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June 24, 2005

Facts for the Day

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

  • The gap in income between the college-educated and the non-college educated rose from 31% in 1979 to 66% in 1997.
  • The proportion of students from upper-income families at the country's elite colleges is growing, after declining during the years following WWII.
  • These days, only 3% of students in the most selective universities come from the bottom income quartile, and only 10% come from the bottom half of the income scale.
    (Source: The Economist)



posted by Michael at June 24, 2005


After WWII there were plenty of smart people working in blue collar jobs. So some of their kids turned out to be smart enough to go to college. No surprise there. But that sorting process makes it harder for each successive generation of lower class people to produce kids that are smart.

As our lower class becomes more non-white (i.e. mostly more Hispanic) the fraction of the lower class whose children amount to anything will decline even further.

At the same time there is greater mating by intellectual ability.

And at the same time, the official ideology of America at the moment - promoted by the Left and publically submitted to by cowards on the Right - is that we are all equal in ability and genetics has nothing to do with it and racial differences in genetics are unimportant. This is the "Bright Shining Lie" of our time and it is doing far more damage to our society than divisions over the Vietnam War did.

Posted by: Randall Parker on June 25, 2005 8:24 PM

10% of the kids from the lower half of America get into the very best, most competitive, most expensive schools? I'm surprised it's that high a percentage.

People in the lower half are generally there for a reason. Having a high IQ, above-average ambition, and a personal ethic of self-sacrifice and forward-thinking will usually raise you out of that condition. The people who are left behind are much more likely to be lacking these things, or at least not to have them in excess. Their children typically follow suit.

If you want to get into Harvard on a paid scholarship, you better have all of these attributes in excess, and more. That even 10% of our best kids come from a below-average background is encouraging.

Suppose that number were a more egalitarian 50%? It would tell me one of two things... that either intelligence, drive, and ambition were worthless indicators for success in life, or that parents had little influence over their children's lives.

Posted by: Mike on June 26, 2005 8:06 PM

Where, exactly, did you get these statistics? I went to but I couldn't find those stats.


Stu Mark
Redondo Beach, CA

Posted by: Stu Mark on June 27, 2005 6:28 PM

If true, those are some dire statistics.

Posted by: Aaron on June 28, 2005 5:24 AM

One point to make about the income quartiles thing: Kids who are college-age have older parents compared to, say, kindergartners. Older people tend to have higher incomes than younger people. So even if there was complete class equity in college admissions, just by virtue of having older parents than average, college kids would come from wealthier than average families.

Posted by: Dave Munger on June 28, 2005 12:50 PM

Stu -- I found the figures in the printed edition of the Economist. They were in one of the magazine's columns -- Lexington, maybe? I can't remember any longer. I couldn't find them in the online Economist either,sorry.

Actually, the point that struck me most about the figures is this:

* The mid-century emphasis on an IQ-and-achievement meritocracy really disrupted a lot of traditional social hierarchies.
* It looks at this point not just that the IQ-and-achievement crowd has settled into their new strata, but maybe even that the new hierarchies that have evolved may turn out to be as rigid as the old ones they replaced. If the bright-and-hardworking marry each other ... if they clump together in terms of location and occupaption ... if there's some biological basis for the the way they've excelled ... Well, that's gonna be one stiff and unyielding set of social arrangements for outsiders to crack.

Can we conclude that the whole emphasis on meritocracy thang was to some extent a power grab by the bright-and-hardworking? Just wondering ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 28, 2005 3:26 PM

One factor working against a concentration of wealth by inherited intelligence is the extreme churn in a capitalist economy. What skills succeeded today may be of no use tommorow. True, the intelligent and upper-class have more resources to adapt, but having come from a position of privilege can and does breed complacency. For example, are second or third generation Asian Americans going to push their kids as hard to succeed as their Asian born parents? This is one of the positive outcomes of legal immigration.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on June 28, 2005 4:50 PM

Can we conclude that the whole emphasis on meritocracy thang was to some extent a power grab by the bright-and-hardworking?

Isn't that what the word 'meritocracy' actually means?

Posted by: Mike on June 28, 2005 8:43 PM

What we are seeing is NOT a power grab by the bright and hardworking. The bright and hardworking have always done alright for themselves. The issues is government policies that distort the risk/reward ratio. Professionals (doctors, lawyers, accountants) are the beneficiaries of government regulation, proximity to the government's monopoly power over coercion (law courts), and the recipients of heavy subsidies (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.). "Professional managers" of the M.B.A. variety work in the government itself or for large corporations, the continued profitability of which is maintained in no small part by government regulation and government support of intellectual property rights (which, not by coincidence, keep getting broader.) None of these people generate wealth by putting their own money on the line. All are quite insulated from the downsides of the plans that they cook up and implement. The division that has always existed between the owners (stockholders) and the managers is being written at large into society as a whole, in this division between the PMBs ("Professionals-Managers-Bureaucrats") and everyone else.

My prediction is that in the future things will continue to tilt every more heavily towards the PMBs because of their increasing grip on the government. I doubt this will constitute a positive social trend, but that could easily just be envy on my part.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on June 29, 2005 5:40 PM

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