The Growing Social Gradient in U.S. Educational Attainment and the Shadow of Meritocracy

Poor students have long trailed affluent peers in school performance, but from grade-school tests to college completion, the gaps are growing. With school success and earning prospects ever more entwined, the consequences carry far: education, a force meant to erode class barriers, appears to be fortifying them.

“Everyone wants to think of education as an equalizer — the place where upward mobility gets started,” said Greg J. Duncan, an economist at the University of California, Irvine. “But on virtually every measure we have, the gaps between high- and low-income kids are widening. It’s very disheartening.”

The growing role of class in academic success has taken experts by surprise since it follows decades of equal opportunity efforts and counters racial trends, where differences have narrowed.
Class an increasingly good predictor of academic success after decades of equal opportunity efforts? That's just what my theory of the changing relative importance of external resources and personality predicts.

The article presents a laundry list of possible influences on the phenomenon, all of which probably explain some of the variance. My theory suggests that a nonnegligible portion of the growth of the gap is explained by growing differnces in the personality characteristics that you need to succeed academically. And indeed:
Income has always shaped academic success, but its importance is growing. Professor Reardon, the Stanford sociologist, examined a dozen reading and math tests dating back 25 years and found that the gap in scores of high- and low-income students has grown by 40 percent [...].
Reasons given for this: The rich provide more "enrichment" and enjoy an "advocacy edge". Again, that probably plays some role, and data is cited to the effect that lower-class students finish college less often even holding skills constant. But I don't think you can understand that kind of phenomenon unless you look at past meritocracy, and acknowledge that children will tend to resemble their parents no matter what.

I predict that we're going to see a lot of handwringing like this in the coming years and decades. As societies stay relatively meritocratic, class will become a better and better predictor of education. This will lead to more pressure to tackle the remaining deficits in meritocracy. This will only help to solidify the phenomenon it was meant to rectify. And so on, and so forth, civil war.

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