Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"If you don't do well in school, your descendants could grow up to be Morlocks"

OK, maybe it's not that bad, but Berkeley professor Claude Fischer still paints a grim picture. (via Thoma, of course.)

Degree inequality

It is now generally understood that economic inequality has expanded greatly since about 1970. (Well, there are exceptions. For a couple of decades, some commentators denied that economic inequality was growing, claiming that it was all a statistical illusion. A few holdouts against reality may remain.) Now the debate has shifted to what – if anything at all – should be done about inequality.

Most of that discussion has been about income inequality. Between 1979 and 2007, the one-fifth of American households with the highest income experienced a roughly 100% increase in their annual, inflation-adjusted, after-tax income (280% [!] for the highest one percent of households); the middle one-fifth got about 25% more income; and the poorest one-fifth got about 15% more (see pdf). For wealth – property, stocks, and the like – the gap is enormously greater and has also widened over the last few decades.

Less discussed is the widening college degree gap. Yet its implications go considerably beyond money, to widening differences in life experiences and ways of life. (I draw in particular on the work of my colleague, Michael Hout, notably here [pdf], and on two books we wrote together, here and here.)

Fischer follows this with a number of troubling statistics. I found this part particularly striking:
Even is more happening along the education gap: Increasingly, college graduates marry college graduates and live among college graduates. Increasingly, Americans group by education and their ways of life diverge by education.

Although the trends are complex (see here), Americans today are likelier to marry people of the same educational level as themselves than was true decades ago. Some of this development results from educated men increasingly marrying educated women; for example, the lawyer who married his secretary is now a lawyer who marries another lawyer. And some of this change is due to poorly-educated men becoming ineligible as spouses; drop-outs can no longer support families on brawn alone.

Then there is residential separation: A study by Thurston Domina (pdf) shows that college graduates are concentrating in some metropolitan areas (San Francisco and Raleigh-Durham, for example) and seem to be avoiding others (Indianapolis and Las Vegas, for example) and also that neighborhood segregation by college education grew substantially between 1970 and 2000. It grew faster than segregation by income, even as segregation by race declined. Another study documents how the highly-educated are concentrating in the downtowns of the most booming cities. And a recent story reported that these degree-holders are starting to raise their children in center cities — even in Manhattan. Thus, enclaves of the highly-educated are growing in chic, gentrified, non-smoking neighborhoods, while the less educated move to the scraggly, sprawling suburbs of stagnating cities.

What is less clear, although certainly plausible, is that this widening separation carries along with its economic and social divisions, a widening gap in values and ways of life: two different Americas, divided educational attainment.
I would find the use of just desserts as a justification for policy more palatable if we weren't seeing an alarming decline in social mobility.

No comments:

Post a Comment