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Be the first. Add a review and share your thoughts with other readers. Interior architecture -- France -- Paris -- History -- 17th century. Interior architecture -- France -- Paris -- History -- 18th century. Human comfort -- France -- Paris. Design -- Human factors. Human comfort. The story becomes even more disconcerting when you see just where on the ladder the tightest rubber bands are located. Canada, for example, has an IGE of about half that of the U.
The difference is in what happens at the extremes. Here in the land of opportunity, the taller the tree, the closer the apple falls. They wash up together on every shore. Across countries, the higher the inequality, the higher the IGE see Figure 2. But around the world and throughout history, the wealthy have advanced the crystallization process in a straightforward way. They have taken their money out of productive activities and put it into walls. Throughout history, moreover, one social group above all others has assumed responsibility for maintaining and defending these walls.
Its members used to be called aristocrats. The main difference is that we have figured out how to use the pretense of being part of the middle as one of our strategies for remaining on top. Krueger liked the graph shown in Figure 2 so much that he decided to give it a name: the Great Gatsby Curve. It was published in , just as special counsel was turning up evidence that bonds from that company had found their way into the hands of the secretary of the interior.
Stewart was running away from subpoenas to testify before the United States Senate about his role in the Teapot Dome scandal. We are only now closing in on the peak of inequality that his generation achieved, in But it can buy a private detective. Grandmother was a Kentucky debutante and sometime fashion model kind of like Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby , weirdly enough , so she knew what to do when her eldest son announced his intention to marry a woman from Spain. Grandmother instituted an immediate and total communications embargo. When children came, Grandmother at last relented.
Determined to do the right thing, she arranged for the new family, then on military assignment in Hawaii, to be inscribed in the New York Social Register. She did have a point, even if her facts were wrong. Money may be the measure of wealth, but it is far from the only form of it. Family, friends, social networks, personal health, culture, education, and even location are all ways of being rich, too. They define us.
We are the people of good family, good health, good schools, good neighborhoods, and good jobs. We are so far from the not-so-good people on all of these dimensions, we are beginning to resemble a new species. The polite term for the process is assortative mating. The phrase is sometimes used to suggest that this is another of the wonders of the internet age, where popcorn at last meets butter and Yankees fan finds Yankees fan.
In fact, the frenzy of assortative mating today results from a truth that would have been generally acknowledged by the heroines of any Jane Austen novel: Rising inequality decreases the number of suitably wealthy mates even as it increases the reward for finding one and the penalty for failing to do so. According to one study, the last time marriage partners sorted themselves by educational status as much as they do now was in the s.
For most of us, the process is happily invisible.
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But sometimes—Grandmother understood this well—extra measures are called for. Ivy Leaguers looking to mate with their equals can apply to join a dating service called the League. It is misleading to think that assortative mating is symmetrical, as in city mouse marries city mouse and country mouse marries country mouse. A better summary of the data would be: Rich mouse finds love, and poor mouse gets screwed.
It turns out—who knew? According to the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, 60 years ago just 20 percent of children born to parents with a high-school education or less lived in a single-parent household; now that figure is nearly 70 percent. Among college-educated households, by contrast, the single-parent rate remains less than 10 percent. Since the s, the divorce rate has declined significantly among college-educated couples, while it has risen dramatically among couples with only a high-school education—even as marriage itself has become less common.
The rate of single parenting is in turn the single most significant predictor of social immobility across counties, according to a study led by the Stanford economist Raj Chetty. None of which is to suggest that individuals are wrong to seek a suitable partner and make a beautiful family. People should—and presumably always will—pursue happiness in this way. We may have studied Shakespeare on the way to law school, but we have little sense for the tragic possibilities of life. The fact of the matter is that we have silently and collectively opted for inequality, and this is what inequality does.
It turns marriage into a luxury good, and a stable family life into a privilege that the moneyed elite can pass along to their children. This divergence of families by class is just one part of a process that is creating two distinct forms of life in our society. In 19th-century England, the rich really were different.
We are reproducing the same kind of division via a different set of dimensions. Among low-educated, middle-aged whites, the death rate in the United States—alone in the developed world—increased in the first decade and a half of the 21st century. The sociological data are not remotely ambiguous on any aspect of this growing divide. We also have more friends—the kind of friends who will introduce us to new clients or line up great internships for our kids.
These special forms of wealth offer the further advantages that they are both harder to emulate and safer to brag about than high income alone. We prefer to signal our status by talking about our organically nourished bodies, the awe-inspiring feats of our offspring, and the ecological correctness of our neighborhoods. We have figured out how to launder our money through higher virtues. Most important of all, we have learned how to pass all of these advantages down to our children.
In America today, the single best predictor of whether an individual will get married, stay married, pursue advanced education, live in a good neighborhood, have an extensive social network, and experience good health is the performance of his or her parents on those same metrics.
We tend to overlook the fact that parenting is more expensive and motherhood more hazardous in the United States than in any other developed country, that campaigns against family planning and reproductive rights are an assault on the families of the bottom 90 percent, and that law-and-order politics serves to keep even more of them down. New forms of life necessarily give rise to new and distinct forms of consciousness. In short, Nanny is to have every attribute one would want in a terrific, professional, college-educated parent. Except, of course, the part about being an actual professional, college-educated parent.
There is no chance that Nanny will trade places with our busy 5G couple. The ad is written in flawless, 21st-century business-speak, but what it is really seeking is a governess—that exquisitely contradictory figure in Victorian literature who is both indistinguishable in all outward respects from the upper class and yet emphatically not a member of it. The Gatsby Curve has managed to reproduce itself in social, physiological, and cultural capital. Put more accurately: There is only one curve, but it operates through a multiplicity of forms of wealth.
Rising inequality does not follow from a hidden law of economics, as the otherwise insightful Thomas Piketty suggested when he claimed that the historical rate of return on capital exceeds the historical rate of growth in the economy. Inequality necessarily entrenches itself through other, nonfinancial, intrinsically invidious forms of wealth and power.
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We use these other forms of capital to project our advantages into life itself. We look down from our higher virtues in the same way the English upper class looked down from its taller bodies, as if the distinction between superior and inferior were an artifact of nature. My year-old daughter is sitting on a couch, talking with a stranger about her dreams for the future. Determined to get something out of this trial counseling session, I push for recommendations on summer activities. If you happen to ride through the yellow-brown valleys of the California coast, past the designer homes that sprout wherever tech unicorns sprinkle their golden stock offerings, you might come across him.
His high-school classmates still remember him, almost four decades later, as one of the child wonders of the age. Back then, he and his equally precocious siblings showed off their preternatural verbal and musical talents on a local television program. Now his clients fly him around the state for test-prep sessions with their year-olds. There is a weekday discount. Some of his clients book him every week for a year. Then I remind myself that Grandfather lasted only one year at Yale.
Today, you have to self-combust in a newsworthy way before they show you the door. Inevitably, I begin rehearsing the speech for my daughter. We love you for who you are. And why would you want to be an investment banker or a corporate lawyer anyway? But I refrain from giving the speech, knowing full well that it will light up her parental-bullshit detector like a pair of khakis on fire.
In , 54 percent of students at the most selective colleges came from families in the bottom three quartiles of the income distribution. A similar review of the class of put that figure at just 33 percent. According to a study, 38 elite colleges—among them five of the Ivies— had more students from the top 1 percent than from the bottom 60 percent. The wealthy can also draw on a variety of affirmative-action programs designed just for them. As Daniel Golden points out in The Price of Admission , legacy-admissions policies reward those applicants with the foresight to choose parents who attended the university in question.
Athletic recruiting, on balance and contrary to the popular wisdom, also favors the wealthy, whose children pursue lacrosse, squash, fencing, and the other cost-intensive sports at which private schools and elite public schools excel. And, at least among members of the 0. Witness Jared Kushner, Harvard graduate. The mother lode of all affirmative-action programs for the wealthy, of course, remains the private school.
Only 2. The other affirmative-action programs, the kind aimed at diversifying the look of the student body, are no doubt well intended. But they are to some degree merely an extension of this system of wealth preservation. Their function, at least in part, is to indulge rich people in the belief that their college is open to all on the basis of merit.
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The plummeting admission rates of the very top schools nonetheless leave many of the children of the 9. But not to worry, junior 9. Thanks to ambitious university administrators and the ever-expanding rankings machine at U. The colleges seem to think that piling up rejections makes them special. In fact, it just means that they have collectively opted to deploy their massive, tax-subsidized endowments to replicate privilege rather than fulfill their duty to produce an educated public.
The only thing going up as fast as the rejection rates at selective colleges is the astounding price of tuition. Measured relative to the national median salary, tuition and fees at top colleges more than tripled from to Throw in the counselors, the whisperers, the violin lessons, the private schools, and the cost of arranging for Junior to save a village in Micronesia, and it adds up. To be fair, financial aid closes the gap for many families and keeps the average cost of college from growing as fast as the sticker price. But that still leaves a question: Why are the wealthy so keen to buy their way in?
In the United States, the premium that college graduates earn over their non-college-educated peers in young adulthood exceeds 70 percent.
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The return on education is 50 percent higher than what it was in , and is significantly higher than the rate in every other developed country. Not surprisingly, the top 10 had an average acceptance rate of 9 percent, and the next 30 were at 19 percent. For those who made the mistake of being born to the wrong parents, our society offers a kind of virtual education system. It has debt—and that, unfortunately, is real. The people who enter into this class hologram do not collect a college premium; they wind up in something more like indentured servitude.
One of the stories we tell ourselves is that the premium is the reward for the knowledge and skills the education provides us. Another, usually unfurled after a round of drinks, is that the premium is a reward for the superior cranial endowments we possessed before setting foot on campus.
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Behind both of these stories lies one of the founding myths of our meritocracy. One way or the other, we tell ourselves, the rising education premium is a direct function of the rising value of meritorious people in a modern economy. That is, not only do the meritorious get ahead, but the rewards we receive are in direct proportion to our merit.
But the fact is that degree holders earn so much more than the rest not primarily because they are better at their job, but because they mostly take different categories of jobs. Well over half of Ivy League graduates, for instance, typically go straight into one of four career tracks that are generally reserved for the well educated: finance, management consulting, medicine, or law.
Not surprisingly, that is where you will find the college crowd. Lawyers or at least a certain elite subset of them have apparently learned to play the same game. Similar occupational licensing schemes provide shelter for the meritorious in a variety of other sectors. Copyright and patent laws prop up profits and salaries in the education-heavy pharmaceutical, software, and entertainment sectors. Much of the rest of the technology sector consists of virtual entities waiting patiently to feed themselves to these beasts.
Our society figured out some time ago how to deal with companies that attempt to corner the market on viscous substances like oil. Until we do, the excess profits will stick to those who manage to get closest to the information honeypot. You can be sure that these people will have a great deal of merit. The game is more sophisticated than a two-fisted money grab, but its essence was made obvious during the financial crisis.
The financial system we now have is not a product of nature. It has been engineered, over decades, by powerful bankers, for their own benefit and for that of their posterity. Who is not in on the game? Auto workers, for example. Retail workers. Furniture makers. Food workers. The wages of American manufacturing and service workers consistently hover in the middle of international rankings. The exceptionalism of American compensation rates comes to an end in the kinds of work that do not require a college degree. In , 28 percent of all workers were members of trade unions, but by that figure was down to 11 percent.
A genuine education opens minds and makes good citizens. It ought to be pursued for the sake of society. Instead of uniting and enriching us, it divides and impoverishes. Which is really just a way of saying that our worthy ideals of educational opportunity are ultimately no match for the tidal force of the Gatsby Curve. Across countries, the same correlation obtains: the higher the college premium, the lower the social mobility. If the system can be gamed, well then, our ability to game the system has become the new test of merit.
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So go ahead and replace the SATs with shuffleboard on the high seas, or whatever you want. How quickly would we convince ourselves of our absolute entitlement to the riches that flow directly and tangibly from our shuffling talent? How soon before we perfected the art of raising shuffleboard wizards? Would any of us notice or care which way the ship was heading? We see the iceberg. Will that induce us to diminish our exertions in supreme child-rearing? As far as Grandfather was concerned, the assault on the productive classes began long before the New Deal.
It all started in , with the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment.
It also happens that ratification took place just a few months after Grandfather was born, which made sense to me in a strange way. By far the largest part of his lifetime income was attributable to his birth. Grandfather was a stockbroker for a time. I eventually figured out that he mostly traded his own portfolio and bought a seat at the stock exchange for the purpose.
Politics was a hobby, too. At one point, he announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Connecticut. What he really liked to do was fly. The memories that mattered most to him were his years of service as a transport pilot during World War II. Or the time he and Grandmother took to the Midwestern skies in a barnstorming plane. My grandparents never lost faith in the limitless possibilities of a life free from government. But in their last years, as the reserves passed down from the Colonel ran low, they became pretty diligent about collecting their Social Security and Medicare benefits.
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