier backgrounds because admissions are supposedly need blind, i.e., the financial aid office and decisions are separate from the admissions office, but nonetheless, its preferable to find people who don’t need financial aid (so the school can save money and so they don’t lose the recruit to a scholarship school) so they just use zip code as a proxy for wealth. You find unusual amounts of Ivy athletes from 90210 and similar zips.

    • To get a little bit off topic: most colleges “sculpt” their classes to some degree or another. Colleges get tons of applicants whose grades and SAT scores are basically indistinguishable, so they can use professed interest in sports/majors/whatever as a tiebreaker to fill out sports teams, keep the class form skewing too female, etc. etc. Opposing race-based affirmative action is myopic in this context, because race is only one of many, many dimensions on which a qualified applicant can be rejected for not conforming to the admissions office’s vision of a “diverse” incoming class.

      • Richard Gadsden

        Would be very interesting to see what doing admissions with a randomizer would look like. Explicitly score anything you want to explicitly score – but announce the scorecard publicly far enough in advance that the students can shape their extracurriculars to maximise their points. Then use a randomizer either as a tie-breaker, or as bonus points (so you could just randomly catch someone with more base points than you)

  • ArchTeryx

    I see it plenty in the biosciences, supposedly the most meritocratic of professions.

    The best graduate schools won’t touch you unless you’ve the right connections and pedigree.

    The funding situation there is so dire now that it’s become a closed loop: The scientific 1%ers take most of the remaining grant funds for the paper factory labs, most of the rest of the smaller-time investigators are now permanently frozen out. Nobody will touch you for tenure-track positions unless you already have funding secured.

    And how do you secure funding in this environment if you are a new scientist? Being a part of the scientific good ol’ boys club is a huge part of it. When I did my virology Ph.D. I ended up with an advisor who was a big fish in a very small pond; he saw me through to my Ph.D., but my job offers afterward have been pretty much nil, and he doesn’t have the connections to change that, or to help me secure funding of my own. So now I’m in my 40s, with an apparently worthless Ph.D., wondering if I will be living out of a spare bedroom – or out of my car – the rest of my life.

    Why? Because I lack the social connections my richer (and funded) peers have. It’s really that simple. Connections in science, unlike business, are not all about picking the right parents, but make no mistake about it: It helps.

    • Jordan

      Similar results happen in philosophy at the going-from-undergrad-to-grad-school level, even without the funding issue.

      (I should note I’m one of the students he is talking about, and because of the way he was able to get data, know most of the students he is talking about).

      • twbb

        Well you guys have those utterly bizarre rankings, which, no offense, does not speak highly for many of the members of your discipline that it’s even a thing.

        • Jordan

          The rankings aren’t great, that is for sure. But they are probably better than nothing. Without them you have the risk of students relying on 30 year out of date professor opinions and general “that school is good, because duh, and that school is not great, because duh”. If it weren’t for the leiter rankings I would have never applied to Rutgers over Harvard, for example (not that I got in).

  • Denverite

    Erik, it’s awesome that this is something you continue to care deeply about.

    Having said that, I think you’re wrong. One of our really good friends (his sister is our kids’ godmother) is the director of admissions at a super elite university (typically top ten in the USNWR rankings). We’ve had this discussion with him. He said that if you’re at a typical upper-middle-class high school (Cherry Creek in the Denver area, for example), then yeah, you better have perfect grades and a perfect SAT AND be student body president and captain of the tennis team and the like. When they get 50 applications from that school on a yearly basis, and they accept maybe one student a year from there, you really need to stand out.

    But, according to him, if you’re from a high school that they don’t get a lot of students from, especially a poor or rural high school, then a lot of that goes away. Now they’re just looking to see if you can handle the academics. And the main thing they’re looking at there is grades (are you willing to work?) and test scores (are you bright enough?).

    All of this is to say, I think giving a message to poor kids that they need to study less and devote more time to extracurriculars is crappy. I think it’s precisely the opposite. Rich kids have the luxury of being able to spend 10 hours a week on lacrosse. Poor kids need to study.

    • Jordan

      I don’t think you’ve said anything against the *college* activities points of the post – either about networking or about extra-curriculars.

      I’m also slightly suspicious of your friend. A top 10 school can choose almost literally anyone. They will always have a number of spaces for the bright alumni/rich kids, they will always have a number of spaces to fill out the set of activities/majors that they offer, and they will always have a number of spaces to guarantee nominal geographic representation (they want 50 states and foreign countries. the 50 states thing is how I got into my school, albeit not a top 10 one).

      The rest of the spaces are then divided between the absolute best Cherry Creek student or whatever, and the poor and/or rural and/or minority students. So, you already have a pretty depleted admissions number that the disadvantaged student can even try to take advantage of, and they are still going to be competing against the all-state amazing students from everywhere.

    • DrDick

      However, the percentage of those underrepresented students admitted is far less than the number of wealthy legacies. That is tokenism to hide their true mission of maintianing the American oligarchy.

      • ThrottleJockey

        Its affluent affirmative action is what it is. And its absolutely wrong.

    • Denverite

      Grrr. And now, having read the interview, it’s kind of pissing me off. The very first example she gives of the sort of job that kids of privilege have a step up on getting because they know how to play the game is “big law firm associate.” This isn’t right. If you want to get a job at a big, national law firm, go to a top law school and get OK grades. To get into the top school, get perfect grades in a liberal arts major or good grades in a hard major, and ace the LSAT. Extracurriculars really don’t help you in the slightest.

      • twbb

        Don’t worry, the rich, entitled kids who coast into biglaw associate jobs are punished in the end. By being biglaw associates.

        • Denverite

          I guess, but in retrospect, it’s a crapload of money, even if you do have to work 70 hour weeks.

          • twbb

            Being crushed into a hollow shell of a person isn’t worth the money, and 70 hours might be a little optimistic; a lot of them work 14 hour days 6-7 days a week.

            • Denverite

              No they don’t. My worst year (2500 hours billed) was pretty much 9:15-8:45 M-F, and then another 3/4 of a weekend day. There were some week-long stretches of 16 hour days, but they were the exception.

              • twbb

                I didn’t say all, I said a lot. I stand by that.

                • Denverite

                  I wasn’t at Wachtel or Susman (two notorious sweatshops). But it was a V20 firm, and I left in good standing when we moved to Denver. I still use my former boss for a reference, and he tells people I would have made partner if I stayed (though he very well could be lying).

                  I didn’t see anyone working 14 hour days six days a week consistently. It really was more like 10-12 hour days and then the better part of a day spread out over the weekend. Yes, there were times during trial or a closing where you’d work long hours for two or three or ten days. But the people talking about 14 hour days six days a week on end are full of shit in my experience.

            • Ahuitzotl

              well if you already are a hollow soulless person, it sounds like a great deal.

      • BoredJD

        Yeah, biglaw is actually the one high-paying career path made for strivers who test well. You don’t even need to go to a elite university to get into an elite law school (I didn’t). You just need high grades, it doesn’t matter in what, and a high LSAT. I got into a T6 having not done a single “extracurricular” activity during college and having not had any full-time work experience.

        And TLS and other sites have, to a large extent, taken away the usual advantage wealthy kids get from private prep classes. All I needed to get a score comfortably in the 99% percentile was about $150 in prep books and a lot of time over a period of about 6 months.

        And while there were a lot of very wealthy kids that went to my law school, they certainly weren’t dummies. Far from it.

        • Philip

          Yeah, biglaw is actually the one high-paying career path made for strivers who test well.

          Computer science too (provided you’re white and male, at least). The job interviews are 90% (really stupid) tests that you can study for because the questions have all been posted online at this point.

    • But getting into the school is only part of it. The other challenge is then cultivating the connections at that school. And cultural capital seriously gets in the way.

      Also, let’s not pretend that for some poor kid it is easy to get into Harvard just because they have good grades. The vast majority of poor kids who do work really hard and are ambitious go to state schools because that is the peak of their ability to even know about.

      • And the vast majority of poor kids go to poor schools. They’re in small rural communities, or downscale suburbs, or urban districts with crappy schools, and if their district does have elite schools, those schools will have student bodies from families much wealthier than the district average. So even if they study hard and do extracurriculars, they’re unlikely to learn as much in school because their teachers have more students and are less likely to be experienced, their school is less likely to offer advanced classes, they don’t have the newest and best equipment and materials, and they’re less likely to have a community of kids like them, and who being with widens their intellectual horizons. And that’s not even getting in to the issue of outside distractions, longer commutes, little or no access to non-school based tutoring, lessons, camps, etc.

        • Yep. I was out of courses to take by the time I finished my junior year. As for AP courses, we had AP US History that was tell taught. We had AP Lit where we read 4 books over the course of the year and took spelling tests and almost no one took the exam because we weren’t prepped. And we had AP Composition which I didn’t take the test in because I struggled at it and AP Calculus which was the same.

          And that’s it. No AP science at all.

          When I got a 5 on the AP US History test, there was basically celebration by all the teachers when I returned to school in the fall. Because to their knowledge, no one from the high school had ever gotten an 5 on any AP exam before in any field.

          And yet there were worse schools.

          • Denverite

            Wow. I went to a high school — mostly known for the actors and NFL players it produces — where the math department would handpick the dozen or so best math kids and put them in a Calculus BC class. My year, of the fourteen of us, ten received perfect scores. Not 5s. Perfect. There were 13 5s and 1 4.

            (ETA: This is what I meant by my parents being able to secure us a middle-class-plus lifestyle. They were able to buy in to the area when they had money, even if they didn’t when I was a mid-to-late teenager. It’s actually an interesting high school — fairly diverse, mostly for football reasons.)

            • And there’s your difference.

              • Denverite


            • I went to a school that was supposed to be pretty good, had a range of students from poor to nearly upper middle class, and offered a full range of AP courses, at least at the time. They sent a handful of students to Harvard/MIT/Stanford/Northwestern/Brandeis every year, and another handful or two to Penn or Cornell. At least at the time. There were enough middle class students and poorer but bright or talented students, mostly first or second generation immigrants for the latter, to fill a pretty good band and orchestra (free instruments and lessons for everybody), and full classes for AP French, Spanish, History, Calc AB, and Physics, two for English. And (speaking as someone who did well but whose parents couldn’t have helped me except in math and physics), they had no idea how much grades were due to home background and help, and how much to instruction. Counseling was horrible. And boy did they believe in meritocracy (except for that damned encroaching affirmative action).

              I don’t want to bad mouth teachers. My dad was a teacher (I’ll let him badmouth them). But they don’t have any more solid knowledge of what their kids will need, for the large majority who aren’t just like them, than anybody else. They’re grasping at information just like the rest of us.

            • Philip

              +1. My public high school offered…I think 25 AP classes. Although there the classes were open to anyone who was deemed qualified (and the school was surprisingly willing to let kids without great grades into the classes). 3 sections of BC calc and one of MV calc/Linear Algebra every year. The school (jazz) band wins a bunch of competitions a year, alumni have won gold medals, Pulitzers, etc. Going to a school like that is a huge advantage. It doesn’t hurt that there’s an ivy 10 minutes’ walk away that accepts 20+ people a year from the school, either.

          • Through 11th grade I was assigned one novel. It was the 1980’s but we had textbooks that referred to the 48 states. There were no AP classes. Mine was suburban, whereas I think yours was rural, but our high schools were probably similar.

            When I worked in Congress I got an email from someone from that school. [His sister had seen me on TV speaking on behalf of a campaign, and they started following what I was doing via Google searches/updates.] It was kind of sad. He was bright, as were most of the people in his social circle (of which I was sortakinda a part). He went down a list of their jobs. One, I think, had graduated college. I can’t remember what he was doing, but most were doing low-level white collar work for suppliers to the major auto companies. Most were probably making less than $45K per year. He was working as a security guard. And he said something like he was happy that I had “escaped.”

            • It wasn’t rural, but it was the poorer half a smallish city outside of Eugene that was dependent on disappearing timber jobs.

              I’m not really in touch with anyone from my high school except a couple of people on Facebook and I think more than I got out of there, but not too many more.

              • A few years ago I looked up childhood and HS classmates. A few had died–no articles, just obits that don’t mention cause of death, so since they were in their 40’s I’m assuming lifestyle/addiction problems. Several of the rest I found on Facebook. One ones I could see their friends, the friend were fellow elementary and high school classmates, many of whom still lived in the 35K person Detroit suburb.

              • Denverite

                Wow, Erik. This is really making me realize how privileged I was.

                From my graduating class in high school:

                A Olympic gold medalist track athlete.
                No NFL players, shockingly (the class in front of me had two, and the one behind me had one).
                A semi-major Hollywood producer.
                An actress from Clueless (the class behind me had a Joss Whedon starlet).
                At least three partners in VC firms.
                A Bush administration undersecretary (totally incompetent, of course).
                A partner in a DC biglaw firm.
                A GC at a big nonprofit.

                My own life is making me feel depressed.

                • Ronan

                  A genuine question. Why would ‘elite’ (or at least relatively elite) High schools produce footballers ? Is American football not primarily a working class sport in terms of the makeup of the people who play it ? (is this a scholarship thing? Or is it that better funded, wealthier schools/districts now (always?) produce the pros?)

                • The only notable graduate of the high school in the district i attended from first through eleventh grade was the much-younger wife of Jerry Lee Lewis whom some suspect he murdered. But that was several years before me.

                • Lee Rudolph

                  Fuck. Twenty-five years ago, I went to my high school 25th reunion (the only reunion of anything I’ve ever gone to, or will go to). As of that time, the one attendee with a trophy wife had made big bucks in computer hardware and had retired to Los Vegas. The only other success remotely comparable to any of your classmates’ (and I don’t think Wade’s is that, really) was the woman (I’d known her since elementary school) who’d moved from Cleveland to California and, entirely improbably, become (with her Californian husband and their children) a small-scale rodeo star.

                  On the other hand, there was a meter-reader for the electric company; and so on.

                • Denverite

                  A genuine question. Why would ‘elite’ (or at least relatively elite) High schools produce footballers ? Is American football not primarily a working class sport in terms of the makeup of the people who play it ? (is this a scholarship thing? Or is it that better funded, wealthier schools/districts now (always?) produce the pros?)

                  So my high school was almost designed to produce football players. It was zoned to include about 25% African-American students. My never-confirmed suspicion is that this was done to ensure sufficient numbers of skill position players — QBs, RBs, DBs, etc. Throw in a healthy number of upper-middle-class white kids with access to steroids and training facilities, and you’ve got the makings of a good team.

                  Anyway, exposure to football started early. Boys generally started playing tackle football around age ten. It got serious around age twelve. If you are a reasonably athletic person, practicing and playing football for 20 hours a week from the age of ten through the age of eighteen tends to produce some pretty good football players.

                • DrDick

                  I think that the only notable graduate of my high school, a very good upper middle class school in a generally affluent small town (pop 30K, but national headquarters for Phillips Petroleum with a major research center) was the junior national calf roping champion in 1968 or 1969.

                • The Dark Avenger

                  Disillusion is never painless
                  It brings on many changes
                  and I can take or leave it
                  If you please.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  A genuine question. Why would ‘elite’ (or at least relatively elite) High schools produce footballers ?

                  Because football is popular. And lucrative. And popular! In America!

                  There’s the old saw, “Soccer is a game played by gentleman and watched by hooligans, while Rugby is a game played by hooligans and watched by gentlemen.” Well, in America, both gentlemen and hooligans play football.

                  Also, these days, it can take a fair amount of money to afford the traveling leagues, training camps, etc it takes to get a college scholarship. You could easily spend a few thousand dollars doing sports here. We had a guy on my football team whose family was flat rich. Johnny Manziel, a Heisman Trophy winner, comes from a rich family.

                • Ronan

                  TJ. I was thinking that as well, that the costs must be substantial enough. Afaicr I heard somewhere a while ago that that cost in part explains the growing popularity of ‘soccer’ in the US (though Id guess immigration, particularly from central/south america and europe, could explain most of the growth in popularity?)

                  But has football historically been a sport that gave working class kids an opportunity for social mobility, like ‘soccer’ has been? My understanding is that basketball still does, but was football always a sport played professionally by those who came from the (relatively) wealthy ? (which rugby would have been, and to a lesser extent still is, as it was/is played primarily in private schools, and so teams generally selected from that pool.)

                • Ronan

                  btw, afaik, the old saw is closer to, ‘soccer is a gentlemans game played by hooligans, whereas rugby is a hooligans game played by gentleman’..the subtle change, I think, highlights the class snobbery involved

                  edit: at least I assume it’s snobbery, but maybe theres another reading

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Ronan–You’d know the old saw better than I. I only heard it once.

                  As far as football goes, beginning in the ’70s it was seen as a way out of the ghetto. Prior to that football players didn’t make much money: The inventory manager at my college bookstore was an accomplished member of the 1975 Super Bowl champions. I doubt he was making more than $30K a year in that job.

                • The Dark Avenger

                  The late writer Allen Drury graduated from the same high school I did, FWIW.

                • dn

                  Ronan – there’s probably a lot you could say about American football and social class, but:

                  1) Americans love our “classless” society. Part of this is that we like to preserve the fiction that prospective pro athletes are not a class apart. The NFL doesn’t really have youth academies like those of the big European sports clubs. Most player development takes place in what are supposed to be actual schools, even in highly-ranked colleges and universities. In high schools especially, participation in sports is highly encouraged for everyone, and treated as an “educational” experience in a way that I suspect is not quite paralleled elsewhere in the world. The notion of the “student-athlete” is part and parcel of our national self-deception. (And the NFL likes it that way, too, since it means they don’t have to pay to develop their own talent.)

                  2) Football in particular is a prestige sport for schools, partly due (as ThrottleJockey mentions) to the vast expense of football in comparison to simpler games like soccer and basketball. Having the resources to field a winning team, build big fancy stadiums, etc. is one way Americans measure school status, both at high school and university level.

                  3) American football is a highly regimented sport with its own built-in class system. The historic rarity of black quarterbacks in the NFL is probably the most well-known manifestation of this.

                • RE football, part of it is that unlike basketball, it takes a lot of space, good facilities, a large staff, and a lot of training that isn’t as fun as just playing. Good HS basketball players often play on outside courts or at courts in small gyms at elementary schools, community centers, church gyms, etc. They do this every day, and city kids often have the advantage over kids from the suburbs in having more games around them, at more times of the day and week, and with greater competition. The only major disparity between facilities of a stressed urban school and a well-outfitted upper middle class suburban school is the wealthier school may have a gym that can be converted in to multiple courts so the varsity and JV teams, boys and girls (along with the volleyball team) don’t have to compete against each other for court time.

                  Football, otoh, requires year-round, disciplined and structured training (primarily weight lifting, but also speed and agility drills, plus for some positions like QB and maybe offensive line, a lot of technique work). That’s easier for kids who have stable home lives, don’t have a 30 minute bus and/or subway ride to school, who have free time every day after school, and probably have few if any financial or care-giving responsibilities to their families. It also helps if you can go to a camp. The basketball camps get a ton of money from shoe companies, and there’s prestige in attracting top players, so economic constraints aren’t likely to keep potential top players from basketball camps. But there’s not the same big sponsorship money for a college’s July camp for linemen, or a kicker’s camp. I may have this wrong, but I suspect the football camps–and in the US, the baseball camps and just about every other sports camp–skew wealthier than do the basketball camps.

                  Then it’s what’s at the school. I live down the street from a Chicago public HS. It has a large gym. It has no actual football field. The team “practices” on a small enclosed field that most of the year is used as a dog park for people in the neighborhood. It’s probably around the width of a football field, but with no extra space outside what would be the sidelines. There’s no chalk on the grass. It’s shorter than a football field. They have one blocking sled. There’s no goalpost. Go to the suburbs, and a little kids’ municipal recreation league for 9-10 year olds would have been facilities. It also looks like it’s just one varsity team, with no freshman or JV team, and there are only 2 or 3 coaches.

                  A couple decades ago, when I coached track and cross country at one of the best HS’s in the Detroit area, probably a third or more of the kids on the football team (many of whom I coached in track) went to summer sports camps. The school had an athletic trainer on staff. Through their parents’ good insurance and moderate wealth, the kids had access to top-level sports medicine doctors and therapists. The school had amazing facilities, a ton of equipment, a terrific weight room, multiple fields so the freshman, JV and varsity football teams, plus the girls soccer teams, could all practice at the same time. There were about 5 or 6 coaches on the varsity team, plus a few others who primarily coached the freshmen and JV teams.

                  I think it’s this way on the coasts too, but I know that in the Midwest, the big schools that consistently field strong teams are mostly from upscale suburbs. And with schools of all sizes, private schools, especially Catholic schools, have disproportionate success. I just looked at the list of Michigan state champions in all eight classes (schools are divided in to eight groups, largest to smallest, so like-sized schools compete). Of the 128 state champions since 1999, 44 were by Catholic schools, 5 were non-Catholic Christian schools, and 1 was by Detroit Country Day, which along with Cranbrook (where Mitt went to School), is probably the highest-prestige school in the state. I suspect it’s roughly the same on the coasts, and similar but slightly different in the South, with the “academies” that sprung up after desegregation winning a lot of the championships.

                • Ronan

                  Thanks tj, dn and dana for these replies re football. They answer my queries pretty conclusively.

              • celticdragonchick

                I spent the summer of 1991 living in Eugene on a scholarship with the Oregon State Ballet and performing in Ashland Creek Park. That was also 70 pounds and several broken bones ago. Ballet is not kind on the human body.

                I could not imagine a bigger difference between two cities as Ashland and Eugene. They could have been different countries.

            • Karen24

              My high school offered one year of Spanish. One. No AP classes at all, and no honoros classes. (From ’95 until 2010 they offered three years of French and Spanish, now only Spanish, and AP English and US History.)

              • ThrottleJockey

                Was that at a rural or city school, Karen? Texas has a lot of good high schools (at least I’ve been impressed).

          • ringtail

            I never even heard of an AP course until I got to college. My high school was supposedly “Accredited with distinction” and I had one of the highest ACT scores we’d ever had. I was completely unprepared (academically but also in terms of maturity and study skills) for college. I actually don’t tell people where I’m from because I hate looking like a hayseed. It scares me that I may be permanently marked by my HS/Univ and I’m terrified that it’s a cycle I’ll continue should I have kids.

            That’s why I don’t understand the right’s lack of empathy. As a WASPy cis-het male I’m playing life on the lowest difficulty setting and it still sucks. I can only imagine what it would be like with real disadvantage.

          • gmack

            And yet there were worse schools.

            Indeed. When I was in high school, we had 0 AP classes. In my senior year, one of the English teachers started one (I can’t recall whether it was a lit course or rhetoric), but by that time, I had started a program where we could take courses at the local branch campus for both college and high school credit.

            This isn’t to say I had terrible teachers. My history teacher my junior year was outstanding (I still remember some of his lectures, particularly on the Protestant work ethic and the Gilded Age), and I had a very good English teacher my sophomore year (it was that year that led me to fall in love with novel reading; it also was the class that led me to want to become an academic). But I also had an Algebra teacher who literally would go days on end without speaking to the class. We’d come in the classroom and she’d have the instructions on the chalk board about what assignments we were supposed to do. Details about how to do the problems were on a memo she wrote. If you had any questions, well, you were fucked; she would just tell you, “The instructions are on the memo,” and send you back to your seat.

      • Denverite

        Taking your points in reverse order.

        That’s just it. According to my friend, if you have great grades and great test scores coming from a poor high school, it IS actually relatively easy — or at least not as hard — to get in to at least his university. Maybe they’re an outlier. It’s not an Ivy (so I guess I’m narrowing it down to one of maybe three schools), so maybe it’s different.

        As to cultivating connections, I’m probably biased by my own personal experience here. I went to a mediocre college because they gave me a full ride. I got into an elite law school because I had good grades in a hard major and a perfect LSAT score. I got a good job out of law school because I did well in that law school. I really didn’t cultivate any connections or network or anything. I mostly just tested well.

        • First of all, you are a white male (I think) so let’s not ignore your huge cultural advantages to start with.

          Second, if you are going to college and working really hard and studying hard and working so you can eat, you aren’t going to the frat parties where you make friends with the dad who works for Goldman Sachs and will get you the internship that will get you the job out of school.

          And good luck getting that Goldman Sachs job anyway if you don’t go to the elite school to begin with.

          What I think is going on here is that you think you worked hard and rose to the top and thus you think anyone can do it. But Horatio Alger myths are always wrong when applied broadly.

          • Denverite

            First of all, you are a white male (I think) so let’s not ignore your huge cultural advantages to start with.

            Very fair point. I also spent much of my childhood in a middle-to-upper-middle class household, which is yet another advantage. (My parents actually were poor when I was born and probably lower-middle-class when I was in high school, but they were able in the interim to secure enough assets in the interim to give us a middle-class-plus lifestyle.)

            What I think is going on here is that you think you worked hard and rose to the top and thus you think anyone can do it. But Horatio Alger myths are always wrong when applied broadly.

            I didn’t say I worked hard. I said I tested well.

            • Either way, I think you are applying your experience to people who grew up poor and it isn’t applicable.

              • Denverite

                Which is why I said I was probably biased!

          • Friend of mine knew someone who did recruiting for one of the big investment firms. He said if they hired 30 recent grads, usually only 2-3 would be from public universities (typically from one of the U of Cal’s, UVA, Michigan, etc).

            • My brother-in-law on Wall Street started 25 years ago with a degree from Siena. Says there is no way at all he would even get a second look today. All they hire as interns is Ivies and other elites.

              • ThrottleJockey

                There’s a lot of luck in Wall Street placement. The bio of the most hated hedge fund manager in America:

                Martin Shkreli, the son of Albanian and Croatian immigrants, was born in Brooklyn, New York on April 1, 1983. He grew up in a working-class community in Brooklyn. Shkreli skipped several grades in school and received a degree in business from New York’s Baruch College in 2004.

                In 2000, Shkreli was a college intern and then clerk at Jim Cramer’s Cramer, Berkowitz, & Co. After four years at Cramer Berkowitz, he held jobs at UBS and Intrepid Capital Management before starting his first hedge fund, Elea Capital Management, in 2006. Shkreli launched MSMB Capital Management in 2009.

                • DAS

                  That an “outsider” to the elite would engage in much more crassly horrid in their business practices is not a new thing at all:

                  (a) those born and bred into the elite have more skills in making sure their horrid business practices are not so crass and hence they are not such obvious targets

                  (b) sometimes those who are not born and bred into the elite have to be doubly assholish in order to prove to themselves and to others that they fit in

              • Unemployed_Northeastern

                I went to one of the NESCAC colleges for undergrad – but not Williams or Amherst, which more or less get the Ivy League pass into Wall Street and the management consultancies. So we’re talking a school ranked somewhere between like 5 and 25 or 30 in USNWR top liberal arts colleges. Absolutely not one *elite employer* interviewed at my school, and it was considered laughable, then and now, that any graduate would ever even land an interview, much less a job, at one of them. That is, unless their parents/relatives/major family friends were partners or clients of said institutions.

                Virtually everyone else doubled down on graduate/professional school. Some land jelly side up (doctors), some not (lawyers).

              • skate

                I expect Bowdoin counts as one of those other elites. Classmate of my niece’s at Bowdoin had a summer internship at Goldman about 4-5 years ago. Maybe interned for two summers. Kid had the preppy look down to a T (which I understand is a Bowdoin thing) but he was definitely not white.

        • But it’s harder to have great test scores if you didn’t go to a great school. Even disciplined, curious students will generally learn less in a mediocre or bad school than they would have in a good school.

          • Karen24

            And mediocre students in a good school learn more than good students at a bad school, which is why parents pay through the nose for private schools or houses in good school districts. My kids won’t move up the class ladder from us, but at least they won’t fall down it.

            • Ronan

              Is that true though ? My understanding was that the vast majority of a childs life outcome can be attributed to what goes on at home. ie what neighbourhood you grew up in, what your parents did, how much they made, connections and aspirations coming from your social context etc Afaict you could (generally) put a wealthy kid in a deprived school and it would make very little difference on their long term life outcomes.

              • Denverite

                It’s a lot more complicated than this at both extremes.

                • Ronan

                  What do you mean at both extremes?

                • Denverite

                  Even well-off kids struggle in horrific schools, and poor kids in great schools do OK.

                • Ronan

                  Okay, but the extremes dont really tell us anything generalisable, i dont think. A poor kid in a well off school probably (1) has had some sort of parental input pushing them into that school, so working out causation for future outcome is complicated. (2) is outside the norm.
                  A well off kid struggling in a horrific school? Well it depends on what we mean by struggling and horrific. I agree it’s plausible that a wealthy kid in a school with minimal resources and consistent gang violence might ‘struggle’ in school (on a number of levels) but my understanding is that their opportunities post school will generally be far above those of their classmates (how you can run the counterfactual of what would have happened to said child in an elite school, or what would have caused the hypothetical difference, I dont know) But afaik the ‘rule’ still stands, that the school (in general) doesnt make a huge difference (on future economic prospects. It might on a number of other levels.)

                • Ronan

                  There’s a relatively new book out, ‘the son also rises’ (which ive only read bits of so far) that traces social mobility across generations (10, I think) by looking at surnames, and comes to the conclusion that there’s virtually no meaningful long term mobility in the aggregate. Even in countries like Sweden, where investment can ameliorate the worst aspects of poverty (an important outcome, of course) there’s still little cross generational mobility.
                  Unfortunately the authors explanation(genetics) has obscured some of his prescriptions (redistribution)

                • ThrottleJockey

                  You know, what I like? Data is what I like:

                  But the researchers identified four broad factors that appeared to affect income mobility, including the size and dispersion of the local middle class. All else being equal, upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods.

                  Income mobility was also higher in areas with more two-parent households, better elementary schools and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups


                  The data suggests that you’re both right. In Chicago, a kid born at the 90th percentile in income will end up on average at the 68th percentile in income. Conversely, a kid born in the 10th percentile of income will end up on average at the 35th percentile.

                  I’d argue that what drives the #1 factor–integration of poor and middle class families–is that the integration drives a greater recognition of opportunities, leads to increased ambition, and results in reduced rates of violence and ‘social dysfunction’.

                • Ronan

                  TJ, okay, Fair point. I think that perhaps we’re all talking past eachother, which is mainly my fault because I extended my initial point about the lack of benefits from privately educating your child so they ‘wouldnt fall down the class ladder’, to something approaching a claim that schools dont matter.
                  Integrated neighbourhoods and investments in childcare and public services, jobs, public spaces, engagement in the community etc are not the equivalent of putting your kid through private school out of a fear of falling down the social ladder.
                  Im not expressing an opinion one way or the other on putting your kid through private school, just noting that it is safe to say that your child (from a relatively or wealthy background) wont end up impoverised as a result of not going to private school. In fact it’s unlikly they will see any meaningful decline in their class position in later life. There are multiple reasons people privately educate their children, I just dont think doing it for future economic benefits is ‘rational’ when you weigh the costs (of tutition) with the (assumed future economic) benefits. I also dont think people really do it for economic reasons, but more fundamentally because they value something else (and not primarily status )
                  It also depends what we’re talking about when we’re talking about mobility. If it’s ‘breaking into the elite’ then it’s mainly a fools errand. If it’s moving between quintiles then people move in and out of them (and at different times of their lifes) more regularly.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Ronan–I have friends who’re putting their kids in private school (one of them ironically is a public school teacher herself!) and all of them have deluded themselves into thinking that their kid can’t “get ahead” except by going to private school. I think its the 2010s equivalent of a 1980s BMW to be honest. Most of these people are extremely smart but they’ve been seduced into an educational arm’s race that they will certainly lose.

                  Ignore the mixed data on how much more or less a private school may teach your child vs a public school. What’s indisputably true, is that they’d be better off being the #1 kid at a poorer school than the #Median kid at a richer school. You’d be better off saving the $10K in tuition and using $1K of it to pay a highly skilled math tutor like my ex-gf.

              • DrDick

                Except that there is abundant evidence (and research) showing that schools with mostly poor and/or minority students have fewer resources available to them, even within the same school system.

        • JL

          I worked for a while as an undergrad in MIT admissions – which is one of a few candidates for the school that you’re talking about. At MIT there was (I presume there still is) a policy of looking at students “in context,” meaning that what was normal for your school/area was taken into account, as were your own personal circumstances. And work experience was considered a legitimate and often highly beneficial “extracurricular activity.” Overcoming adverse circumstances was considered a plus.

          However, it was not “easy” to get in, regardless of background.

          In retrospect, there were also some aspects that are class-biased. There was an idea that you should have something you did, even if it wasn’t a formal extracurricular activity, that you were passionate about. Working a minimum-wage job to support your family, while it would be a plus in other ways, would be unlikely to fulfill that, and a kid having to do that might not have a chance to do something else they really care about. Signs of interest in STEM, whether informal (reading STEM books in your spare time, tinkering with gadgets and building things) or formal (extracurricular activities, classes) were big positives, and the kid working the minimum-wage job might not have a chance to do even the informal version. People legitimately tried to give the kid who had no time to do this stuff a fair shake, and informal activities being considered just as legit as formal was, I think, helpful. But that doesn’t mean they always succeeded.

          Probably the biggest factor working against poor and working-class kids was just that the admissions professionals, like everyone else out there, had a tendency to favor people they related to, and most of them were not from poor and working-class backgrounds. The next biggest factor (or possibly the biggest, really) was that they were less likely to visit the high schools that poor and working-class kids are more likely to go to, so those kids were less likely to realize they should apply.

          There were a few good anti-classist things going on, in addition to the classist ones. The idea of evaluating applicants “in context” was one. A policy against going easier on legacies was another. Putting athletes and non-athletes in the same admissions pool could go either way, I guess? I actually knew quite a few students from blue-collar backgrounds at MIT; it seems more culturally amenable to that than some of the Ivies. The whole “making tangible things” ethic.

          I mostly remember it being privileged people who complained about the idea of “holistic admissions” as it was implemented at MIT. They didn’t like the fact that the poor black kid with a 1450 SAT who built stuff in her basement using a cheap electronics kit and worked a part-time job, could get in over the rich white kid with a 1600 SAT who did all the prescribed “Get into an elite college” activities at his private school. But of course, it can also be used in classist ways, to exclude the studious poor/PoC/immigrant kid in favor of the “well-rounded” rich white US-born one.

          TL;DR it was a mixed bag, though I think intentions were good.

          • Not at all surprised the intentions were good. I think colleges are far more deliberate and systematic about spreading opportunity than are employers.

            BTW, if we look at all of this a few steps further removed, most of this boils down to we’re an economically and racially segregated country, we do too little to ameliorate inequalities, and kids whose parents have achieved or been presented with advantages are likely to enjoy some of the same advantages throughout their lives.

          • Philip

            I do think that tech schools tend to be better about not building class biases into admissions. The extracurricular things that, say, an Ivy looks at are very upper-middle-class skewed. Whereas playing with circuits or blowing things up in your garage or whatever is, if not equally distributed, at least less unequally distributed. The bias is definitely still there, but it’s less overwhelming.

      • Davis X. Machina

        The vast majority of poor kids who do work really hard and are ambitious go to state schools because that is the peak of their ability to even know about.

        True mill-town story: Had a student years ago with perfect 160 on the old PSAT’s. No college in the family, no high school diplomas in the family.

        The first-generation computer-based college search stuff — it ran off of a laser disk IIRC — was just coming out, and the student came to me with a print-out that it generated.

        Her big question? “The first school on the list is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It sounds good. Is that a two-year school or a four-year school?”

        • I know someone who went to U of Chicago. She’s from a working class background, went to a small Catholic HS. She’d never heard of U of Chicago until she was a junior in HS, even though she lived less than ten miles away.

          • Denverite

            De La Salle?

            • Don’t know which one, but it wasn’t an elite prep school like De La Salle. This would have been late 80’s/early 90’s, so it may no longer be open.

              • Denverite

                De La Salle isn’t elite. It’s mostly just the south side Irish high school.

                • From Wiki:

                  While coming from a commemorative book published by the school, the authors of American Pharaoh:Mayor Richard J. Daley: His Battle for Chicago and the Nation note the following about the school’s impact on the history of Chicago:[3]
                  “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton” but “the business leaders of Chicago were trained in the Counting Rooms of De La Salle.”

                  Tuition is almost $10K per year. I’m sure a good percentage of kids get tuition support, but that still means a lot of kids’ parents are paying $10K just for tuition (plus computers, uniforms, transporation, etc).

                • Denverite

                  Disregard tuition figures from Catholic schools. A lot of that is paid by the local diocese. Especially on the south side, the Catholic schools basically just soak the non-Catholics so the Catholics can go for pretty much free. It’s basically Chicago’s response to desegregated schools.

                  (ETA: Also, the tuition at the good Chicago private high schools now [like the British School, Chicago Latin, etc., is $25k+.]

                • Uh, are you aware the median family income in Chicago is around $40K per year? And that the two schools you mentioned combined enroll about 500 students, and are in a city of 2.7 million with a public school system with about 440,000 students?

                • Denverite

                  Er, I’ve had kids in the Chicago public schools. I’m aware. My point is that a $10k tuition that is mostly picked up by your local diocese isn’t a sign of an elite private school education.

                  (ETA: Meant to say it the first time, but when I read that quote in American Pharaoh for the first time maybe fifteen years ago, I rolled my eyes. When I was waiting for the Red Line across the northbound Dan Ryan from De La Salle oh those many years ago, it didn’t really look so elite.)

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Denverite–What were your thoughts about the Chicago Public Schools? What did you like? Didn’t like?

                • Denverite

                  TJ —

                  It was just one kid for one year. She went to South Loop, which is excellent. First, it’s very diverse. The school is maybe 60% African-American, with the other 40% spread pretty evenly between white, Asian and Latino. That’s an experience she won’t get in Denver.

                  Second, the school is very regimented and no nonsense. Uniforms, strict rules, etc. She thrives in that sort of environment, so she did well. She learned more in that year than any other yet. (Despite going to maybe the best public elementary school in Colorado for the rest of her schooling so far.)

                • DrDick

                  They also produce a lot of cops. I knew a couple.

              • Unemployed_Northeastern

                Re: prep school tuition. Some of the day schools in eastern New England have tuition north of $40,000/year; I’m fairly sure tuition & room/board at an Andover/Exeter/Deerfield type of boarding school is somewhere in the mid $50’s per year now.

                • Richard Gadsden

                  Eton, just to give you a top-line number, is £37,836 a year – $57,584.12 according to Google.

              • John Revolta

                I’ve got two cousins who went to De. One’s a cop and one’s a guitar player/ bartender.

                • 96% of the class of 2013 went to college. 67% out of state.

                • John Revolta

                  Sure. Next you’ll be telling me that the Mayor’s an investment banker or something.

        • When I was a senior, the mother of one of the wealthiest kids in the school (which looking back on it would barely be considered upper-middle class by most of us today but it was an Oregon mill town) tried to get me to apply to Linfield, which is one of the best liberal arts schools in Oregon. I didn’t because I just couldn’t imagine what that would be like, why they would let me in, and how I would pay for it. I had no idea about the idea of financial aid and of course my parents didn’t either, supportive of me as they always were.

          • Amanda in the South Bay

            I graduated from a (smaller than Springfield by a bit*) Oregon high school several years after you did, and I never considered Linfield as one of the *best* LAC’s in Oregon. More like the school for the medium achieving student with reasonably well to do parents. U of Portland, Reed, Pacific and Lewis and Clark all seemed much more elite.

            *Holly Madison was in my high school class.

          • postmodulator

            I had approximately the same experience but with Hampshire College.

          • Jackov

            Your anecdote is supported by Avery’s/Hoxby’s research which shows the vast majority of high achieving, low income students will not apply to any selective college or university.

            • ThrottleJockey

              Yep, and that’s pretty disappointing. We tend to be harder on ourselves than similarly talented other kids, especially when you’re minority. My father wanted me to attend a state school just because he didn’t know about need blind admissions and how generous financial aid policies could be at certain schools.

              • Ellie1789

                Another place where elite/middle-class cultural capital comes into play. If parents and/or school counselors (if the latter even exist) aren’t already familiar with how elite colleges’ admissions and financial aid systems work, gifted students don’t even think about applying to them.

                I see this all the time with my Honors students at a midwestern public flagship, some of whom are way smarter than my Ivy League classmates. They come from small towns where no-one has ever left the state for college, so nobody around them ever even thought to suggest that they consider applying further afield or that need-based financial aid could make an expensive private college possible, and possibly even cheaper than the local public uni. A good friend at my Ivy college from the rural PNW had to *fight* the college counselor to get them to send her grades and recommendation letters to elite East Coast schools. Counselor had never seen anyone apply out of state and didn’t have a clue about how financial aid worked.

                • Richard Gadsden

                  This is why UCAS and a national student-finance system helps over here. If the rules are the same for going to your local college and to an elite school, then at least your school advisors know what the rules for the elite schools are.

        • JL

          When I got into MIT, there were people – at the best public high school in my state – who asked if it was in Michigan, or had otherwise never heard of it.

          I know other people from Southern and Midwestern public schools who were asked if it was like ITT when they got in.

          • Well, there is Michigan Tech, and it’s a very good school (often harder to get in to that U of Michigan-Ann Arbor).

            Not sure I could have come up with a single school I’d say was the best in Michigan. One could make cases for either or both schools in Bloomfield Hills, in Birmingham, in Ann Arbor, and in Grosse Pointe, plus West Bloomfield, East Grand Rapids, East Lansing, City High in Grand Rapids, maybe Detroit Renaissance or Detroit Cass Tech.

      • How are you defining success? If it’s getting into an elite school, Denverite and their friend is probably right. The brilliant kid at a mediocre, poorer school doesn’t need as many extracurriculars, etc., just to get in. To succeed there, and to succeed in the most successful way, though, they need stuff they can’t get at their mediocre, poor school. Unless there is a special kind of meritocratic path that ignores that other stuff, which there is in some cases. And then, sure, they arrive at midlife, and realize that they missed out on important stuff that their neighbors all have because they were born well-off? Maybe so. But so what? It doesn’t change that they really did get into the school in the first place. It doesn’t make it a mistake for them to have gone there, or for the school to have taken them.

        By the same token, the well rounded student government leader from the mediocre school either doesn’t get in, or gets in and can’t do the work. That kid flunks out or transfers and maybe doesn’t get included in the stats along with the kids who made honors but never made partner.

        It seems strange to me that we seem to have abandoned a system where college was the ideal place for bookish (or nerdy) kids to find themselves, to a system where it’s a reward for conforming to non-bookish norms as a teenager.

        • Ellie1789

          “It seems strange to me that we seem to have abandoned a system where college was the ideal place for bookish (or nerdy) kids to find themselves, to a system where it’s a reward for conforming to non-bookish norms as a teenager.”

          Sadly, history suggests this was never really the case.

    • sparks

      I don’t like this anecdata example any more than the ones I’ve given. What Erik says is true in my own anecdatal experience, connections matter quite a lot. The most successful graduate I knew at my university went to work at LLNL. She had a father and sibling there already. Another, who went to work at a Big 8 accounting firm (one that is no more), had connections also.

    • anapestic

      A long, long time ago — while on leave of absence from one elite university in the Boston area — I worked a very low-level job in the admissions office at an Ivy in the same area. From what I observed, I can say that the admissions office spent a substantial amount of resources seeking out kids from less privileged backgrounds and that in admissions decisions, those kids certainly didn’t need to have the same level of academic or extracurricular preparedness as applicants from upper class or upper middle class households.

      That said, when you looked at the final numbers of who got in, rich kids and alumni kids were still disproportionately represented in the entering classes, and there was no way to avoid the conclusion that the families they were born into were a huge advantage to them.

      So your director of admissions is likely telling the truth on an anecdotal basis, but if you look at the numbers, I’d bet they tell a very different story.

      • Steve LaBonne

        It’s tokenism. They use these stories to help themselves sleep at night. But as a significant contribution to social mobility, it’s laughable.

        • Jackov

          Amazingly, when elite colleges hit their internal targeted Pell Grant percentage the admissions office can no longer find any low income, high achieving students to give a break to.

          If admissions at highly selective universities were determined by merit, there would be at least 20% fewer students from the top income quintile on those campuses.

          • Philip

            They’d also be 80% Asian, though, so if you believe diverse schools are important, be careful what you wish for…

        • DrDick

          Yep. See mine above on percentages.

      • ThrottleJockey

        I’d expect rich and alumni kids to be disproportionately represented. SAT scores are well known to be correlated with income. That alone would explain the story, but, of course, alumni kids get affirmative action on top of already coming from a privileged background. Its virtually impossible to fail, which is how GW Bush got into Yale.

    • Jestak

      I think as far as college admissions go, at least at the most selective schools, you have a point. A few years ago I read Admissions Confidential by Rachel Toor, based on her experiences as an admissions officer at Duke. One point that stuck with me is that Toor notes that at places like Duke, being “well rounded” is far less important than being “angular,” meaning that you’ve done something unique and/or demonstrated a very high level of excellence in something.

      • ThrottleJockey

        Both are important to the mix, but I’d generally prefer someone who was well rounded, if only because those people, in my experience, are easier to work with.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        Pulitzer-winning WSJ journalist Daniel Golden’s book “The Price of Admissions” has some horrible revelations about Duke admissions practices. For one thing, more than one hundred underqualified, non-legacy applicants are shepherded to acceptance letters on behalf of the school’s development office, which basically means if you apply and come from considerable wealth, you’ll get in. There also was/is an admissions official there who kept getting highly remunerative board seats at corporations where executives recently had children accepted into Duke. To a student, they were underqualified. Golden admits he can’t quite prove quid quo pro, but it’s still pretty damning.

    • Jackov

      According to Bowen, in aggregate elite colleges gave no admission preference to students from low-income families.

      I am going with him, Avery, Carnevale, Hoxby, Kahlenberg, New America Foundation and Reardon over your friend on the issue of meritocracy.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Rich kids can afford tutors to get them through Physics, poor kids can’t. The people I’ve known to make it big studied awfully hard. The cultural capital wasn’t unimportant, but it mattered a great deal less than the educational capital.

      But rather than argue, here’s some actual data. The NYTimes has a great interactive that allows you to punch in your county and get the upward–and downward!–mobility rates for your area. Here in Cook County, there’s an odd convergence toward the middle. Whether you’re born in the 80th percentile for income, or the 20th percentile you’re likely to end up between the 40th and 60th percentiles in income. To move up from the 20th percentile to the 40th percentile is pretty good considering how rotten the 20th percentile has it.

      Moreover, a full 28% of those born in the bottom 20% will reach the top 2 quintiles of income–12% will be among the top 20% in income!

      • County-level data are usually useless. Cook Co is a classic example. There are over five million people in Cook County, and there are huge differences between Auburn-Gresham, the working class southern suburbs, Lincoln Park, Oak Park, Pilsen, Evanston, etc.

        Also, immigration to a major city probably skews that data. My neighborhood has a lot of immigrants, including quite a few recently-settled refugees. We have Nepalese farmers and poor Peruvians, but we probably also have people with college education in their native countries or who have a family background in commerce and in fifteen years some of those people, who were probably middle class back home, will be living out in Niles, where their kids will get a solid education and stay middle class (or better).

        • ThrottleJockey

          Yeah, good intuition. Its been reported that in the earlier data sets immigration skewed the study.

          As far as county level data goes, how good it is depends on what question you’re trying to answer. Its certainly no good for canvassing, or direct marketing. But if you get down to census tract level data your data set will thin so much that you might not be able to say anything of value. Presumably Chetty is working on a regression that can take into account the different neighborhood factors you, for instance, find on the South Side vs the North Side.

  • 2005, after working in organized labor, having run statewide campaigns in Michigan, and having done policy/legislative work in the Michigan Senate, I moved to DC. I knew a lot of campaign consultants, and a decent percentage of them had modest academic pedigrees (Plouffe only recently finished his degree from U of Delaware, McCain’s mgr hadn’t finished his, Messina went to iirc U of MT, Carville to LSU, etc). I tried to get something in DC, but it was tough for Dems, so I went on the road to manage a Congressional campaign. We won, and the candidate asked me to be his chief of staff.

    When you’re starting a Congressional office you get hundreds if not thousands of resumes. I eventually did what I think a lot of people in that situation do, which is not bother with the resumes. I did, however, take seriously all the referrals, from consultants, friends, constituents, DC orgs/lobbyists (not just corporate but also labor/enviro/consumer interest/etc), and other pols. One of the easiest things to do in that situation is unintentionally hire a staff of 80% grads of the Ivies/Stanford/U of Chicago/Duke/NYU, small elite schools like Wesleyan, Williams, Seven Sisters, etc., the expensive DC schools (Georgetown/American/GW), UVA, and maybe a stray Cal/UCLA/Michigan grad. I intentionally went against that. We did have one each from Duke, Berkeley, and the in-state Ivy, but we also had U of Michigan-Dearborn, a couple from small Christian colleges in TX (where they were on scholarships), one from Mankato State, one from Rutgers, one from a small Lutheran school in MN, and some from the public universities in the district. A year in to the term we were told by someone at the caucus that we had one of the two or three best office operations among the 30+ vulnerable freshmen. I think one big reason for that was we had a staff that came closer to reflecting–and understanding–our constituents, and for the most part had much better political instincts than did the grads of the elite colleges.

    Within a couple years, after I’d moved on and almost the entire DC staff I’d hired had moved along–district staff is more stable–the DC staff hired by my successor was almost all grads of elite schools. Like almost every other Democratic Congressional office in DC. Like almost everything in DC.

    A lot of people in DC are very smart and very earnest, and (among Dems and liberals) want to do good. But perspectives are narrow because they’re most people who went to DC in their 20’s, did unpaid/underpaid internships which they could afford because of their family’s economic comfort, and get hired in to jobs by people with the same kind of background.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      this whole subject is a bit close to home for me but I did want to say that a congresscritter having as much staff as possible from the district’s- hell, the *area’s*- universities seems like one of the better things they could do

      • I don’t think there’s a sound rule. Honestly, being from the district is not, in my opinion, a huge premium for DC staff. It would result in big disparities in available talent, since districts don’t have equal numbers of people in or able to move to DC.

  • Thom

    On the specific point of academic jobs, I think the book with Cambridge gets your foot in the door at places that would have previously ignored you. But of course there are very few senior jobs and the competition for them is even steeper than for assistant jobs.

    • Yeah, it might. But I can actually visualize the conversation even if I get an interview saying “Are we really going to hire a New Mexico PhD?” Not saying all faculty in an Ivy department would think that way. But many certainly would.

      • Thom

        Worse, it’s more likely an unspoken and even mostly unconscious bias.

        • Atrios

          It was certainly spoken loudly and regularly by some faculty members at an institution I was once acquainted. There was a candidate who was let’s say the equivalent of a U. of New Mexico Ph.D in this context and while they did end up making an offer it was only after dragging their feet.

          The story does have a happy ending. This candidate did score a very lucrative job at a pretty elite institution.

      • Denverite

        Shit. My spouse has a book from the top press in her field. And a PhD from a tip top department. And articles from journals that literally when they announce her at conferences people say “who did you sleep with to get placed there?”. (I’m not joking. Her friend asked this.) She can’t even get a sniff for the major Research I jobs.

      • Woodrowfan

        when we did our recent job search we barely glanced at candidates with degrees from the Ivys. The thought was “they won’t stay at some little tier-3 school.” But we had great candidates from some top public universities and hired someone from the California system. I’d rather have profs from good state schools than from an Ivy. I figure they’d be more likely than someone from an Ivy to be able to relate to our students, many of which are the first in their family to go to college.

        • Mike Lommler

          Based on my (limited experience) with seminar speakers we (the Northern Arizona University forestry grad students) have brought in from the Ivies, a lot of them have their heads stuck up their own asses. Two minutes in, I wanted to walk out of a talk given by Daniel Botkin. Probably should have. It did not improve over the next 58 minutes. I can’t imagine the pain of taking a class taught by some of those folks.

          • twbb

            Ehh, I’ve attended talks by Botkin. He’s not the most thrilling speaker ever but I’ve definitely heard a lot worse, on a lot of occasions.

        • DrDick

          In contrast, the administration at my tier III university has forced (over the wishes of the faculty) two Ivy grads on one of the departments (they both suck, loudly, BTW).

          • Woodrowfan

            I was told that in the (recent) past, when they interviewed candidates from an Ivy, that they copped an attitude of “you should be glad I am lowering myself to even apply for a job at your crummy little school.” ugh.

  • Mike Lommler

    I doubt that my little midwestern liberal arts school qualifies as “top”, but one of my advisors was a youngish fellow who got his PhD (geology) at the University of New Mexico.

  • My first thought is that I’m not sure I buy Rivera’s argument. It’s close to what I think but seems not quite right. My feeling at the moment is that you can’t just say “rich kids do this, working class kids do that, and rich kids succeed better, therefore that’s the problem”. Looking at my experiences and what I see in a mixed neighborhood and school, I just don’t see it working out that way.

    For one thing, a kid who behaved in what’s considered normal today for the upper middle class, at my mixed high school, would have been picked out by teachers as not academically serious and/or not disciplined enough to make it in the middle class world. There are just so many variables that influence what it makes sense for a kid to do. You can’t make a blanket statement for every kid in the country, which is what advice books too often do; they don’t allow enough space for parents’ judgment.

  • Denverite

    Alright, thanks for the wasted morning Loomis. I’ve got to feed the kids.

  • Lee Rudolph

    We call it…the Meritocrats!

  • Ronan

    The interview is, and book looks, interesting. But (with the caveats that the two arent mutually exclusive, and we shouldnt make the perfect the enemy of the good) I think the debates over social mobility are a bit of a red herring. Yes, opportunities should exist for talented/bright kids from disadvantaged backgrounds to get into careers that (1) would interest them (2) that are lucrative. And yes there should be (ideally) equality in education, and all the benefits that accrue to a person from having a meaningful, full education.
    But there’s only so much social mobility can achieve, particularly at the elite, rather than between class, level (which is what the interview is about)There are only so many spaces among the elite.
    It seems to me that breaking up these subtle, largely informal and deep rooted networks and privileges is verging on the impossible, so the only game in town is redistibution. (although it’s debatable if that’s politically more feasible)

    • Srsly Dad Y

      Elizabeth Bruenig published a review of Robert Putnam’s latest book, Our Kids, at Democracy Journal that really brought that point home to me. Her husband, Matt Bruenig, has written similar things at Demos. (They are btw adorable and funny to follow on Twitter.)

  • When I applied for my current job at Packages-R-Us I had 4000 hours of flight time.

    I had thousands of hours of pilot in command time. I had instructed in both fast-movers and heavy jets. I had glass cockpit experience as well as international experience.

    With all of that, had I not known someone in the company who was willing to sponsor me, my application would still be sitting in a pile with 5000 others.

    Sometimes just working hard isn’t enough.

    • postmodulator

      Yes, this is far too universal. We’ve hashed out my own similar experiences in IT — I got four job offers between December and March, but every single one started with me leaning on a connection, even if sometimes it was only a tenuous one.

    • Murc

      My understanding is that because of military aviation, the number of well-trained, well-qualified pilots in the civilian world is basically always going to massively exceed the number of available jobs for them.

      • There are less military pilots than there were in my day and they have to serve longer active-duty commitments.

        The end result is less ex-military pilots on the job market.

        I’ve always been skeptical about a so-called “pilot shortage” but we may be close. My company is seeing 100-150 pilots a year retire and that will continue past the day I hit retirement age in 2027. I suspect it’s the same elsewhere.

        The regionals are having a tough time recruiting people, but mostly that’s because their pay sucks.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Sometimes just working hard isn’t enough.

      In my experience, who you know is as important as what you know, especially as you move up the ladder. Also, minor, qualitative differences among candidates can drive hiring decisions. Most of the time it comes down to luck.

      I don’t mean this to say that qualifications don’t matter, but that most candidates are within a few percentage points of one another in terms of qualifications. When differences are so hair’s breadth small, minor differences loom large. Could I have a beer with this guy? Could I stand it if we were stuck together on a long layover? etc…

    • ArchTeryx

      Major Kong, believe me I feel for you, even as a ground-pounder egghead. My father was a military pilot in WWII, but never could break into civilian aviation for this very reason, and I’ve already told my story above.

      I ran out of sponsors, and the moment that happened, my career came to (and still is in) a dead halt.

  • Thom

    For what it’s worth, I had all the advantages (father was a professor, although at seminaries and later non-elite colleges, mother a public school teacher, I grew up in mostly well off area (though not nearly as well off as it is now), good public high school, academically inclined friends in high school), but I had no idea what an AP class was until I got to college. We did have classes for people who were doing better in school, but we weren’t earning college credit. And I also was unaware of SAT prep courses. For context, I graduated from high school in 1972.

    • Woodrowfan

      I graduated in 77 and we didn’t have AP classes either. (rust-belt white middle-class suburban school with a lot of students college-bound)

  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    William Deresiewcz notes in Excellent Sheep that nearly 1/4 of today’s classes at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton come from just 100 of the >37,000 high schools in the US and who knows how many abroad. 94 of them are private schools.

    • Another thing about those elite schools: they’re disproportionately the oldest child of the family. And they all think they earned it. My wife has either watched or listened to some of Sandel’s lectures for his justice class, and in a discussion or something the students had a hard time accepting that external factors other than their families had anything to do with them being there. She’s had similar discussions with her students at a pretty good but not nationally elite school. For them it was almost banal, that of course their social & economic advantages were big factors in them attending a pretty good college.

      • sibusisodan

        Anecdotally, from my cohort at Cambridge (UK), the number of people I met who weren’t – as I was- the eldest child, or who didn’t have an elder sibling who also studied at Oxbridge, was vanishingly small.

        I’ve never been able to decide quite what that meant.

    • Srsly Dad Y

      That statistic is obviously revealing (if true), but tbh it has never blown me away. It works out to H and Y and P each taking about 4 kids a year on average from each of the “top 100” high schools. And historically (I think, unless my info is dated) there are bigger cohorts than 4 kids every year at each HYP from Bronx Science, Stuyvesant, and Hunter College High — all NYC publics — as well as big cohorts from the private Phillips schools. So I bet the average for the rest of the top 100 is ~3 kids per H/Y/P per year, out of graduating classes ranging from maybe 80 up to maybe 300 (guessing). Nice numbers, but from the perspective of each high school (and parents who paid north of $150K!) they might look like a lesson in what money can’t buy.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        Let’s put it another way: less than 0.27% of American high schools produce nearly 25% of the entering classes at HY&P. That is disproportionate by almost one hundred fold – and that’s before we get into the international high schools, since students from abroad comprise 10-15% of those universities now. And then there is very likely similar or greater overrepresentation for graduates of those 100 high schools at the peers and slightly less selective competitors of HYP. Parents are dropping $150k to $200k on those high schools precisely because of that overrepresentation. Sure, their kid might/probably won’t get into Harvard, but they will have a much better shot at winding up in a Brandeis or Colgate or Georgetown than if they went to their local high school. Trust me, there is a notable difference in the college acceptance lists even in the nicest towns. A Middlesex places kids than a Concord-Carlisle High School.

        • Srsly Dad Y

          much better shot at winding up in a Brandeis or Colgate or Georgetown than if they went to their local high school

          See that’s the part I’m not sure is right, but it’s very hard to test. What you have at the “top 100” high schools is a super-high concentration of upper-middle-class/rich kids who have been college-bound since the womb. If you could disperse those exact same kids–and their parents!– back to their upper-middle-class, multiple-AP, neighborhood high schools, would their odds of getting into a selective college go up, down, or stay the same?

          I say the latter. I got into HYP from a small-town public high school because I was compared to other kids like me, not kids from Stuyvesant. The kids from Stuyvesant who got in had to be a whole cut above. I seriously doubt–from, let’s say, recent close observation–that attending an elite high school, per se, improves your college prospects beyond what they already are based on your social class background. (Boarding school (ugh) could be an exception.) I do think the kids from elite high schools (which I was not) will be better prepared for college. I recognize severe class biases in college admissions, but FWIW I see the yields of the “top 100” high schools as evidence of the underlying class advantage, not a major cause of it, at least at the admissions stage.

        • AMK

          The point about the foreign students is a good one. How many spots that could go to American kids from lower or working class backgrounds go instead to the children of wealthy foreign elites who can pay full sticker price for the “American college experience” ™ and the social cachet a US degree confers at home? Where I went to school, there were at least as many of these kiddies walking around as there were kids from even middle-class American backgrounds.

          Part of this is pure money-grubbing on the part of the schools, and their corporate-style emphasis on “global branding.” But part of it also flows from a naive belief in academia which holds that, say, Arab or Chinese princelings who come to campus to drink, fuck, and throw money around among themselves will naturally absorb Jeffersonian principles and return to lead tricorner-hat revolutions in their home countries. That they are admitted BECAUSE they are direct beneficiaries of the (profoundly illiberal) status quo does not seem to register with many people.

          • Lee Rudolph

            a naive belief in academia

            Or (and this would be all that matters, at the undergraduate level in any case) in academic administration. As far as I could tell (but, then, over time there came to be vast swathes of my professorial colleagues with whom I was no longer on cordial speaking terms) the professoriate in general was fairly well aware of the extent to which “the (profoundly illiberal) status quo” had directly benefited a sector of the student body (not limited to students from other countries).

          • My wife went to a school that made a concerted effort to get international students, but ones whose family weren’t the princes and dictators. She has two close friends from Asia whose families were middle class and received tuition assistance.They’re both doing good work, one I think in finance for an NGO, the other in international development. That kind of international recruitment is great, because it helps the American students understand things that are different outside North America and wealthy parts of Europe. But it’s also not a model that makes the school a ton of money, the way it is for the Ivys to accept a bunch of kids of Chinese party officials worth millions, or kids of oil barons, or ruling families.

      • Philip

        Yeah, it’s sometimes MUCH higher than 4. My public, non-magnet school averages between 15 and 20 to Princeton (local ivy effect) on top of the few each to HYS.

        • Srsly Dad Y

          Right, so for every HS like that, the averages for the rest of the T100 HS must be lower. Once you consider that (1) several of the hugest HYPS feeders are largish public high schools, (2) the T100 HS are, overall, simply the schools where upper-middle-class elite-college grads in major metro areas send their college-bound kids, and (3) UMC kids from big cities fare well in college admissions, I think the factoid of most T100s sending about a dozen total kids per year to HYPS is about what you’d expect, maybe even a bit low.

          Dead thread, I know! But put it one other way: Consider the percentage of the U.S. population that is geographically within reach of a T100 HS. I bet it’s ~25%. The kids attending those schools have been preselected in their major metro areas for advancement.

          • Srsly Dad Y

            P.S. ETA The kids at the NYC magnets/test schools are of course not all upper middle class.

  • CP

    This is a good moment to mention how college administrators, like employers, love the idea of the “well-rounded student” as well.

    Sounds like they want college students to be like F-35s, one entity to be shoehorned into a half dozen different jobs.

    Sounds about right.

  • Tyro

    And then the administrators took it over, made it about the well-rounded student, and filled it with their favorite frat boys and student government leaders and all the same people who college had always solidified as the next class of Tennessee elites.

    There is something about working in admissions administration that either the staff doesn’t have that much respect for intellectuals because they themselves aren’t that smart, or that they are simply bored by seeing academic achievers day in and day out and want to experience some variety. The point being, it seems to be all about their personal pathologies rather than academic goals.

  • manual

    I think these sorts of discussions are fine but are relatively unimportant for combating inequality and are vastly overrated in policy terms. While school and connections are very important determinants for outcomes at the high end, on the macro side this not our real problem. But yet we always over-focus on schools This blog, obviously, does a better job than others, but I still think the elite educated participants in this blog (professors, lawyers and other professionals) skews the conversation too much.

    School simply is not the major creator or reproducer of inequality. Yes, access to great schools are important at the high end but are, ultimately, pretty irrelevant for most people. Most people will never attend them. For this reason higher education in general could use some benign neglect. And “meritocracy” is conceptually, as its liberal proponents herald it, a terrible concept. Lets end social classes, not make them darwinian efficient!

    The labor market determines what jobs are needed, how much education we need and so forth. There just arent that many jobs that require the most elite education or even that much education. There is a lot more bang for your buck in worrying about other determinants for peoples lives than college.

    What do I mean. The BLS puts together a data series of future job needs both in terms of overall jobs needs and fastest growing occupations. Most of the jobs do not require an elite degree or even that much college – in fact most require none. Take for example the fastest growing jobs: home health aids and personal caregivers. These require no college, and probably not a HS diploma. So what you say? Well, they pay terrible wages. More broadly, we have an economy in which there are only so many elite, professional jobs. Most people will work not as financial analysts or lawyers or academics but in jobs that dont require a college degree (like our home health aid example). We should worry about how little these jobs pay, how to increase their incomes (unions, wage floors), how to more broadly compress the wages scale, or how to increase transfers to people in these jobs (money, free childcare, stonger social security etc).

    Worrying so much about elite education is not unimportant, its just a lot less important because a comparatively smaller slice of society will be competing for those spots. Even if we made Harvard, Yale and so forth full of kids in the 5th quintile, we’d be neglecting everyone else who will never consider college, or maybe shouldnt.

    Inequality has not increased because elite colleges have gotten more elite (although that has happened at the state level; I doubt its changed at all w/private schools); its increased because middle and low class employment opportunities pay a lot less and for a variety of other reasons we’ve seen huge changes in the labor market (financialization), changes in tax policy, macrostructural changes in competition for certain workers (globalization), a federal reserve obsessed with inflation rather than jobs and other important forces.

    Education is not our salvation, comrades.

    • DrDick

      No, but it is a route up and there is a vast disparity in the resources of any sort available to people. The issue is not elite education per se, it is the very real massive inequality of opportunity that exists. Elite education is just one factor, as you would know if you actually read the post and the comments. Then again, maybe you are just a AEI/Heritage?Cato troll trying to distract us from that reality.

      • Ronan

        No he’s not, you’re just getting causation backwards. You dont have inequality because you have shitty schools, you have shitty schools because you have inequality.
        Education is a ‘route up’, but for a very small number of people. And what exactly is the endgame if you manage to utilise it as ‘a route up’ for all ? You still need people to sweep the streets, so what do you do ? Import them?

        This is a much larger issue, the replacement of the politics of collective betterment with the politics of personal wish fulfilment. The heartwarming tale of the kid from the ghetto who becomes head of the Max Planx institute. The endless expectation that I cant just tolerate your lifestyle, but I have to approve. The endless expectation that all your dreams must come true from cradle to grave or the world has failed.

        The problem is that we’ve forgotten, the question isnt whether a job is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, by some completly unsupportable definition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. It’s whether it pays you enough to have a decent life. You dont always have to be upskilling and chasing the next fucking rainbow learning to code in Python after a 14 hr shift at the restaurant or engaging in intellectual banter with Brad De Long; working 14 hour days at an investment bank is not a sensible way to utilise your time, people can better themselves in any number of ways that dont end up with them eating canapes at the MaxPlanx institute, such as not buying that extra pack of ciggaretes, or learning to use a computer. The questions of who gets to go to Harvard, or what race or gender the next CEO of Goldman sachs is,are trivial.
        What has become of us with all our bullshit?

        • Ronan

          Im sorry, the first paragraph of that is the serious part, the rest got a bit ranty.

          • Srsly Dad Y

            I liked it.

        • The problem is that we’ve forgotten, the question isnt whether a job is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, by some completly unsupportable definition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. It’s whether it pays you enough to have a decent life.

          By the standards of the time, working in a Big Three auto plant in the 1970s was financially a pretty good job. And almost every person who worked in a Big Three auto plant in the 1970’s didn’t want their kid to have to do such mind-numbing work. And today, being a skilled tradesman (when we’re not in the Great Recession) pays great. But my electrician stepbrother just last week was cleared to return to work from his second major shoulder surgery in the last ten years caused by injuries on the job. He mostly likes his job–as is the case with many skilled tradesmen in construction–but it has significant costs to his quality of life despite the good pay.

          • Ronan

            My experience has been that the factory workers who got jobs in the good factories in the area (pay wise, with good conditions and chances for progression) wanted their kids (sons at least) to get jobs *there*, rather than escape the (real or not) tedium of the job. This is why, generally though not as a rule, it would be quite common to have two generations on the floor, or at times whole villages. Most jobs are tedious, eventually.

            But it also gets to my (semi serious above) point. I dont really buy into the romanticisation of the political economy of the post war era. There were huge costs to that emphasis on male dominated heavy industry (both to the health of the men who worked it and those, primarily women, who were locked out) So, normatively, I think the shift to a service economy could be seen as largely positive. The problem is, obviously, that it’s difficult to unionise service jobs en masse, it erodes non elite political power, and the profit margins are tighter so pay/conditions are (relatively) worse.
            The collective betterment option in such a situation wouldnt neccesarily try to return to an overly romantic past, or claim in a tenous and vague manner (not here, but everywhere else) that ‘education is the key’, or that ‘good jobs’no longer exist.. It would tax the wealth of the rich and top of the income of the less rich, while removing a variety of other (healthcare, schooling etc) costs. Ideally.
            But in this scenario education is a nice little add on, rather than the solution to all our woes.

          • manual

            I think we are on the same page.

            But the point could and should be the that your brother should be able to achieve monetary success in injury or not through transfers.

            Craft work and manufacturing jobs are not inherently good jobs; they weren’t when early waves of my family did them long ago, and they are not in the many countries we ship them to cf bangledesh. They are/were only good jobs because we made them good jobs through unions, societal norms, occupational standards and so forth.

            Id posit that shitty service jobs should not be bad jobs either and should pay a lot more.

            More broadly wed like to aim to a point where there are not any good or bad jobs and people can get money/needs met through non-job related channels as well.

            I know my parents did not want me to work in a factory; I went to college. But obviously not every job and every person is going to go to college, and that would not be desirable. So we need to devise a system in which everyone does ok whether they are the lucky college kid or not.

            Scandinavian countries do not have lower poverty than us because they have more college necessary employment opportunities or even a more educated populace. They have lower levels of poverty because the massively redistribute money through a combination of trade unions and govt intervention.

        • DrDick

          You entirely missed my point, however. The issue is not just about college admissions, which are just one example of systematic unequal access. It is also not about “good” or “bad” jobs. It is about choices and social mobility. The wealthy have lots of choices, including completely self-indulgent idleness. The poor and working classes have relatively few choices. It is about dismantling the emergent aristocracy of wealth. My own parents and their siblings all came out of poverty or near poverty to the professional classes because of the relatively open access to college education following WWII, which is also true of most of my friend’s families.

          • Ronan

            No you missed manuals point, which was poor education was a consequence and inequality the cause of the problems affecting developed countries, and accused him of being a RW troll.
            The claims about the decline in social mobility are actually contested. The positive effects of education for all are also contested. The negative effects of inequality are contested but more believeable. Youre missing the forest for a spot of pigeon fancying.
            This is also nothing about self indulgent idleness (and the idea that the poor were never ‘idle’, or didnt value idleness is a nonsense. Pretty much every rural economy in the history of humanity has produced idleness for long stretches of the year, and this was largely valued socially. Not that Im suggesting a return to that)

            • Ronan

              I’m loath to criticise anyones parental choices, so dont mean this snarkily, but this is a little relevant


              edit: also shows the impossibility of breaking up these status, education, wealth transmission mechanisms

            • DrDick

              No, I did not and manual also missed the point of the discussion. It is not just about elite education, but about good education, which will give you the skills to get a better job at whatever level. The poor and minorities are poorly served in even gaining basic skills like reading and arithmetic, let alone the interpersonal and other skills you need to do well in any job (and I have worked a lot of low skill blue collar jobs). The system is designed to deny them any social mobility, not just the opportunity to reach the top. It is not at all impossible to break up the mechanisms for transmitting inequality, it simply requires recognizing they exist, identifying them, and targeting programs to eliminate them (confiscatory inheritance taxes on large estates, maximum income tax rates at 80%+ on all income over $1 million, more and better funding of public education and equitable distribution of resources for starters).

              • manual

                No you dont no a thing about inequality – that is clear.

                We’ve had massive growth in inequality and almost none of it has to do with education, it comes from a series of policy choices that redistributes income from the vast majority of Americans to an increasingly smaller group of people who capture all the rents.

                You dont seem to understand this and instead want to focus on increasing skills and human capital development. That is the line of argument of the conservative think tanks that you associate me with.

                I want to make sure the person who makes my burrito at Chipotle makes the same as your professional parents. If you think the labor market can or even should be made entirely up of PHDs, JDs and MDs you are completely missing the point.

                You want to equip people with skills so they can maybe have access to social mobility. Im fine with that. But I want to give everyone a shot, not just those who get access to good schools, the right skills or are “smart enough” to get ahead access to the fruits of life.

                You get my result through redistributive institutions. With yours you just get a more educated populace. And as we have seen over the long term more skills do not mean everyone gets to share in the wealth. In fact, since the recession we’ve seen increase in college educated recipients at minimum wage employers. There problems are not fixed by more school, and your solution is of little help.

      • manual

        You’re going to accuse me of being a AEI/Heritage?Cato troll? Fuck you.

        Quite obviously the point is that education is unfair. My point is fixing education wouldnt mean terribly much.

        • DrDick

          If I was wrong, I apologize, but education does indeed matter in America, even for low skill/low wage jobs. Given the current job environment, it is even more important. Again, the argument is not just about education or the high end, but why shouldn’t a poor kid be able to move to the top tier based on their skills? It is about the privilege and resources available to members of the elite, but not the masses, which have increasingly have become necessary to advancement above a certain level. It is about the deliberate disenfranchisement of the poor and minorities, of which educational opportunities are a highly visible aspect.

          My own perspective comes from growing up in the 50s and 60s, which saw the greatest social mobility in our history. Both of may parents were the first in their families to go to college and only two of my grandparents even graduated high school. My father’s family were blue collar in the skilled trades, his father was a furrier and his grandfather was a machinist. My mother’s family were Ozark hillbillies, but her younger brother got a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and went on to be a top executive at Hughes aircraft. All of my friends growing up had similar backgrounds. The families I knew who were not college educated did their best to send their kids to college. When I started teaching in the 1980s, many, if not most of my students were first generation college students.

          I acknowledge that college is no longer the guarantee of a better life that it was when I was young, but for many it is the only means to hold their own, since corporations have shipped most of the good paying blue collar jobs offshore. College is not for everyone, and should not be, but basic education still matters. We need to do more to prepare students for better paying jobs that do not require college as well.

          Will equalizing educational opportunity solve all our problems? No, and nobody here even suggested it would, but it is part of the solution. It is also something we have some control over and can do something about. Erik has also posted on the problems with offshoring jobs and union busting, as well as ways to deal with that.

  • DAS

    A few comments:

    (a) it is amazing the number of soft skills one picks up simply by being in a certain social class: I remember being on the bus and a bunch of kids from my university (which serves primarily working class kids) were all dressed up and going to a formal dinner at some club in the city, which was part of some or other class they were taking. They were reviewing all the “dos” and “don’ts” of such a dinner. As Mrs. DAS (who was raised in part by proper Southerners and very Anglophile West Indians) will tell you, my table manners, etc., are horrid. However, all the stuff they were talking about was stuff that I had just absorbed by osmosis growing up in an upper-middle class house

    (b) while issues of race and even religion* play a role in being able to have the networking and soft-skills to make your way into the top, class is often a key issue and moreover there are programs for top students who are underrepresented minorities to help them break into our elite (I must give a shout out to the excellent Prep for Prep program: one of Mrs. DAS’s friends has a kid who went through this program, and he’s now on track to join the elite of our society with social contacts and all). While it may be much, much harder to break into the elite without white privilege than to do so if you have white privilege (also the social networks that exist for many white people, even white ethnics who were excluded from the elite WASP social networks**, simply couldn’t exist for African-Americans who would be lynched if they tried to form such networks outside of very limited environments such as church), the soft skills necessary to be in the elite are skills that working class whites often lack as much as underrepresented minorities

    * my mom grew up in a working class family and in a largely Hispanic neighborhood with horrid schools, so she largely had the same disadvantages that many underrepresented minorities had. However, being Jewish she had one big advantage: her parents had her in a Jewish youth group that allowed her to interact with kids from upper-middle class families who went to good schools, so my mom knew what she was missing in her education, which, if she were an underrepresented minority, she wouldn’t necessarily know. And knowing what you need to learn is a big part of making sure you eventually can learn it!

    ** Charlie Pierce once wrote an excellent take-down of the “my immigrant ancestor worked his way up by the bootstraps, so why can’t ‘those people’?” argument. But another point to be made is that if you were the right kind of white ethnic and presented yourself correctly you very much could be included in exclusive WASP social circles. For example, I had a great grand-uncle (or something like that) who lived in an exclusive neighborhood even though he was Jewish. He didn’t have to hide his Jewishness either; that he was a blond who had no foreign accent and was named Charlie Robinson ensured nobody really cared he was Jewish. This sort of thing, obviously, couldn’t be done if you were what they call in Canada a “visible minority”: a Black person couldn’t join an all white club or live in an all white neighborhood unless he was passing for white (or, in some areas, you could also get into such environments by passing for African or for Caribbean) and thus living in constant fear of being discovered, etc.

    • Lee Rudolph

      However, all the stuff they were talking about was stuff that I had just absorbed by osmosis growing up in an upper-middle class house.

      Tell me about it.

      I grew up in an upper-working class house. I was the 1.5th person in my immediate family to go to college (the .5 being my mother, who—in a semi-successful effort to escape the life that her teaching credentials from the normal school in California, PA, would have restricted her to—worked her way through two years at Ohio University in the depths of the Great Depression, managing to get a B.A. in chemistry, which only ever qualified her for a job during the war, when she worked at American Steel & Wire in the Cleveland flats until the boys came back; after which she took up teaching again). In my non-immediate family, my father’s sister also went to OU (which is how my parents met), as did her son (4 years my senior). None of my male relatives in my father’s generation had any college, and in the generation before none finished high school. My parents, at least (I cannot be sure about my aunt and uncle), socialized with no professional people of any sort (I exclude elementary school teachers of that era from the class of professionals); and among the many things my semi-permeable social membranes were never exposed to were “all the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of such a dinner”. I was, in brief, an urban bumpkin.

      Now, my high school guidance counselor was not quite a bumpkin: she had, in fact, graduated from Connecticut College for Women (as it was then), and she had as her mission in life the getting into “Eastern colleges” of as many of the smart kids from James Ford Rhodes as she possibly could. (Ohio was, and I suppose still is, filled with colleges, several of them very good indeed; but she wanted us to Go East.) Thanks in large part to Sputnik, I was admitted to Princeton, and before I went, Miss Whalen made sure to arrange a dinner invitation from a CC classmate of hers who was married to a sub-dean of admissions.

      Jaysus, but I flubbed that (and was never invited back).

      And by virtue of having immediately fallen into a crowd of wonks (many of similar upper-working-class backgrounds), I never learned any better in four years there.

      Fifty years later, I’m no longer a bumpkin (or not much of one), but whatever social skills I may now manifest owe nothing to youthful (or mature) osmosis.

      • I never made it to an elite college. I just dated a bunch of women who did. When I was in my 30’s & even early 40’s. [DC is a great place to date if you’re a liberal guy without insecurities about being with a smart woman.] At 18 or 22 they might have thought I was nice or endearing or interesting or whatever. But socially they would have (correctly) judged me a suburban bumpkin.

      • BTW, that’s a great story, Lee. Thanks for sharing that.

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  • porwin

    There are two things being talked about in this thread. I can probably speak to both from my own life, but I’ll stick with some professional observation. It is quite accurate to say that students from poorer backgrounds are largely excluded from Ivies and high power SLACs. However, if your interest is in social mobility, I would direct you to this chart put together by an NPR reporter on schools that focus on social mobility 9 of the top 15 are public schools (including a couple of California State U; mine is at 19th). These kids arent going to Goldman Sachs or “Biglaw” (whatever that is) but some are becoming CLS, nurses, k12 teachers, and the best of them become MDs, PhDs, and MBAs. They move from families working several minimum wage jobs to stay afloat to comfortable, middle class lives. By the thousands per year (we have 400k students in the CSU, 150k in the UC). Its not fast, but it does work. And all of the “is college worth it” bullshit does not help. Yes it does, a lot. I realize that wasn’t the point here, but its all part of a weird myopia that lots of middle class and upper middle class (mostly white) people have about the world. I am one of those people more than I’d like, but my work environment reminds me, often forcefully, of how small that vision is. The issues of elite universities and the students who go to them are not that important in the grand scheme of things.
    PS – someone made some comments about science PhDs and parallel issues. I think that tends to get exaggerated as well. Most of the fortune and misfortune of science PhDs trying to get jobs is related to luck – who is hiring when you are looking, and who is looking when you are hiring. Keep trying! one of my best faculty colleagues spend 4 years trying to get a job, not even getting interviewed some years. He turned out to be a terrific colleague and scientist. Also cast your net wider – there are non-R1 non-SLAC schools that are great places to work and do research.

  • Matt McIrvin

    My experience is that the moment you actually get into an elite graduate school, the interest in well-rounded students abruptly vanishes, and what they really want is someone interested in nothing but narrowly targeted research for all their waking hours. It’s a sort of bait and switch.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Wait. Graduate schools actually (pretend to) seek out “well-rounded students”? I had no idea. (Despite having been full-time non-tenure-track faculty for 8 years at a couple of Ivy graduate programs after getting my degree, I never had anything to do with admitting graduate students.) Nor can I say I ever saw much evidence.

      On the other hand, in his thesis one of my colleagues (and sometime collaborator) contributed the term “well-rounded retract” to the reduction-theory-of-quadratic-forms literature, and he did so with malice aforethought (having been a well-rounded undergraduate), as also with his other terminological contribution, “endoscopic group” (despite having had no hands-on experience with endoscopy at that early age).

  • NBarnes

    Sorry to everybody that posted great stories and were honest and genuine. You’re all very brave.; I just had to skim the thread or else I’d be leading riots while singing La Marseillaise. I may do that anyway. Anybody got a good torch and pitchfork? Asking for a friend.

    • Ellie1789

      For pitchforks, you might want “Ca ira.” Aristocrats to the lampposts!

  • Richard Gadsden

    To give an example from another country:

    My high school usually put in two or three applications to Oxbridge a year, and got about two students per three years. There was an honours board for Oxbridge graduates who’d been there, which is a real sign of “aspirational just about middle-class enough”.

    I was just barely middle-class enough to scrape an offer from Cambridge, but my high school screwed up (unusual student and they didn’t know how to work the system) and I missed by one grade. So I went to my safety school: Imperial College.

    This is roughly like missing out on Harvard and going to MIT instead, so I won’t ask for any sympathy, but the UCAA (now UCAS) rules, where you can always accept two offers, one as a backup (so you could have a backup offer from even the most elite institution), meant that I could have an elite safety school, which AIUI isn’t an option over there.

    IC, being full of nerds and foreigners, suited me much better than I suspect Cambridge would have.

    PS, no, my name isn’t on that honours board; a BSc (Hons), ARCS doesn’t match up to a BA (Oxon) or a BA (Cantab), however many Nobels my department had.

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