The Atlantic

Education Isn't the Key to a Good Income

A growing body of research debunks the idea that school quality is the main determinant of economic mobility.

Source: Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

One of the most commonly taught stories American schoolchildren learn is that of Ragged Dick, Horatio Alger’s 19th-century tale of a poor, ambitious teenaged boy in New York City who works hard and eventually secures himself a respectable, middle-class life. This “rags to riches” tale embodies one of America’s most sacred narratives: that no matter who you are, what your parents do, or where you grow up, with enough education and hard work, you too can rise the economic ladder.

A body of research has since emerged to challenge this national story, casting the United States not as a meritocracy but as a country where castes are reinforced by factors like the race of one’s childhood neighbors and how unequally income is distributed throughout society. One was published in 2014, by a team of economists led by Stanford’s Raj Chetty. After analyzing federal income tax records for millions of Americans, and studying, for the first time, the direct relationship between a

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic6 min read
America Has Become Dispensable in Iraq
“When the fighting breaks out between Arabs and Kurds, whose side will the Americans be on?” This was the message that Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP), instructed h
The Atlantic6 min read
Why Does the Stock Market Keep Going Up?
Two things have been true so far in 2017: The news cycle keeps spiraling downward, and the stock market keeps going up. Consider a brief review of the year’s chaos. In domestic news, Washington’s legislative machine is even more broken than normal, a
The Atlantic4 min read
The Federal Jail Blocking Some Inmates' Kids From Visiting
Since last year, a detention center in Philadelphia has had one of the strictest visitation policies in the country. “Now it’s a different world in there,” one local lawyer said.