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Effects of social status on correlation between intelligence and life sucesss

  1. Sep 27, 2012 #1
    I've noticed an interesting observation about how the lives of all the people in my elementary AIG (academically intellectually gifted). Out of the 11 of us, the only two not to go to college came from very poor homes. (Even from the beginning, only 4 of us were the kids of a doctor/dentist/small business owner). Not that they couldn't pay. They had the same local scholarship I do. What I would like to ask is: why, in the absence of financial barriers, do poorer people have less success in doing well? Or do they? I admit my sample size is very small. I'm only observing and suggestion a hypothesis, not saying that my observation proves my hypothesis.
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  3. Sep 27, 2012 #2
    Re: Effects of social status on correlation between intelligence and life sucess

    You obviously will have much better guidance when you are a son of doctor/engineer/professor. Not only that but you will also get better environment for success and will have to aim lot higher right from the start. If you are coming from poor/uneducated family, you might not know that there's anything higher than a mechanic.
  4. Sep 27, 2012 #3
    Re: Effects of social status on correlation between intelligence and life sucess

    I can only give my personal experience, and this is in no way an indicator of what anybody else's circumstances might look like.

    I did poorly in high school and didn't go to college right away because I had no educational role models that lead me to believe that an education was worthwhile. I grew up in a trailer park, my mother has a 10th grade education, my father has a 7th grade education. None of my grandparents, aunts, or uncles went to college, so I saw no reason for me to go either. In high school, despite the fact that I'd ace every test I took, I rarely did any classwork or homework, and often barely scraped by. I just thought it would be a waste of time, and I'd be a laborer like my father.

    I started off doing grunt work in pest control, and then I moved into sales. It wasn't about 8 years after high school that I decided I had enough grunt work (I include sales in this) and decided to go back, and it really wasn't easy. I had a mortgage to pay, so I was taking 15 credits a semester, working 40 hours a week. For several years, almost 100% of my time was taken up by either work, schoolwork, or sleep. I often thought about quitting.

    So, this could be part of the reason poor people don't do well is because they're not expected to. When you grow up in a trailer park to uneducated parents, there is no societal pressure to succeed. It has to come from within. Sometimes that takes longer, sometimes it doesn't come at all. When it does take longer, there are a lot of little barriers in the way that have to be navigated to go to school, which might derail the whole plan.
  5. Sep 27, 2012 #4


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    Re: Effects of social status on correlation between intelligence and life sucess

    Could it be because they feel obligated to help their families out financially at this time and have sacrificed college to do so?

    Did they give no reason?

    Do you have any statistics where, all else being equal, that people from poor families would walk away from a free, all exoenses paid education? I'm assuming that not just tuition was paid, but books, housing, living expenses, etc... are also equally paid for so that there is no cost to the family or student.
  6. Sep 27, 2012 #5
    Re: Effects of social status on correlation between intelligence and life sucess

    Oops, I meant only four of us weren't the kids of a doctor/... From that, realizing that the higher class kids, who were about 15% of our grade made up about 75% of our AIG class in 4th grade. It's not only college, the disparity starts early.
  7. Sep 27, 2012 #6
    For one of the two I was referring to, yeah I think that the other financial barriers were what held him back. The other got involved in hard drugs.
  8. Sep 28, 2012 #7


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    I find it very interesting that the title of this thread is social status yet the opening post concerns wealth.
  9. Sep 28, 2012 #8
    I'm betting there are statistic already collected by someone about this, i.e. what percentage of people whose parents did not go to college end up going to college? Also; what percentage of people whose parents did go to college ended up not going to college?
  10. Sep 28, 2012 #9

    The problem seems to be that it is isolating. Success would tend to separate them from their peers. They would be living amongst an alien culture.

    Writer Jim Bishop was successful, moved amongst high status social circles, and hated it.

    Singer Iggy Pop grew up in a trailer park, was class valedictorian, then dropped out because he couldn't stand the culture he found in college.

    Richard Feynman always had a sort of chip on his shoulder and never really felt comfortable in academia. He hung out with hookers in Vegas a lot. He once said winning the Nobel Prize was a "pain in the ***."

    The movie "Good Will Hunting" is fiction, but it is about this sort of thing. The star is a genius but he doesn't want to leave the impoverished life he knows.

    Alfred Loomis became one of the ten wealthiest men in the US, found out he couldn't stand upper class society, and spent the rest of this life as a scientist. Quite a good one, too.

    I've been around very rich old money people and it is a very conformist and insulated group. I couldn't stand it no matter how much money you paid me.

    Residents of slums in India often return to the slum after they make some money and move away. Life in the slum is more fun. You may be in a shack but you are never lonely.

    Ben Franklin reported that Indians raised by whites always went back to the wild if given the chance. White children raised by Indians always refused to return to civilization, given the choice.

    So in sum, high status isn't everything.
  11. Sep 28, 2012 #10
    This has been the topic of much study. The strongest indicators of success, as measured by socioeconomic status and educational attainment, are socioeconomic status and educational attainment of parents. There is little correlation between raw intelligence and educational attainment.

    It makes perfect sense to me. We become what we value. I was fortunate enough to be born to educated parents in an intact household and attend good schools where over 90% of my classmates attended college. I was surrounded by books, taught to read early, and answered math riddles at the dinner table. Higher education was expected and I value it. The trend continues with my daughters. Had I been born to a poor single mother with a 10th grade education and attended school with others in a similar situation my life would be very different. In the US, despite what some like to repeat, there really is not a lot of opportunity for upward mobility. Your birth circumstances determine your fate to a large degree. Sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers tend to become doctors and lawyers. Sons and daughters of the poor and uneducated tend to become poor and uneducated. Those who claim that this is not the case are usually guilty of observational selection (the law of small numbers), i.e. "That's not true, I know a guy who...."
  12. Sep 28, 2012 #11
    Personally I believe this issue is mostly a cultural bias. An while it is easy to think of culture being just country to country - or regional. I have a theory that every organization ( family, business, school, industry etc) has a culture that can be studied to understand and predict how it functions. So depending on the cultures affecting a child - the motivation to attend college can be dramatically different. Also - these cultures may not just have simplistic views - like "You should go" or "you do not need to go" - but the cultural opinion on education varies more widely - more like "you MUST make every effort to complete college - and then never stop learning" to almost a fear based or distrust of educated people mindset.
  13. Sep 28, 2012 #12
    Someone told me basically the same thing over thirty years ago, that people rarely shift from one level of society to another, up or down.

    Do you know what might be the big, well know studies supporting this? It's probably time for a citation.
  14. Sep 28, 2012 #13
    Good point Zoobyshoe. I think that the effect is well known and most recent studies focus on pinpointing the reasons. This is beyond my expertise but it was pretty easy to find some useful articles. I was referring to the US primarily in my comment. Notice that the second article finds a very strong correlation between parent and child educational attainments in the US, less so in many European countries. I can well imagine that the effect is enhanced or mitigated by the sociopolitical environment. I included the 3rd article because it includes an extensive literature review for those interested.

    http://postsecondary.org/last12/79199parented.pdf [Broken]


    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  15. Sep 29, 2012 #14
    Well, less see how the home environment might play a factor. I’ll use my own personal history as an example. I grew up in a home where the highest importance was always placed on learning and education. Nothing had a higher level of importance. I remember asking my dad how airplanes fly when I was six. That resulted in us building different airfoils and testing them in a homemade wind tunnel. At that age, I could draw a simplified diagram of a jet engine and explain to you how it works. I would relate that to the laws motion as proposed by Newton and give practical examples of each. I could disassemble an electric motor or gasoline engine, explain to you what each part did and how it worked, put it back together, and the motor or engine would work just fine. I could weld with gas rig, I could braze, and I could soldier.

    By grade 12, I had mastered all the skills required to be an automotive mechanic, a brick mason, a roofer, a carpenter, an electrician, a welder, a tool and die maker machinist, a painter of structures and of automobiles, of bee keeping, commercial fishing, and many more. I had on my own initiative located the man who ran the local NASA metallurgy lab and I had worked in his lab to better understand stress corrosion cracking in various stainless steel alloys. (One of many self-motivated study projects.) At the same time I was half way through the calculus classes that I would need for my engineering degree. I grew up in a home where if I had free time I could either spend it learning something or cleaning toilets. I learned to love learning and my parents gave me every opportunity to learn. I remember in 10th grade asking how optical elements are manufactured, and very quickly they arranged a lesson from a man who ground lenses and mirrors for telescopes.

    My parents did not believe in playing and having fun. My childhood was extremely stressful. I was told that if I was not smart enough and did not learn my lessons, then I would be a failure in life and may very well starve as a result. They piled one learning opportunity after another onto me, but I learned to believe that was fun. And it was fun.

    Now compare that to a poor kid who has no positive adult examples in his life to encourage learning. Who do you think has the advantage?
  16. Oct 2, 2012 #15
    In my personal opinion, it is a case to case basis. Mostly, in poor families although they know the value of education but they don't have the means to pursue it merely because of lack of financial support. Thereby, some of them prioritize to work temporarily in order to sustain the needs of their family. Then, after years of working and have enough saving. They continue their education. However, there are people who can work and pursue their education at the same time. Yet, this is rarely happens. Some people apply for scholarship. So, bottom line is that achieving good education has nothing to do with status in life but it has something to do with your motivation and determination.
  17. Oct 2, 2012 #16


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    I also had an upbringing that put intense focus on learning. For me there was no question about whether I would be going to college, only which college I would go to and how best to prepare.

    I have a friend who'se parents actively discouraged learning. She was the rebellious one in the family, so she was the only one of four siblings to go to college and her parents actually ridiculed her for it. They don't speak anymore, but she is the only one of the four siblings to leave the parents home on her own (and the other siblings are in their early 30s!).

    So yes, sometimes being successful or unsuccessful is a matter of attitude....the parents' attitude transmitted to the kids.

    It is often noted that there is less social mobility in the US than in other western countries. What I've never seen but would like to is a study on the differences in attitude toward achievement and social mobility and their effects. I've heard lots of anecdotes that support a connection, but seen no data quantifying the effect.
  18. Oct 2, 2012 #17
    The effect has been studied, please see the first link that I posted above.

    "Only about 30 percent of 18 to 24 year olds whose parents did not graduate from high school reach college, compared to about 85 percent of 18 to 24 year olds where the householder has a bachelor's degree or more from college."

    Of course, it's difficult to measure something like attitude but parents do have the greatest effect.
  19. Oct 2, 2012 #18


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    No, that's not what I'm looking for. It doesn't prove non-financial parental influence. See, one of the main criticisms of apparent mobility problem in the US is based on the argument that parents essentially buy success for their children. Surely, that is at least partly true, but what I would like is to quantify it. More importantly, I would like to know the other side of the coin: to what extent can parents instill success on their kids. That's how I would measure mobility: by asking "if provided with a positive attitude/positive reinforcement, what are the odds of success"?

    There are two ways I can think to measure this:
    1. Income-controlled educational attainment. Ie, how many people who make $30,000 per year with a bachelors degree have kids who get a bachelors degree and how much do they make? How many people who make $30,000 and have a high school diploma only have kids who get a bachelors degree and how much do they make? This eliminates the issue of buying success and focuses only on if people repeat their parents' educational attainment, independent of income.

    2. A direct but qualitative survey of attitudes. Simply: What was your parents' attitude toward college? Did you attend college? How much do you make and how much do they make? This would be more qualitative, but more direct. It could show, for example, if rich kids who's parents don't care if they go to college attend college less than rich kids who's parents do care if they go to college. And how much more? And is it more or less of an impact on the rich than the poor? Or even: Do poor kids who's parents care about college attend more than rich kids who's parents don't?
  20. Oct 10, 2012 #19
    I've never heard the theory that people buy success for their children. The first link that I posted was a collection of census data and they correlated children's educational attainment with parents educational attainment without the consideration of income. That's where the strong correlation is. Educated parents tend to have educated children and uneducated parents tend to have uneducated children regardless of income. The exact why of this is much more difficult to measure. It could be attitude. It could also be a different parent/child interaction. It could be income since we know that educational attainment correlates positively with income. I think that the correlation across the board without consideration of income does answer your question, at least in part.
  21. Oct 10, 2012 #20


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    Really? It's all over our politics forum and I think it is one of peoples' fundamental criticism of the rich, in a society where criticism of the rich currently is pretty high. It would be a reason for a high inheritance tax, for example. It is also one of people's reasons for criticizing the US's relative lack of social mobility.
    Yes, I know. But I would like to see it with consideration of income.
    No, it doesn't answer the question at all. I've been in plenty of arguments on the subject. The claim always made is that rich kids go to college because they can afford it and poor kids don't go to college because they can. The idea that parental encouragement even exists as a factor in educational attainment is not considered by most people I've discussed this with.
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