The myth of meritocracy

PEDIGREE: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs by Lauren A. Rivera does a deep dive into the topic of how the supposed meritocratic pipeline to big-money jobs (talented kids go to top-tier schools, high-powered banking and Wall Street firms recruit from those schools to ensure they hire the best) skews heavily toward the already privileged. Concentrating recruiting in top tier schools, for instance, in the belief anyone attending Harvard or Yale must be better than someone at FSU or NC State, skews towards kids who are well off enough to attend there, and get the kind of coaching and SAT training that gives them an edge. There’s also the desire for a “good fit” with corporate culture, meaning the kind of manners and style better-off kids grow up with.

In addition, rich kids have advantages in contacts and networking, plus choices of summer jobs — one guy Rivera interviewed says having a banking internship shows you’ve had “real world” experience, unlike working your way through school as a Starbucks barista (I have a feeling the dude who said that has never worked retail). Extracurriculars matter too: as many of the recruiters come from an upper-class background themselves, they think sports that show the right stuff are things like polo or sculling, as opposed to football or pickup basketball games.

Rivera argues that in addition to making it harder for the working class to bust the glass ceiling — if a mediocre Harvard grad is automatically assumed better than a state-school superstar — it works out poorly for the firms. The pitch for potential recruits involves the glamor and excitement of a life in banking or consulting (depressingly, something like 70 percent of Ivy League graduates get sucked up into those careers. What a waste) the early years involve a numbing, unexciting workload; upper-class kids often drop out to find a more engaging career where someone working class is more likely to tough it out to earn the megabucks salary.

I’d wondered if it would be worth reading the book — the topic is one I’ve read about online a fair amount — but Rivera’s deep dive made it informative and interesting.


1 Comment

Filed under economics, Politics, Reading

One response to “The myth of meritocracy

  1. Pingback: Marketing snake oil doesn’t mean you’re cleverer than your customers | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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