Does Education Actually Shrink Wealth Inequality? Nahhh
Conventional wisdom dictates that education is the route to success. We’re told that doing well in school allows anyone – even the less fortunate – to have the opportunities to succeed one day. Alas, as the Atlantic reports, the statistics say otherwise. Perhaps most tellingly, rich kids who skip college are still 2.5 times more likely to become wealthy adults than poor kids who do receive their college diploma.
You wanna be rich? Studying might help, but not nearly as much as being born into privilege.
As the wealth inequality gap continues to widen, it’s become increasingly naïve to believe that education is the answer. Obviously, part of the problem is the difference in the quality of schools. Even amongst public schools, the strength of the education being offered to students in well-to-do communities versus lower class communities is drastic.
But it goes well beyond that, too. Even the smartest of the students who live in poverty – those whose education, grades and standardized test scores correspond with wealthy kids – aren’t finding the success that financially privileged students do. Smart low-income high school students rarely apply for competitive colleges, whereas smart high-income students apply to many of them. Amongst the highest achieving students, affluent ones are more than twice as likely to attend a top university than poor students with similar intelligence and skills.
Likely, there are many reasons for this higher education wealth gap. The elite low-income students probably assume they can’t afford the best schools. They probably lack the confidence to pursue opportunities that aren’t typical of their communities. And they probably do not have the guidance counselors to show them how to game the system and apply to a variety of reach and safety schools, as well as hunting for scholarships.
Diplomas from the best colleges can often result in the best (highest paying) jobs. Without the prestigious degrees, high-achieving/lower class individuals fall back into the cycle of finding less success than their well-to-do peers.
Obtaining the best jobs is also a losing proposition for lower-class individuals. While similar statistics are not available for the United States, in Canada, 70 percent of the sons of 1%ers work either directly for their fathers’ companies, if not directly for their fathers. That’s some real nepotism in action and a way to keep the rich rich at the exclusion of otherwise promising poor young adults.
What’s the answer? A Mother Jones op-ed might have a potential solution: instituting policies that consider class when evaluating college or job applications. Though Affirmative Action seems to be losing in court battles, switching from race- to income-based decisions could add some diversity in the types of people receiving the best opportunities.
In the end, however, while I find the circumstances troubling, maybe part of the problem is the way we are interpreting and viewing these dismal education/success statistics. By measuring “success” in purely financial terms, we are helping to establish having lots of wealth as a top objective, a belief that has undoubtedly spawned the enormous wealth inequality gap in the first place.
A quality education shouldn’t necessarily provide a few lower-class people with the tools to reach financial prosperity. Perhaps the best education would help the masses to imagine a new system that opens opportunities to everyone and prevents such rampant wealth inequality. I mean, if education isn’t going to help the poor to receive a fair shake in this game we call capitalism, we might as well teach them to change the game entirely.