When it comes to financial success later in life, is it better to be born rich or smart? That’s the question researchers set out to answer in a recent study.
What did they find? That the rich are more likely to get richer. In America, anyway. And while, yes, we are in Canada over here, it’s worth noting that we live awfully close by and that some of these findings (perhaps not all) likely apply here too.
The report, titled Born to Win, Schooled to Lose: Why Equally Talented Students Don’t Get Equal Chances to Be All They Can Be, was conducted at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The researchers found that the most talented disadvantaged youth don’t do as well as the least-talented advantaged youth. And that a child from a family in the highest quartile of socioeconomic status (SES) who has low test scores in kindergarten has a 71% chance of being above-median SES at age 25. By comparison, a child from a low-SES family with high test scores has only a 31% chance of reaching above-median SES by 25.
These disparities start early in life. For example, about one-quarter of lowest-SES kindergartners have top-half math scores, compared to about three-quarters of highest-SES kindergartners. And they continue straight into adulthood, as the study found that even talented poor students who make it through high school and college don’t keep pace with affluent students in the labour market, regardless of academic success. Top-scoring kindergartners from low-SES families who earn college degrees have a 76% chance of reaching high SES by age 25 compared with a 91% chance among their low-scoring, high-SES peers who earn college degrees.
“To succeed in America, it’s better to be born rich than smart,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of CEW and lead author of the report.
The study authors point out that people of all abilities and backgrounds have ups and downs throughout their academic journeys, but advantaged students have safety nets to keep them on track less-advantaged student don’t. As a result, less advantaged kids are more likely to fall behind and stay behind.
“The fact that children’s test scores go up and down over time shows that there is room for intervention,”said Megan L. Fasules, an assistant research professor and co-author of the report. “With smart policy changes, education can mitigate the effects of inequality.”
Other findings include:
- Students from low-SES families who show academic promise do have higher odds of success, particularly if they maintain high math scores in high school.
- The highest-SES families spend almost five times as much on enrichment activities as the lowest-SES families.
- Almost all children from the highest-SES families have at least one parent with some postsecondary education, compared to less than a third of children from the lowest-SES families.
- 10th graders from families in the lowest SES quartile are half as likely as their highest-SES peers to earn a college degree by their mid-20s—even when their test scores suggest they are equally
Separate research released in May confirms the finding that being rich leads to being richer.
That study found that people with relatively high social class are more confident than those with “lower” social class and that this confidence is associated with being perceived as more competent and ultimately more hirable. This is despite the fact that, on average, those with higher social class were found to be no better at a trivia test than their “lower-class” counterparts.