Intelligence and Inequality image

Intelligence and Inequality

Inequality is on the rise again, apparently. Is that because of callous governments? Greedy bankers? The digital economy? Structural within capitalism itself, à la Thomas Piketty? Several of these may contribute, but a recent edition of The Economist argues that there is another factor at work. Intelligence.

With the increasing participation of women in first the workforce, and then higher education, since the Second World War, it has become increasingly likely that well-educated and intelligent people will marry and have children with each other. This gives their offspring numerous advantages: they are (1) genetically privileged, (2) read to and nurtured intellectually more as young children, (3) more likely to be in a stable family, (4) better placed for good schools, and (5) more able to afford to go to university. In other words, bright parents produce bright children - and in the knowledge economy, where physical attributes and inherited wealth are less important than the blend of intelligence and education, this means that rich parents produce rich children. Paradoxically, it is inequality created by meritocracy:

Today’s rich increasingly pass on to their children an asset that cannot be frittered away in a few nights at a casino. It is far more useful than wealth, and invulnerable to inheritance tax. It is brains.

Intellectual capital drives the knowledge economy, so those who have lots of it get a fat slice of the pie. And it is increasingly heritable. Far more than in previous generations, clever, successful men marry clever, successful women. Such “assortative mating” increases inequality by 25%, by one estimate, since two-degree households typically enjoy two large incomes. Power couples conceive bright children and bring them up in stable homes—only 9% of college-educated mothers who give birth each year are unmarried, compared with 61% of high-school dropouts. They stimulate them relentlessly: children of professionals hear 32m more words by the age of four than those of parents on welfare. They move to pricey neighbourhoods with good schools, spend a packet on flute lessons and pull strings to get junior into a top-notch college.

You can read the whole thing, including some prescriptions as to what can be done about it, here.

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