A recent study in the US, reported on by the Washington Post, confirmed that the least gifted children of high income parents graduate university at higher rates than the most gifted children of low income parents. This begs an important question: is a privileged upbringing linked to academic success?
Before delving into the crux of the matter, it is important to note that the application of genetics is still in its infant stages. So the research conducted was primarily focused on data gathered from Caucasian people as, said by the Washington Post, “the world’s genomic data comes overwhelmingly from people of European descent, and the genetic comparisons across races can produce bizarre results”.
What was found was that only about 24 per cent of people born to low income fathers in the high potential group graduate from university. This figure is substantially overshadowed by the 63 per cent college graduation rate of people with similar genetic scores who are lucky enough to be born to high income fathers. Amazingly, though, there was a 27 per cent graduation rate from those who scored at the other end of the genetic scoring scale but are born to high income fathers, meaning that they are as likely to graduate from college as the highest-scoring low income students.
What this reveals is that the concept of meritocracy (primarily in the United States) is fundamentally flawed. What’s more, the outcome of such results could have profound effects on the wider economy. Since college graduates of a higher-income family tend to end up in leadership positions, this could be detrimental to potential capital and GDP. Of course, these results reveal a slightly depressing reality of what life in America is like. Potential is being wasted.
The economy is likely to suffer because of this. Perhaps the potential of the next Stephen Hawking is being squandered. But there is a silver lining. Because of this study, the economy knows its greatest weaknesses and now it can fortify them. So this short term shock can result in long-term exponential success. However, the article stresses that graduation from college is seen as the epitome of “success.” This is quite a limited definition. A person from a lower income family may be willing to work hard, save their money or perhaps start a business. Success can be measured in many ways: building a happy family, a happy marriage, pursuing a career that one enjoys and uses the gifts they have, etc… These measures of success do not necessarily guarantee future success in life. A university education can help in many cases but it is not a promise of life long success.
In short, not everyone is able to be Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting: not everyone can be from a less favourable economic background and be noticed by top professors at Harvard. Those born rich will most likely be graduating from colleges more often than those who were not born in high income families. But that still does not limit the other opportunities that one can have. The definition of success is infinite. It does not have to be limited by a university degree.
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