Rivera, Pedigree ch 1-3.pdf - Entering the Elite Most...

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EnteringtheEliteMostAmericans believe that hardwork—notblueblood—isthe key tosuccess.Textbooks, newspapers,andnovelsarefilledwithHoratioAlgerstoriesinwhichanindividual risesto the topthrough personal driveandperseverance.Whetherthese narrativesfocusonWarrenBuffettorHome-lesstoHarvard,theunderlying messageis thesame: economicandsocialpositionsareachieved,notinheritedfromone's parents.Thepeopleat thetop arethere becauseoftheirownintellect, unflaggingeffort,andstrongcharacter. Thoseat thebottomhave theirownweaknessestoblame.1Despitethis widespread faithin amonetarypayoffforhard workandbeliefinmythsof aclassless society, economic inequalityis nowgreaterin theUnited States thaninmanyotherWestern industrializednations,andAmerican ratesofsocial mobilityarelower.2Contrarytoournational lore,thechancesofascending from meager beginningstoaffluenceorfallingfrom fortunetopovertyareslim.3The top andbot-tomrungsofAmerica'seconomicladderareparticularly sticky; childrenborntofamiliesin the top orbottomfifths of theincome distributiontendtostayonthosesame rungsasadults.4Children fromfamiliesatthe top of theeconomic hierarchy monopolize accesstogoodschools,prestigious universities,andhigh-payingjobs.5Thisraisesanobviousbutpressing question:In an era ofmerit-basedadmissionsineducationandequal opportunity regulationsinemploy-ment,how is itthatthis processofelite reproduction occurs?Socialscientistsin avarietyofdisciplines have examinedhowhistoricalandeconomic changesathomeandabroad, social policies,andtechnologi-calfactors have contributedto theconcentrationofwealthandincomeat the top of theeconomicladder.6These studies informusabout crucialdriversofeconomicinequality,buttheydo nottellusenough abouthow and whyeconomic privilegeispassedon soconsistentlyfromonegenerationto thenext.
2CHAPTERISociologists interestedinsocialstratification—theprocessesthatsortindividuals into positionsthatprovide unequal levelsofmaterialandsocialrewards—historicallyhave focusedonstudying poverty ratherthanaffluence.Recently,though,cultural sociologists have turned theirattentionto thepersistenceofprivilege.7Focusingonschooling,thesescholars have illuminated waysinwhichaffluentandwell-educated par-ents pass along advantagesthatgive their childrenacompetitive edgeintherealmofformaleducation.8Missingfromthis richliterature,how-ever,is anin-depth investigationof howelitereproductiontakes placeafterstudents graduate, when they entertheworkforce.Weknowthatevenamong graduates fromthesameuniversities,studentsfromthemost elite backgroundstendto get thehighest-payingjobs.

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