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Nature Or Nurture? A Question in Economic And Social Mobility – Part I

a translucent image of a silhouette of a man's head turned towards a sunset view of a city amid discussions on nature or nurture in relation to economic and social mobility in the US

There has always been debate surrounding whether education, a family’s social standing, parental income, and other factors can affect the chances of success and higher social and economic mobility later in life. Studies have shown that individuals provided with a better opportunity structure go on to earn higher salaries and increase their upward social mobility. It, therefore, raises the bold question of whether America’s elite are born or made. In other words, we have reached the point of assessing if the matter on economic and social mobility is about nature or nurture.

The Economist newspaper recently dissected a report where a team of experts from the Department of Education looked at 30 million tax returns to determine how earnings vary per parental income. Economists found that family background is the most important factor in economic and social mobility in the United States. Results in this particular report showed that those brought up with a “household income in the lowest fifth has a one-in-ten chance of reaching the top fifth of earnings themselves. This is just half what would be seen if parents did not pass any earnings advantage on to their children.” However, the report also found that students from low-income families are still able to reach the upper-middle classes if they attend an elite university. For example, a graduate from one of the Ivy League institutions has roughly a “two-thirds chance of making it into the top 20 percent”. However, it is extremely difficult to get into one of the elite universities. And breaking into the top 1 percent is almost impossible. For the few, they can squeeze in through pure hard work and determination. On the other hand, others with a more privileged background breeze in without issue—sometimes because of relatives that happen to be Ivy alumni.

an infographic containing data about socioeconomic mobility amid the question revolving around nature or nurture of the matter



On Economic and Social Mobility

A study by Pews found that the correlation between parents’ income and their children’s income is undeniable. Results show that “43 percent of children born into the bottom quintile remain in the bottom as adults” and “40 percent of children raised in the top will remain there as adults”. Alternatively, only “4 percent of those raised in the bottom moved up to the top quintile as adults”. Therefore, results prove that opportunity structures provided by families do determine a future generation’s success. It seems that the matter of nature or nurture is becoming more clearer.

Economic and social mobility is fundamentally important to building a better society and can be determined by many different factors, including family wealth, race, sexuality, color, location, religion, genetics, culture, education and connections. Although the likes of Bill Clinton and Benjamin Franklin made their way from working-class backgrounds to the White House, it is usually the elite who stick together in their social circles to produce future presidents, banking billionaires and leading public figures.

In relation to the discussion of nature or nurture: Even though economic positioning has been determined as one of the most important factors in leveraging your way to the elite division, education is equally as important.

On the Matter of Nature or Nurture

It has been proven time and time again that college graduates can indeed climb the corporate ladder, more so than those without a top education. Education has been a key to socioeconomic mobility in America since the great income inequality during the industrial revolution. And this viewpoint has not waivered.

Americans are brought up to believe that a college degree provides access to better opportunities and a better life. And this case has been especially true to those from poorer backgrounds. However, with more and more students aiming for a college degree and fewer jobs on the market, is a college education alone enough to fulfill the American dream? Economists, experts and educators have debated this very subject over recent years. It goes without saying that they have reached varying conclusions. Therefore, Bold Business dives deeper first into whether education, including higher education, is the key determinant to economic and social mobility in the United States. Check out the article “Higher Education and Economic And Social Mobility – Part II” here.

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