Issuu on Google+

Education and Equal Opportunity

7/26/09 3:18 PM

Grasping Reality with Both Hands The Semi-Daily Journal of Economist Brad DeLong: A Fair, Balanced, Reality-Based, and More than Two-Handed Look at the World J. Bradford DeLong, Department of Economics, U.C. Berkeley #3880, Berkeley, CA 94720-3880; 925 708 0467; delong@econ.berkeley.edu.

Support this weblog | About This Website | About Brad DeLong | This Weblog | Weblog RSS feed | Brad DeLong's Egregious Moderation | Order of the Shrill | Office Hours: Evans 601, by appointment, email delong@econ.berkeley.edu | Academic C.V. | John Yoo and the Torture Memo | Audio and Video Read the comment policy: no drive-bys, and if you bring information and humor you will be fine... Obama Economic Recession Here’s Obama’s REAL plan to turn the economy around.

Economics Homework Help Micro / Macro Economics Homework Help by Economics Professors

MoneyMorning.com/economic_recovery

www.ASAPTutor.com

Weblog Home Page Weblog Archives Econ 115: 20th Century Economic History Econ 211: Economic History Seminar Economics Should-Reads Political Economy Should-Reads Politics and Elections Should-Reads Hot on Google Blogsearch Hot on Google Brad DeLong's Egregious Moderation July 25, 2009

Education and Equal Opportunity He writes, in the FT: The mobile society stalls at the gates of academe: Making it has been the American dream for two centuries. Horatio Alger, who died 110 years ago this month, wrote dozens of hugely popular novels (Struggling Upward, Strive and Succeed) that imprinted the aspiration on millions of minds. In their pages boys would rise from poverty to the middle class, often through the kindly intercession of older men but always with a display of grit. The theme spanned the 19thhttp://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/07/education-and-equal-opportunity.html

Page 1 of 5


Education and Equal Opportunity

7/26/09 3:18 PM

class, often through the kindly intercession of older men but always with a display of grit. The theme spanned the 19thcentury Atlantic: Samuel Smiles (1812-1904) promoted the theme of social advancement through individual striving in Self Help (1859) and other works. The career of his fellow Scot Andrew Carnegie, moving from real childhood rags to world-beating riches in early middle age, gave foundation to such exhortations. But where the myth had reality, it now has less. Recent studies show that the US is near the top, and the UK in the upper levels, of the league of developed states in which the poor do not or cannot help themselves to rise. One much quoted study notes that “the idea of the US as ‘the land of opportunity’ persists; and clearly seems misplaced”. Why? Education is at the root. In the land of opportunity, the immigrants of the 19th and early 20th century could rise – or at least their families could – with the burgeoning industrial economy. In 1914, Ford’s workers were three-quarters foreignborn, and their jobs did become as solid and middle-class as Alger imagined – if more through militant unions than kindly benefactors. Now, the good jobs need at least one college degree: a PhD is no longer synonymous with genteel scholarly shabbiness but can be leveraged into great wealth, personal and corporate. George Borjas, the economist, reckons that where children of immigrant parents had, for much of the last century, easily surpassed the earnings of their fathers and mothers, they now more often stick at the same level. Because US immigrants are disproportionately little-educated Mexicans, and because they tend to stay in Hispanic enclaves, their ability and willingness to mount the academic ladder is limited. The lesson travels: acculturation to norms of ambition, improvement through education and willingness to integrate into the broader society (which means a loss of distinct identity) are good ideas for social mobility in all societies. Insofar as some communities – including indigenous working-class communities – wish to emphasise their difference, their place on the lower rungs of class society will remain. Thus, curiously, the university becomes an ambiguous social factor. The more education it confers, the better the possibility for advancement up through the classes. But it also functions as a filter: the professions, and higher earnings, are now so routinely associated with the degrees it gives that those without its benison find the career and class bonds tighter than ever.... This week’s British Cabinet Office report on access to the professions presents the narrowing of access in stark terms, forecasting a kind of caste society in which professionals are drawn largely from the 30 per cent of the most highly educated (and higher social classes) of the population. This is true of all professions in wealthy countries – even as they have recruited more women, as the gender pay gap has fallen and as minority groups have seen their representation in the professions rise.... [I]ndividual and family mobility – another irony – seems better served in states with a strong social democratic tradition. In the Scandinavian countries, Denmark in particular, movement up (and down) is better lubricated. One cannot have everything. The international tables of top universities are dominated by the US and the UK, which cater for global as well as their own elites. Hard-driving and expensive private schools are embedded in the Anglo-American social fabrics; the Cabinet Office report shows that some professions – such as the judiciary and journalism – are at the higher levels dominated by their products. When this writer began in a provincial newsroom, he was one of two graduates; the route to national glory could still be trod by a school leaver with shorthand and sharp elbows. Now, it would be far more difficult.... [P]arents who push for entry to better schools, or better schooling in the one they get, are the real motor forces of a dynamic society. The antidote to social ossification would thus seem to be a new kind of class struggle, a storming of the frozen winter palaces that tutor and employ our increasingly entrenched elites. [1] "Intergenerational mobility in Europe and North America": Blanden, Gregg and Machin (LSE, 2005) Three preliminary points: First, although the myth of upward relative mobility through luck and pluck did have some reality, it never had much.

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/07/education-and-equal-opportunity.html

Page 2 of 5


Education and Equal Opportunity

7/26/09 3:18 PM

Second, very few Ph.D.'s can be "leveraged into great wealth, personal and corporate"--engineering and biotech and finance only, and not all of engineering and biotech and finance. For the overwhelming majority, Ph.D.s are still "synonymous with genteel scholarly shabbiness": don't get a Ph.D. if you aren't driven to spend your life telling people what you know and trying to learn more--it will be ta mistake. Third, Borjas's findings about income across the generations are mostly due to the stagnation society-wide of all incomes in America save those of the very top of the income distribution; I have seen no evidence that little-educated Mexican-Americans are following any different a path from the one that little-educated Slovak-Americans or PolishAmericans or Greek-Americans or Italian-Americans or Chinese-Americans of a century ago--and the incomes of littleeducated Mexican-Americans today are definitely converging to the English-speaking norm much faster than did the incomes of little-educated ex-slave African-Americans of a century and a half ago. And two main points: First, the more unequal a society is in an "inequality of result" sense, the more important is equality of opportunity--the greater is the injustice done by the deprivation of equality of opportunity--and the harder it is to attain equality of opportunity as parents of greater relative wealth and status have more social power to deploy to gain an edge for their children. It is no mystery, no surprise, and no irony at all that intergenerational social mobility is greater in countries with a strong social-democratic tradition. Second, it is very difficult to have a great deal of power in this society if you are not exquisitely well-prepared to compete when you are 25--which requires that you have or be able to rapidly acquire patrons and that you went to and took advantage of a good college or did something else functionally equivalent, which requires that you applied yourself in high school, which is very hard to do unless you got a solid foundation in terms of basic skills and study habits in elementary school. This means that (i) people who are scared off from going to college because of the debt it incurs have a very small shot at large amounts of upward mobility, and (ii) the decisions people make when they are seven about how to spend their time shape their lives for the next seventy years. In even a half-good society, one should not be able--it should not be the rule--that one can greatly narrow the possibilities for one's life by what one does or fails to do at seven. I am still not sure whether my beliefs that in a good society higher education--indeed, all education--is free to the students and that elementary-school teaching is a very high-status profession reflect my own biases produced by my own position within this society or whether my beliefs are a rational assessment of reality, but it is worth thinking about... rated 4.43 by 7 people [? ] You might like:

Boris wrong on Maggie and mobility (@Next Left) Global Warming since the Start of the Twentieth Century (@this site) 2 more recommended posts Âť Brad DeLong on July 25, 2009 at 08:48 AM in Economics, Economics: Education, Economics: Inequality, Economics: Labor, Philosophy: Moral, Political Economy, Political Economy: Social Democracy | Permalink TrackBack TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00e551f080038834011572341b9f970b Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Education and Equal Opportunity:

Comments http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/07/education-and-equal-opportunity.html

Page 3 of 5


Education and Equal Opportunity

7/26/09 3:18 PM

You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post. Now I will spend all day thinking on what I was doing at seven years of age. Posted by: Ted kaminski | July 25, 2009 at 09:12 AM Two follow-ups to this admirable post. First, let's state explicitly what is implicit in this, since one generations outcomes condition the next's opportunities, vigorous attempts to insure substantial equality of results are necessary to insure equality of opportunity. At least to prevent the more debilitating forms of childhood deprivations. Second, the experience of Mexican and Hispanic migrants in the early Twenty-first Century parallels the experience of the early 20th Century Italian migrants. Many have no intention of becoming permanent residents or citizens. Instead they are in the US to make a "grubstake," then return to their native lands. This motive militates against attempting to adopt US culture. Those who do intend to stay certainly appreciate that acquiring the local language is essential for economic mobility. Thus the fears of a failure to assimilate Hispanic migrants are misplaced. A final note: Here in Georgia much construction is done by crews that are predominantly Hispanic. Is it possible that a part of the slow rise of the unemployment rate at the beginning of this recession was a consequence of illegal migrants losing their jobs and returning to their native countries instead of being counted among the unemployed? Posted by: John Howard Brown | July 25, 2009 at 11:10 AM In France, at least (and I understand Germany's is similar -- can't speak for other European nations), children are split around junior-high age into the Lycee or the technical-school track. The division is formal and, AFAIK, there is no way a kid who wasn't deemed academic material around the eighth grade could ever make to a university. It's possible -- even likely -- that hard-working, bright kids from poor families have better opportunities on average than they do in the states. That said, the caste system was pretty rigid -- at least back in the '80s. Posted by: trotsky | July 25, 2009 at 11:36 AM If it's your bias, it isn't yours alone. I agree. Posted by: Mark Field | July 25, 2009 at 11:41 AM Excellent analysis and completely on target. I would simply add that the loss of manufacturing jobs and the decline of unions (through the actions and policies of Republican administrations and Congresses) have played a major role in this change in mobility. I also share your biases about what is good and desirable in society. It is why I am a socialist. Capitalism, with its inherent tendency toward concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a small minority, is fundamentally incompatible with democracy Posted by: DrDick | July 25, 2009 at 12:59 PM I wouldn't want a tracked system. It's not wise that all decisions about your future are made by age 13 or 14. I think our system is more flexible for people at various stages of their life. I would like to see more data as to whether college really has an advantage over say, skilled labor, electricians, plumbers, construction workers etc. Some people's intelligence is not reflected in typical school subjects. It is not right to say that someone is not successful if they don't go to college. College is very expensive right now and after you figure the cost and lost wages, is there really an advantage to college for everyone or only in certain professions? Better assessment techniques to determine types of intelligence would help people make better decisions about what career to choose. Posted by: Nancy Kirsch | July 25, 2009 at 02:42 PM Ideally, post secondary education should be free and merit based. That would solve many of the problems with inequality. Posted by: Nancy Kirsch | July 25, 2009 at 02:45 PM "Parents ... are the real motor forces of a dynamic society."

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/07/education-and-equal-opportunity.html

Page 4 of 5


Education and Equal Opportunity

7/26/09 3:18 PM

Whether a child's future is largely decided by age 7, or 14, or 18; it's the parents who have the most influence - at least in the system we have today. I'd like to see a different system, one that mandates two years of national service at the completion of H.S. -- or age 18 for those who drop out. A couple of years away from home, working 50 or 60 hours a week for a small stipend (and preferably little free time to spend it), ought to catalyze the maturation process and inform the decision-making process on what path to choose. For some it may be the only 'real' work they'll ever have to do in their lives. Good. For others, it may be enough of a glimpse of what life may hold in store to cause them to redirect their energies towards a better education. Also good. If nothing else, it will broaden their experience and give them a little more time to figure who they are and what they want to do in this world without fear of 'falling behind.' Posted by: Kevin O'Neill | July 25, 2009 at 05:29 PM

Verify your Comment Previewing your Comment Posted by: | This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted. Post

Edit

Your comment could not be posted. Error type: Your comment has been posted. Post another comment The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again. As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments. Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate. Continue

Me:

Economists: Paul Krugman Mark Thoma Cowen and Tabarrok Chinn and Hamilton Brad Setser

Juicebox Mafia: Moral Ezra Klein Philosophers: Matthew Yglesias Hilzoy and Spencer Friends Ackerman Crooked Timber Dana Goldstein of Humanity Dan Froomkin Mark Kleiman and Friends Eric Rauchway and Friends John Holbo and Friends

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/07/education-and-equal-opportunity.html

Page 5 of 5


Education and Equal Opportunity