Arnold Kling  

The Inequality Issue

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From my latest essay:


The distribution of rewards in America today is still relatively merit-based. However, the extent of economic and social mobility is difficult to assess. One optimistic indicator of mobility is that wealth differences across siblings remain fairly high. Another optimistic indicator is that educational attainment continues to rise with each generation, particularly among immigrants. On the pessimistic side, the trend toward smaller families tends to reduce sibling variation, and my guess is that it reduces the deviation of children's social standing relative to their parents.

Another pessimistic trend would be more stratified marital habits. Fifty years ago, a college-educated male was much more likely to meet and to marry a female with average or below-average cognitive ability than is the case today. Stratified marriages will produce stratified children. As cognitive skills become increasingly important determinants of wealth, we may see a reduction in intergenerational mobility across income classes.


Cato's Brink Lindsey writes

Despite the strong incentives, the percentage of people with college degrees has been growing only modestly. Between 1995 and 2005, the share of men with college degrees inched up to 29% from 26%. And the number of high school dropouts remains stubbornly high: The ratio of 17-year-olds to diplomas awarded has been stuck around 70% for three decades.

...The problem is a lack of elementary self-discipline: failing to stay in school, failing to live within the law, failing to get and stay married to the mother or father of your children. The prevalence of all these pathologies reflects a dysfunctional culture that fails to invest in human capital.

Other, less acute deficits distinguish working-class culture from that of the middle and upper classes. According to sociologist Annette Lareau, working-class parents continue to follow the traditional, laissez-faire child-rearing philosophy that she calls "the accomplishment of natural growth." But at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale, parents now engage in what she refers to as "concerted cultivation" -- intensively overseeing kids' schoolwork and stuffing their after-school hours and weekends with organized enrichment activities.


Brink is probably right to curb my enthusiasm about the rate at which educational attainment is increasing. But I think he's wrong to quote a sociologist whose work I'm betting would be demolished by Judith Rich Harris.

UPDATE: Karl Smith writes,


Rick Hanushek shows that working with great teachers four years in a row can eliminate the performance gap between low income and high income students However, what makes a great teacher has little to do with education or experience. He says that the missing factor is unknown but probably innate.

I suggest that the missing factor is the ability to gain a student's trust. The ability of a teacher to convince a student to disregard that giant data set called her community and instead believe the message the teacher is painting. This often requires disregarding parents as well.


Read the whole thing.


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CATEGORIES: Income Distribution



TRACKBACKS (1 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/732
The author at Modeled Behavior in a related article titled Prior Trap Preview writes:
    My October talk at GMU is going to be on the same issue that Lindsey refers to as the Culture Gap. The type of facts that go to the heart of my concern and apperantly his is this: Among students who received high scores in eighth grade mathemat... [Tracked on July 10, 2007 10:26 AM]
COMMENTS (7 to date)
Ironman writes:

Recently, I put together a series of posts that looked at how the distribution of income according to age group looked in 1995 and 2005. The most remarkable change is the reduction of the number of low income earners, or rather, the shift away from the lowest end of the income spectrum toward higher income levels. That change is consistent with the increasing level of education of younger individuals.

Buzzcut writes:

I don't know if Judith Rich Harris' book would come to a different conclusion than Brink.

Okay, it is peers, not parents, that make the child. But the affluent and educated cluster in neighborhoods together. And who are their children interacting with in ther overscheduled lives? The overscheduled children of other affluent, educated people.

Once again, the predictions made in "The Bell Curve" are coming true. Meritocricy naturally leads to a different kind of aristocracy, one based on natural ability, probably genetically inherited.

8 writes:

The womyns' movement increased the gap between rich and poor?

Bruce G Charlton writes:

I think it is sloppy-thinking or dishonesty to equate low levels of social class mobility with old-style 'aristocracy' - as seems to happen among the media punditry.

I have one genuine aristocratic friend (title, big country estate etc) and he needed a PhD to pursue his career, needs to work incredibly hard at several jobs to maintain income and status, wife has a very busy full time job, they shop at the same shops as everyone else, kids go to the same schools as other upper middle class people and so on.

I fully expect their kids to do very well in life, due to a combination of good genes, good upbringing and schooling, and plenty of resources - but they will need to go to school, go to university, get good jobs and work hard in order to succeed - in ways that their ancestors certainly would not have needed to do.

To imply that 'nothing has changed' from the days when aristocratic birth was both necessary and sufficient to maintain wealth and status is either uninformed or manipulative.

ed writes:

I agree with Buzzcut.

Robert Speirs writes:

"her community"?? why is Smith assuming that teachers are women? If he used the non-gender-specific "his", as has been used by writers of English for hundreds of years, he wouldn't commit this act of sexism.

Karl Smith writes:

her community"?? why is Smith assuming that teachers are women? If he used the non-gender-specific "his", as has been used by writers of English for hundreds of years, he wouldn't commit this act of sexism.

Actually, her refers to the student not the teacher. I tend to use her as the baseline in my writing and he only if there is more than one hypothetical person and I want to make it easier for the reader to keep them straight.

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