right arrow
Examples: Monday, today, last week, Mar 26, 3/26/04
We've updated the Topics page of our website to better organize and share our expert content. Read more about it here.

"Meritocracy's Miserable Winners"

ucbalumnusucbalumnus 77784 replies678 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/09/meritocracys-miserable-winners/594760/

Daniel Markovits argues that while "meritocracy—for a time—replaced complacent insiders with talented and hardworking outsiders" (referencing http://archives.yalealumnimagazine.com/issues/99_12/admissions.html about historical Yale admissions policies), it is now the case that upper class parents are using their advantages to give their kids the upper hand in earning the needed or desired merit, and that "hardworking outsiders no longer enjoy genuine opportunity." But now everyone works a lot harder to stay in the same place.
28 replies
· Reply · Share
«1

Replies to: "Meritocracy's Miserable Winners"

  • 1NJParent1NJParent 1274 replies35 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited August 20
    No one denies kids from upper class families enjoy many advantages. But if they have to work harder for their own success, is there anything wrong with that? In industries where meritocracy rules, middle class kids are well represented. As an example, successful high tech firms and hedge funds are among the most meritocratic because their survival depends on that meritocracy. They administer their own exams, whether written, oral or a combination of the two, and their ranks are not filled with upper class kids. Pedigrees may get you an interview but you must excel on those unpredictable exams.
    edited August 20
    · Reply · Share
  • gwnorthgwnorth 366 replies7 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited August 21
    A person whose wealth and status depend on her human capital simply cannot afford to consult her own interests or passions in choosing her job. Instead, she must approach work as an opportunity to extract value from her human capital, especially if she wants an income sufficient to buy her children the type of schooling that secured her own eliteness. She must devote herself to a narrowly restricted class of high-paying jobs, concentrated in finance, management, law, and medicine.
    This resonated with me. I've been hearing from so many high school students of late that unless you are choosing a professional program, attending university is a waste time and money, that your degree is worth as much as toilet paper, and you're destined to live your life as a Starbucks barista. Their only goal is to make 6 figures when they graduate from university. Even DS19's friends, the majority of whom are of Asian descent, subscribe to this viewpoint to a great degree and have chosen to pursue practical programs with more defined outcomes. I admit that I struggled with DS19's decision not to follow suit. His friend's parents would no doubt be horrified by his choice of a degree in physical sciences over engineering. Interestingly to me however was that it was DH, himself a product of meritocratic rise having come from a lower middle class background to rise high in the ranks in a career in banking, who was the first to encourage DS to follow a path of passion. He would have been supportive if DS had opted to take a few years off to see if he could make a go at a career in popular music. I suspect that it's because he is chaffing at the demands that his chosen career places upon him and wishes in hindsight that he had sown more wild oats in his youth.

    I still worry about the employment outcomes of DS's decision to go the route of sciences rather than a professional program, but I am pragmatic enough to accept that it is most likely a much better fit for him. I have only myself to blame if after raising him to embrace a wide range of interests that he has become something of a Renaissance man and sees professional programs as too constraining.
    edited August 21
    · Reply · Share
  • gwnorthgwnorth 366 replies7 threadsRegistered User Member
    1NJParent wrote: »
    No one denies kids from upper class families enjoy many advantages. But if they have to work harder for their own success, is there anything wrong with that?

    Perhaps you might consider that there is given that
    Elite middle and high schools now commonly require three to five hours of homework a night; epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned of schoolwork-induced sleep deprivation. Wealthy students show higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse than poor students do. They also suffer depression and anxiety at rates as much as triple those of their age peers throughout the country. A recent study of a Silicon Valley high school found that 54 percent of students displayed moderate to severe symptoms of depression and 80 percent displayed moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.
    It doesn't come without a price.

    · Reply · Share
  • Twoin18Twoin18 1526 replies17 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited August 21
    “I've been hearing from so many high school students of late that unless you are choosing a professional program, attending university is a waste time and money, that your degree is worth as much as toilet paper.”

    This is bizarre to me. The most professionally oriented programs can also be the most limiting in terms of future career opportunities, especially if you don’t follow through and work in that profession.

    Interestingly, a discussion in my social media feed the other day amongst hedge fund investors about what major they would advise a kid to choose concluded that you should do the most academically challenging degree that you can excel in, while demonstrating a base level of quantitative ability. So the most recommended degree was math. Only if you’re not talented enough at math should you do computer science, followed by economics and engineering, with finance barely mentioned except as a choice for those who don’t have outstanding talent in quantitative subjects. It seemed they would much rather hire someone with a 4.0 in Poli sci with a minor in stats or economics, than someone with a 3.0 in CS or engineering, and they’d take a math degree over a finance degree every time.
    edited August 21
    · Reply · Share
  • 1NJParent1NJParent 1274 replies35 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited August 21
    ^There're clearly more cases of anxiety and depression today on college campuses than in years past. The question is what the causes are. Better detection? More students going to colleges? Broader availability and higher rate of abuse of alcohol and drugs? Tougher academics (for some)? The answer may be all of the above. In terms of academics, an objective evaluation would show courses are on average easier and grade inflation is rampant on most campuses today. So why many more students struggle academically today? Perhaps they aren't the right academic fits for their colleges? Have the colleges admitted too many such students who just aren't "qualified" academically, despite the oft-repeated, and widely accepted (at least on these forums), assurances from adcoms?
    edited August 21
    · Reply · Share
  • gwnorthgwnorth 366 replies7 threadsRegistered User Member
    @INJParent, well we're Canadian. Our universities don't have grade inflation. The most often repeated advice for incoming first years is expect your marks to drop by around 10% from high school. It certainly can be stressful for high achieving students who are accustomed to getting straight A's to find their GPA in the B-C range. What we do have in our larger metropolitan centres are large minority populations who put a very high premium on education. It ratchets up the level of expectation for achievement and creates a grades arms race. Ongoing tales in the media about the changing nature of work and the gig economy don't help either. This is in large part what drives the preference for practical professional degrees. Great demand for professional programs in turn drives up the required admissions requirements to get into them. What you end up with is highly stressed and anxious students.
    · Reply · Share
  • roycroftmomroycroftmom 2883 replies37 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    It seems, @twoin18, that the survey indicates that students should pursue pre-professional degrees-math, econ and engineering are the majors of choice for those aiming for tech or finance careers. Very few of those math majors are interested in getting doctorates in the subject,and econ is just a fancy substitute for business at elite colleges. I am certain the the diminshing opportunities for professional middle class jobs, and increased competition for them with resultant academic pressure, cause depression. That would be a rational response to the situation.
    · Reply · Share
  • Twoin18Twoin18 1526 replies17 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @roycroftmom I’d question whether math (especially pure math, which I’ve always found to have higher prestige than applied math) is really a pre-professional major. To me it’s just a demonstration of intellectual ability, it doesn’t teach you something that is useful in the real world. At least when I was in college the perceived order of prestige (which meant intellectual difficulty) was pure math > applied math > physics > engineering > computer science > chemistry & biology.
    · Reply · Share
  • roycroftmomroycroftmom 2883 replies37 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    It seems unlikely that any increase in math majors is due to a sudden interest in abstract number theory, as opposed to the job opportunities right now in data analytics and related sciences often open to math majors.
    · Reply · Share
  • roycroftmomroycroftmom 2883 replies37 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Actually,@blossom, there's plenty of critical thinking going on here. The underclass has always been prone to drug use and related dysfunction, so high rates of depression there are not unusual. What is out of the norm, based on historic patterns, is very high rates of depression and drug abuse in kids from reasonably stable middle class families, who traditionally have been sheltered from the types of trauma pervasive in the underclass. I don't doubt there is overall more depression in poor kids, but that doesn't negate the dramatic increase seen now in privileged kids, likely due to academic stress.
    · Reply · Share
  • blossomblossom 9769 replies9 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I'm sure an epidemiologist (I am not one) could give you plenty of alternative theories for more depression, Roycroft, starting with earlier puberty, increased exposure to environmental toxins and food additives in affluent and middle class kids (it used to just be poor kids who had lead paint), higher antibiotic use in early childhood (and prenatal?), or whatever. "likely due to academic stress"- ok, but likely due to many other factors- which we poorly understand- which can increase someone's propensity towards depression? A close friend who is a second grade teacher reports that the line for the school nurse at lunch- to get ADD meds- is around the block. Do we know what happens to all these second graders who are being medicated once they hit puberty? Are their longitudinal studies to measure the impact of this stuff? She's also got half the class on growth hormones- nobody once their kid to be "the short kid" anymore. Do we know what happens at age 18 to a kid who has been on hormones for more than half their lives?

    We do not. And I find it hard to believe that it's more stressful being on a campus today than it was during the Viet Nam war, during the draft, if you were a man with a bad lottery number. Flunk out and you head to "Nam. That was worse than "flunk out and you have to retake a course and might not get into Med school".
    · Reply · Share
  • gardenstategalgardenstategal 5616 replies10 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    The book "The Stressed Years of your life" talks about how prolonged stress can change the brain so that depression and anxiety are the outcome. I can't really do it justice here, but a lot of these stressors are increasingly "baked in" to the everyday life of kids in middle and above classes, so while increased diagnosis is definitely part of it, I suspect the problem is on the rise. And many kids from poorer backgrounds face a whole different set of stressors.

    The notion that a single failure/miscalculation can ruin your life has really wound up a lot of kids. We see it here in everything from "I got a B in BC Calc, can I still get into Stanford?" to the concerns like "If I go to Duke, can I get a job in IB?" Personally, I don't think we invest enough in helping kids learn to be happy. -- how to pinpoint what they love to do, how to find satisfaction in what they don't, and how to have lives of meaning (to them). There are so many diversions and distractions to temporarily provide that feeling, but none are really sustainable.

    It is, in many ways, a tough time to be young.
    · Reply · Share
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 77784 replies678 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Twoin18 wrote: »
    @roycroftmom I’d question whether math (especially pure math, which I’ve always found to have higher prestige than applied math) is really a pre-professional major.

    Many math majors are explicitly aiming for actuarial, finance, or high school math teaching jobs. Even pure math can be considered preprofessional in aiming for math research or college teaching (after PhD) jobs.

    Pure math majors do often have plenty of elective space to take courses that can help them in "plan B" career directions (finance, etc.) if PhD / math research directions do not work out for them.
    · Reply · Share
  • roycroftmomroycroftmom 2883 replies37 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited August 22
    The dozen students in my daughter's high school class who were suicidal attributed it to the overwhelming competition, both academic and social, at the school. I have no reason to disbelieve them. Some recovered and some did not.
    edited August 22
    · Reply · Share
  • Twoin18Twoin18 1526 replies17 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    “Even pure math can be considered preprofessional in aiming for math research or college teaching (after PhD) jobs.”

    Isn’t the very definition of “pre-professional” that it leads to a specific profession, i.e. not academia? So engineering, computer science, education, finance, accounting, etc. Otherwise every single degree could be considered pre-professional.
    · Reply · Share
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 77784 replies678 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Twoin18 wrote: »
    Isn’t the very definition of “pre-professional” that it leads to a specific profession, i.e. not academia? So engineering, computer science, education, finance, accounting, etc. Otherwise every single degree could be considered pre-professional.

    If we exclude goals to academia as "pre-professional", we still see a lot of math majors choosing the major for pre-professional purposes (actuarial, etc.) and/or preparing for a "plan B" in some type of job other than academia if their path to academia does not work out.

    Note that other liberal arts majors are also often chosen for pre-professional reasons. Consider the pre-meds choosing biology as their major, or the pre-laws choosing political science as their major, although no specific major is required for medical or law school admission.
    · Reply · Share
  • roycroftmomroycroftmom 2883 replies37 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Since my brother was not only on campus during the Vietnam War, but was indeed drafted, I will take his word for it when he says that from his perspective, my children have had a much more stressful high school and college experience than he ever did.
    · Reply · Share
  • blossomblossom 9769 replies9 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Please thank your brother for his service.

    I recall my own HS and college days (I'm female so was not in danger) and between the nightly body count and the protests (some of which were violent, as you recall) I think that level of stress was off the charts. Do you remember the day of Kent State? I sure do.
    · Reply · Share
  • ChangeTheGameChangeTheGame 765 replies10 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited August 22
    The article talks about high stress levels, but it does not talk about a change in our society that has made it worse. My own perspective is that our society as a whole has failed our children/young adults because we have not done a good enough job showing our children how to deal with life’s difficulties by being overprotective.

    Every generation tends to have difficulties that are unique to that particular generation in my family. Would my kids have had any less stress growing up poor with my dysfunctional family members, the inner city violence of my youth, and the 25-30 hour work weeks in high school? I am pretty sure that I could survive the outrageous amount of school work that they receive along with living in a comfortable middle class lifestyle because one thing that I was taught and I am pretty sure they saw growing up is that there is no stress worse than being hungry, poor, homeless and forgotten by society (through volunteer work). But I did not have to deal with the Vietnam War like my parents nor Jim Crow laws and racism like my Grandparents either.

    We all have things that can cause stress in our lives and our kids would be better off if we showed them how to deal with and overcome those obstacles instead of sheltering them from most if not all obstacles when they are young.
    edited August 22
    · Reply · Share
Sign In or Register to comment.

Recent Activity