WHO GETS AHEAD? The Economic Determinants of Success in America by Christopher & Others Jencks
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WHO GETS AHEAD? The Economic Determinants of Success in America

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While Christopher Jencks' Inequality (1972) assessed levels of inequality and discussed possible policy choices, this volume untangles the social factors behind individual chances at success. According to Jencks (Sociology, Harvard) et al., and based on their painstaking statistical analysis of eleven social surveys of adult men, almost half of the variation in men's occupational status, and up to a third of their variation in earnings, is accounted for by characteristics of their family background--father's occupation, mother's education, psychological and genetic factors, among others. Add to this advantages accruing from cognitive skills, personality traits (leadership helps; sociability ups income, if not status) and, importantly, years of schooling. First and last year college attendance contribute more heavily than intervening years, and, for blacks, a college diploma is far more effective than high school completion, which by itself may not locate the graduate occupationally much above the dropout. The authors are careful not to speculate beyond the data: ""We cannot even draw clear moral or political conclusions from the fact that family background affects life chances independent of test scores and education."" While the often equal weighting of possible causes (genes, socialization, job discrimination) leaves the reader still grasping at explanation, the evidence presented does argue against other controversial ideas--the concept of a (genetically determined) meritocracy for one, or that schools succeed in inculcating attitudes appropriate to capitalist work organization. Clearly not a how-to-succeed book or easy reading. Instead, first-rate analysis and intelligent discussion.

Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 1979
Publisher: Basic Books