The three terms in my title are closely related. The first refers to a society in which people’s success is a function of their individual abilities rather than the wealth or position of their parents or other family members. The second, which is closely related, refers to the various social classes’ being permeable to entry by talented individuals from other classes. The third, a more technical social scientific term, refers to lack of correlation between parents’ and their children’s income or social status; the less positively correlated the parents’ income or social status is correlated with the income or social status of their children, the greater the intergenerational mobility in the society.
If IQ were purely genetic and therefore only inherited, and if income were a linear function of IQ, children’s incomes would be very similar to their parents’ incomes and intergenerational mobility would be slight, with the important qualification, however, that social standing is not a function purely of income. There are scientists, highly regarded classical composers, distinguished poets, political leaders and other fficials, military heroes, priests, and others who have high social tatus but mediocre incomes. And notice that the correlation between parental nd child social standing or income would hold for any purely genetic trait hat was valued, such as athletic or musical potential, and not just for IQ.
These examples underscore ecker’s point that a low level of intergenerational mobility is consistent ith meritocracy, even when as in the examples merit is a function of luck: hether your parents happen to have had a high IQ, and whether IQ is highly valued n the society you happen to have been born into.
IQ is not entirely genetic (it’s enerally believed to be half genetic and half the result of other innate onditions, for example conditions during pregnancy and birth; early nvironmental conditions; and physical and mental health), but has a ubstantial genetic component, as just noted. And with the increased role of echnology in the economy and the expansion of the professions relative to other occupations, the financial and social status returns to IQ have risen. Increased assortative mating (likes with likes), attributable in part to a decline in discrimination and in part to the greater search for marital partners that is enabled by the Internet, will probably increase variance in IQ and thus increase the returns to the highest IQ strata, in the near future.
That said, however, the United States is, at best, a highly imperfect meritocracy. The reason is the pattern of investment, both private and public, in children’s career and life prospects. Wealthy parents invest heavily in their children’s education by hiring tutors, paying the very high tuition charged by elite private schools and by colleges (public as well as private), making generous donations to such institutions, and financing extracurricular activities that impress college admissions
officers. Colleges compete for wealthy kids, seeing them as future generous alumni. Parents use personal contacts to land good jobs for their kids; sometimes hire them for the family business; and, of course, give, lend, and bequeath them money. Because public schools are financed mainly by local property taxes, the best public schools tend to be in high-income areas, and so wealthy kids that go to public schools rather than to private schools tend to go to the best public schools. Indeed, if there are no good public schools in a wealthy family’s neighborhood, the family will send its children to a private school.
As a result of these factors, among the wealthy countries the level of intergenerational mobility is lower in the United States than in the four Scandinavian countries (which have the highest level of intergenerational mobility) and in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Japan, France, and Spain, and slightly higher in the United States than in Italy and the United Kingdom. These rankings are highly correlated, as one would expect, with income inequality (the United States is second-highest in inequality of income, after the United Kingdom, in the countries I just listed). Wealthy families that generously underwrite their children create more wealthy families in the next generation.
Ideally, in order to maximize productivity, one would like the government to identify the high-IQ children in poor or lower middle class families and provide them with education and education-related services equivalent to those that wealthy families bestow on their usually high-IQ children. The need is acute in the United States because of our relatively quite low level of intergenerational mobility. Not much effort is being made to meet this need. The reasons probably are that children don’t vote (it is arguable that a parent should be given a bonus vote for every one of his or her children living with the parent), and that poor and lower middle-class parents have little political clout relative to old people, wealthy people, civil service pensioners, and other politically influential groups.