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'The Class Ceiling' Decodes the Cultures of Elite Workplaces (theatlantic.com)
113 points by rbanffy 24 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 97 comments

I disagree with this point.

"But one way to address this is to change workplace cultures to be closer to what poor and working-class people bring rather than just trying to teach those “others” how to adapt."

The standards of many professional environments have evolved to handle the expectations of many external stakeholders. Think about what you expect from your lawyer, an ad agency, and accountant: people you trust with your money, brand, or even your personal freedom. Or the engineer designing a multi-million dollar piece of equipment for your company. Or the priest or doctor counseling you on a private matter.

Personal behavior that is culturally appropriate on a shop floor or the Wal-mart Warehouse (yes, I've worked in both of those places) would be totally out of line in a professional environment. It would, in fact, work against the goals of the organization and threaten everyone's employment.

Culture should be driven by the requirements of the job. You are playing a role. I want my doctor to be infallible and calm. I want my accountant to have their act together. It's part of the service.

The point makes sense when you think about the examples given: workplace fashion and unspoken rules. A company dominated by people wearing "rich casual" would benefit by explicitly embracing other casual fashions, such as various "poor casual" styles like track suits. This would let the non-rich-background people stop spending energy learning "rich casual" fashion. They could then spend that energy on things that actually help the company.

I agree with the larger point, but the bit about wanting a doctor to be "infallible" doesn't make sense to me. Medicine is not like that. Many common problems are mysterious and often some trial-and-error is needed to figure them out. The patient may have to do some of that sleuthing.

What I'm looking for (ideally) is someone that can get me up to speed quickly on what the problem might be and what's the state of medical knowledge. I don't know how to find that, though.

I suspect he may mean "unflappable".

Much as it's important to lower barriers of opportunity to people who have not grown up in privilege, I have to say that as someone responsible for hiring / managing people -- it is undeniable that people who come from much worse off backgrounds are much more likely to have a harder time working successfully in a high performing environment.

As you look to populations who didn't go through the same kind of education, social circles, family environments ("privilege" as they say nowadays), you find people who:

-- Don't hold conversations with the same kind of productive interaction

-- Don't have the same goals of success or motivations (individually or team)

-- Haven't yet been exposed to professionally challenging situations and know how to handle them healthily

-- Have a higher quotient of "fuck it" if they encounter difficulty

-- Display gaps in judgement on how to behave / what to do or not do at work

-- Just have more hard-to-manage stresses outside of work on their life

-- many more personality / work-related traits

Of course I'm not saying that everyone from a less privileged background is like this. But undeniably as you "turn the knob down", you encounter more and more of these issues. If it were not true, everyone pretty much would want to hire from every stratum of society.

It's a sad truth that the indicators of a privileged background aren't just superficial meaningless markers. They actually do pretty well indicate how likely someone is to succeed. They mean that someone has gone through education / upbringing that give you a pretty good sense of how that person will behave, and perform (in general). Hence the vicious circle.

This is why efforts like at Accenture (?) to strip resumes of university background or other "biased" indicators will be unsuccessful. The noise-to-signal that results will be overwhelming.

I appreciate your candor, but these are a lot of negative generalizations, and I hope they haven't resulted in any applicants being prejudged.

I don't have enough data to discuss "as you 'turn the knob down', you encounter more and more of these issues", so I'd just like to suggest a few related ideas:

* It's certainly possible to also make some negative generalizations of people with various kinds of socioeconomic advantage. For every imagined "f_ck it" person, by class, there's an imagined person who's accustomed to things going their way, or an imagined person who is very selfish and disingenuous. But it's not fair to prejudge individuals by those generalizations, no matter how valid or invalid.

* When someone makes it to our environment (whatever that is) despite a relatively lower-class or otherwise disadvantaged starting point, that might suggest traits and experience valuable to the organization.

* If the organization values creative ideas and a breadth of awarenesses/perspectives, that seems like a strong argument for hiring a diversity of people. (Not the same clique from the affluent prep school one went to, to use an extreme example.)

* In society in general, we're still trying to figure out how to get along, and to have mutual respect and support with people whose situations we don't understand. For an organization that values getting to a better understanding (for, e.g., understanding users or market demographics, or some sense of greater social mission), what better way than to welcome into the organization a diversity of people, including ones who don't yet know all the conventions for what's an appropriate joke to make at lunch, or who don't have the same fun hobbies to talk about on Monday.

I'm not talking about gross prejudgment of individuals based on group observations, and in fact I would say that in my organization we have gone above and beyond to counter these traps. We've given opportunities to people in excess of what you might on average, hence I have actual observations about people who did and did not succeed from such less privileged backgrounds.

All my observations are not talking about petty things like table manners, "in" jokes, or what -- they're about deep personality and motivational traits that affect the quality of work or reliability of the person. Tested after giving people fair chances over multiple exposures.

You are correct that someone getting to a level of achievement from a disadvantaged starting point is quite an accomplishment and worthy of consideration. What I was talking about was countering the notion that someone's background has no predictive power or should be ignored. It has extremely strong predictive power, but should not be used to exclude other indicators of potential. The key is to not enable yourself to think you have examined all the important indicators with the few that are "easy" or "traditional".

Finally, unfortunately I have to disagree that "diversity" in itself is a desirable goal. This is because I think that your "diversity" likely means appearance diversity or class diversity, for political goals, rather than actual valuing different opinions and approaches. I have not found that symbolic "diversity" leads to that. In fact, using symbolic "diversity" depletes your resources to find people of actual and valuable diversity.

True diversity in people's thinking, areas of capability, and approaches professional work and interaction are more valuable and are the things I personally look for. And I have not found it more likely to find that in a group of people of random race, gender, class, etc. symbolic indicators, than a group from a more homogeneous source.

Your list is exactly what one would expect. Growing up poor is stressful and immensely worrisome. It doesn't teach you high-status social codes, and it does make you cynical about attempts to turn you into a "team player" - because someone else is more likely to benefit from team effort than you are.

At the same time, you only have to look at the shocking performance of British and US politicians born into privilege to see that not everything you say is true.

The UK is currently trying to work through an unprecedented crisis of entitlement and narcissism caused by those from privileged backgrounds whose chief character attributes are self-importance, entitlement, and historic, world class levels of incompetence and tone deafness.

These people are certainly successful financially. It's certainly true in their case that indicators of privilege correlate with success - but it's also true that it's clearly not because of professionalism, hard work, or outstanding native talent.

Things are rarely black and white. You will find privileged people who completely lack productive traits, and you will find unprivileged people who are extremely productive.

However, I think the GP's core argument is correct. That is, as a whole, less-privileged people are less productive in a work environment than people from privileged backgrounds.

I think we should accept this fact and understand the reasons this is a setback we're willing to face on the path to equality of opportunity.

> less-privileged people are less productive in a work environment than people from privileged backgrounds.

Some evidence needed. People are throwing out statements as fact without any justified basis. Most of what I have seen from unstressed higher class is that they act like adult children who throw tantrums when things don't go their way; in fact Scotty from Star Trek in a TNG episode makes this exact point about Starfleet Captains. The workers are the productive ones who actually do the work. Long gone are the times where that upper class would tell those workers exactly what to do as the work is too complicated for that. All the people at the top are good at doing is talking to other overgrown children at the top that control the capital... and rewarding themselves when things go according to plan and punishing those who do the work when they don't -- or punishing them even when they do -- i.e. layoffs.

Everything that contradicts my point of view is an exception, everything that confirms it is proof. Since there are a lot of poor people, and few privileged, i get a lot of proof and very few exceptions.

I'm strangely reminded of the British intelligence services in the '30s, '40s, and '50s: they explicitly chose people who came from the "right" backgrounds and ended up with people like Kim Philby (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Philby).

As someone who's been through some hiring as well: I can teach a person how to talk. I can teach a person how to behave. I can even teach a person a good judgement. Actually, pretty much all college graduates have an absolutely awful judgement.

I cannot do anything with the "fuck it" attitude.

As someone who previously suffered from a fixed mindset, it's entirely possible to change the "fuck it" attitude. There are many reasons people give up too early but a lot of it has to do with 1) seeing failure as a reflection of self-worth and 2) not seeing failure as a growth opportunity. With the right culture / mentorship / communication, it's possible to correct attitude just like skillset. Whether it's worth your time is another question.

> I cannot do anything with the "fuck it" attitude.

Wouldn't it be more accurate to say "I don't yet know how to coach someone with a "fuck it" attitude?"

> I cannot do anything with the "fuck it" attitude

Isn't this itself a "fuck it" attitude, manifest?

> I cannot do anything with the "fuck it" attitude.

You can fire them.

There's a platitude I've heard in social work circles, the Liberal's Lament: "Last guys don't finish nice." Those who are most in need of support seem to end up being the ones who apparently deserve it the least.

On the other hand, I've met a fair number of "successful" individuals from "better", more culturally matching backgrounds who have many, most, or all of the failings you mention. Frequently, they receive no significant downsides to their behavior apparently because they fit-in to the culture.

I suspect that merely perceiving those problems in some cases and not others is an example of the homophily they describe: "I think that a lot of people, on some level what they think they’re doing when they sponsor young co-workers is spotting talent—they called it “talent-mapping” in the accounting firm we studied. But a lot of people we talked to were also able to reflect and say, “Part of why I was excited about that person, probably, is because they reminded me of a younger version of myself.” The word we use in sociology is homophily—people like people who are like themselves."

On the other, other hand, it's possible those problems are effects rather than causes, effects of the higher level of stress that those who don't fit in naturally face. "For a lot of people from poor and working-class or lower-middle-class backgrounds, being in these environments felt like you had to put on a performance all day. They didn’t feel at home and comfortable in their work environment—even people who had been quite successful, who had gotten toward the top of their occupations." (Certainly, my "fuck it" threshold goes down when I'm having to deal with stress from other sides, unrelated to the problem at hand.)

If you put enough shoe-box-sized impediments in the way of the best hurdler, you can make them fall down.

As you aptly point out, affirmative action results in less productive workplaces in today's world.

I think we need to accept this fact, and at the same time, realize that it's not necessarily a bad thing.

It comes down to values. Which do we value more: productivity/economic output OR equality of opportunity?

Historically, we have pretty much placed productivity at the top of our value chain, but over the past couple decades, it seems like we're starting to value equality of opportunity more than productivity.

IMO, there's no right or wrong answer, but it behooves us to get on the same page so we don't feel conflicted.

Affirmative action is not equality of opportunity, its equality of outcomes. That's why places like Harvard have to give Asian students SAT scores negative modifiers in order to level the playing field of outcomes.

We need to get a the root of the problem, not try to patch it at the top when its too late and override meritocracy. It all boils down to culture, which OP's article reinforces.

Highly recommend Amy Chaus book The Triple Package. Its discusses why certain cultures succeed better than other in the US.

But see Jennifer Lee's response, https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2014/02/24/are-mexicans-t....

"A colleague of mine illustrated this point with a baseball analogy: Most Americans would be more impressed by someone who made it to second base starting from home plate than someone who ended up on third base, when their parents started on third base. But because we tend to focus strictly on outcomes when we talk about success and mobility, we fail to acknowledge that the third base runner didn’t have to run far at all."

It's not a rebuttal of Chau, its just a different metric tailored to propel an outlier forward. Great on Mexican-Americans for jumping a much larger gap. I would have been more convinced if the author had other examples though.

If you read Chau's book, she was focused on median household income compared to Whites and average Americans, as well as many other factors such as entrepreneurship, degrees, etc. Lee's article left out some of the other subgroups Chaus metric applies to, they missed Iranians, Lebanese and Mormons (the only majority white group). I'll take a whole book dedicated to the cultural theory that explains the rise of 7 subgroups within the US over some article that points out 1 any day.

We cannot choose "equality of opportunity" OVER "productivity/economic output", because then we will go broke. After that there is no choice left whatsoever.

IMO we don't need "equality of opportunity" what we need instead is to make sure that those with the least amount of opportunity still have a lot of it. So much of it that they can move on and do so on a path that is to their liking.

> but it behooves us to get on the same page so we don't feel conflicted.

We can feel conflicted, that in itself is not problematic. Why should it be?

I take it you believe parental leave, extended vacation time, and the 40-hour work week are detrimental?

Detrimental to what/whom? It depends, except with the 40-hour work week, that one belongs to the dustbin of history. Nobody profits from it at this point. BTW, why are you mentioning these topics?

Your anecdotal evidence is, I would say, dangerous to over generalization. AND.. if you truly believe this, then you should try offering some training or mentorship programs to help these individuals succeed.

Do you, as a manager at least, have any ideas on how to address that inequality? Obviously the ideal measure would be at least to improve education among those populations, but given that at least some portion of that damage is done by the time an individual enters the workplace, is there any way to mitigate those factors at that point?

The one area I have found useful is employing a junior group in operational roles where they are tasked with repetitive but skill-requiring tasks get to show that they are:

-- conscientious

-- innovative

-- communicative

-- ambitious

You can almost immediately tell who has ideas, is interested in the work, and stands out from the rest.

A responsible corporate leader then offers the opportunity to advance from this beginning having proven their adaptability. Honestly, it is too dangerous / risky to hire people from "unusual" backgrounds into much higher responsibility roles.

This is the old type training environment that companies used to have, especially in manufacturing for example. But with the decline of that, and the offloading of expensive training and apprenticeship to a contractor-run world, this gateway for people to prove themselves is becoming rarer and rarer. And it is a failing of our society to take up that slack with enlightened public policy that realizes this is happening. All we seem to want now is to have someone else grow the crop, and we pick and cut the most attractive.

So this sort of program would weed out individuals that couldn't hack it in the corporate environment, thereby mitigating the negative effects of those traits listed earlier to the business, which is obviously a good idea. But from personal experience as a person who would probably score fairly low on conscientiousness, I've found that such programs don't encourage that trait in me. At the risk of trying to turn this into an advice thread, what would you recommend for an individual in that circumstance?

What's an example of low conscientiousness? What type of work do you enjoy / are you successful at?

In my case at least, I'm often just not motivated to meet a given standard of excellence in my work, at least when doing work that I'd be paid for. Frankly, I'm often content with "works well enough and without breaking issues" at work. At 22 I'm just starting my career, and I'd like to find a way to mitigate that trait in the future.

As far as what type of work I enjoy and/or am successful at, I'm honestly not sure. I haven't enjoyed any work to a high degree since leaving university. So far at least, I've been fairly successful in my work as a software developer for an insurance tech company.

One idea that comes to mind is to try working on a project where incremental improvement in performance of some process or algorithm actually produces financial or time value for yourself or some group who depend on the outcome. Get closer to the user, get to know the user rather than receiving some task remotely, and learn how something better can save them time, money, or headache.

Tie your personal gratification to the result, and (in the 2nd case) tangibly through someone else's recognition of your work. That may be how you learn to value and feel good about performing more than is just necessary. Look to work on or create a project where the recipient of the work is not looking for just good enough.

Also, find a small team whose people can push you to see and value the extra effort, and the aspect of not letting them down. You probably would benefit from finding a mentor who could hook you up with some receptive team willing to give you a shot.

Good luck!

I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to provide that advice, and I'll start implementing it immediately. Thanks so much!

This sounds vaguely plausible, but do you have anything backing that up? Unproven theories are a dime a dozen.

Definitely rings true. I managed to get accepted to one of the “top-ish” business schools a decade or so back, and got to witness first-hand these non-obvious rules and norms and these invisible barriers. There’s an obvious class chasm. You’ve got the bros (and yes they were mostly men in a narrow age band) who were already investment bankers and management consultants, going back to finishing school to “get their tickets punched”. And then there was everyone else: international students trying to get a foothold in American business, non-traditional, entrepreneurial types, and working-class schmucks like myself trying to change careers into something more lucrative.

The ‘bros all seemed to know each other already, and knew all these hidden rules, norms, and behaviors. They had similar interests and hobbies. Liked similar overseas vacationing spots. Did their wine tasting together. Went to the same polo and yachting clubs. They spoke the language of privilege and class fluently. They even dressed pretty much the same. Their elite backgrounds have them an enormous and obvious advantage.

When it came time to do the grueling company meet-and-greets and interview gauntlet, these guys were the only ones not sweating it. They already by and large had their elite jobs lined up by virtue of this hidden network. The rest of us did 25 interviews a week fighting over the scraps.

Never managed to do a career change, but still found the experience to be valuable. It changed a lot of my attitudes and beliefs about class mobility, how much of the world actually runs on these secret rules and understandings, and the differences between certain and uncertain paths to economic/career success. I feel the author of this article really gets it.

Never underestimate the value of a good network. A lot of opportunities will show up outside a work environment first, as a passing comment or an invitation for coffee or dinner. This is a segment where first mover advantage is very significant.

Lower level jobs can be more objectively assigned because you have a much higher number of matches and mismatches to draw conclusions from. The higher up you go, the more subjective factors play a role. There has been a lot of progress in measuring ability at the top tiers, but relatively few companies hire professional psychometric assessment.

There is subjective evaluation as a necessary reality and there is flat out nepotism. The line may be fuzzy at times, but the above sounds like the latter with no doubt.

I didn't do IB, but I did work at BlackRock in strategy post MBA with a lot of IBers. The thing about IB is that it is super focused on getting deals done which inherently creates a lower stress level when looking for jobs or other transactional type work [1]. While most are from really solid backgrounds, many are not. The salaries give all IBers the ability to do things that most normal 22-25 year olds can't because the salaries are so big.

[1] My experience in business school was interesting because I didn't have a well known brand on my resume, or network outside of a niche industry I wanted to leave, but I did have transnational experience which made me super confident.

While my colleagues were trying to optimize grades or prep for interviews by learning every detail about the company, I was working on talking points. When I went to an interview I was stress fee because (even though it was 2009), I was confident that I would have multiple offers.

There are class divides, and there are divides based on experience.

Not really sure what your point is, besides drawing attention to your impressive confidence and singular success

"There are class divides, and there are divides based on experience."

The OP is describing what sounds like a divide on experience, not class. I use my personal example and understanding of the process to highlight why I believe his feelings on the process may be a little off.

The research linked in the first paragraph wasn't working for me. I think it's the same here: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/66753/ and is a free download

There are hidden rules and behaviors in almost every cultural group from rich to working class, educated to non-educated, young to not young, one region of the country to another, even terrain like lowland vs mountain. Being accepted and having doors opened for you is highly impacted by your behavior and how well it fits in the cultural context - whether it's up or down the economic ladder. So this article doesn't strike me as anything new or surprising.

"I think the image that we have—or the ideology, if you want to be political about it—is once you’re 18 or so, you make your own way and your class origin is not an important part of how your career goes from there."

I certainly don't have that image - are there those that do? Clearly if you come from a culture of upper / upper middle class professionals you are likely to fit in to that work culture more naturally. If you are not from that culture, then your success at fitting in will depend on your ability to adapt. Isn't this expressed in the idea "dress for the position you want"? There will always be social obstacles. The key is that there not be legal obstacles. This seems pretty obvious. Am I missing something?

i have that ideology, and I grew up from a very poor background.

though, i personally dont see much merit in thinking much about things i cant control, whether they are real or imagined. i do it sometimes, but I always try to remember what Ronon (stargate atlantis) said, if it helps you: use it. if it doesn't, put it out of your mind. something like that.

I think this is an important article. One part that really resonated with me is the studied informality, in a way that becomes a kind of shibboleth for class membership.

"The name that we gave to the culture there was “studied informality”—nobody wore suits and ties, nobody even wore standard business casual. People were wearing sneakers and all kinds of casual, fashionable clothes. There was a sort of “right” way to do it and a “wrong” way to do it

This actually does remind me of something PG wrote a while back in an essay about informal dress codes and programmers.

"Nerds don't just happen to dress informally. They do it too consistently. Consciously or not, they dress informally as a prophylactic measure against stupidity.[1]

I feel a little bad bringing this up, because I don't mean to be hard on Paul here, or dredge up an essay written 15 years ago. I'll also admit I found the statement entertaining, though it had a bit of the competitive nerd quality to it, something I found a bit off-putting even though I meet more or less every demographic check mark for "nerd" for my generation, down to dungeons and dragons and programming in basic on an appleII.

But then there's this part, from the Atlantic article, about suits. "that was in some ways, I think, more off-putting and harder to navigate for some of our working-class respondents than hearing “just wear a suit and tie every day” might have been. The rules weren’t obvious, but everybody else seemed to know them."

Over time, I'm come to believe that the "informal" barriers to entry for programming may be far more exclusive than the formal barriers in law or medicine. We haze through whiteboard coding interviews, we (well google and many others) store results in a double secret database with scores that a candidate is never allowed to see. There's no specific degree you take, no dress code you follow, no formal, well recognized board or exam, conducted consistently by people who are known experts in their field.

I've read articles bringing law and medicine up as a counterpoint to low levels of women in programming and stem fields. After all, women were clearly discriminated against, both in terms of formal barriers and informal hostility, in law and medicine, and yet women are now at much higher levels, in some cases a majority of law and med students in elite schools. So, the argument goes, why do we conclude that discrimination is the cause of continuing lower participation in STEM?

Here's the thing - the formal barriers to entry can be addressed in a formal way. The vague, culturally implicit shibboleths that software uses to enforce entry may be vastly more insidious and difficult to even recognize, let alone abate.

I don't cheer our informal culture and dress code the way I used to. No, I'm not saying I want us all to wear suits to work (or have an ABA style organization put a 150K degree in between programmers and the right to program), but there's something about the "prophylactic barrier against stupidity", the distain of a more formal culture, that I think may be more discouraging to people who aren't as familiar with these cultural habits.

I'll leave you with this - I'm a programmer, but my father is a physician. He was invited to speak a meeting for a society of African American physicians. He wasn't sure how to dress for a lunch meeting, but decided to go formal, with a suit. He said if anything, he was ever so slightly underdressed. Casual dress wouldn't have been anything remotely resembling a prophylactic barrier against stupidity, it would have been a sign of disrespect.

There's a lot here, in this article, to think about.

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/bubble.html

It seems to me that for any nerd subject, when talking to someone, within 3 sentences you figure out whether somebody is in or out. No need to look at clothes.

At the same time, somebody who knows a lot about a nerd subject is generally respected, whether dressed the part or not.

I remember reading post from some startup founder talking about how he dont hire those who came in suits - because that shows they are all about how people look instead of substance etc. Oh well ... suit is general advice, knowing not to wear it requires subtle knowledge of how people should look ...

Oh wow, you're right about suits.

I've read Wall Street people are great at figuring out who is wearing a suit the right way. I truly can't tell the difference between one off the rack at a department store.

The subtleties of suits can be certainly turned into a shibboleth as well, and have been on a regular basis throughout history.

Thiel won't invest in a startup ceo who wears a suit.

It seems to me that creating and using cultural signals that allow us to differentiate between the in group and the out, is a fundamental part of human culture. There's no culture where it doesn't exist, and as soon as we remove one set of culture signals another quickly replaces it. As a sibling post pointed out, in workplaces with suits, people differentiate by cut of suit.

So the answer isn't to try rid ourselves of cultural signals, they'll just get replaced with new ones. The answer imo is to work at being aware of the signals we have and the biases they give us. That's hard, much harder that simply removing the existing signals, but resisting hardwired human nature is hard.

"Probably the best example of this is the television-production firm we studied. The name that we gave to the culture there was “studied informality”—nobody wore suits and ties, nobody even wore standard business casual. People were wearing sneakers and all kinds of casual, fashionable clothes. There was a sort of “right” way to do it and a “wrong” way to do it: A number of people talked about this one man—who was black and from a working-class background—who just stood out. He worked there for a while and eventually left. He wore tracksuits, and the ways he chose to be casual and fashionable were not the ways that everybody else did."

There's a very old quote about this; I cannot remember where I saw it: "You can't be a rebel if you don't wear the right uniform." Wearing the right t-shirt and sneakers is as important in some environments as wearing the right three-piece suit or military uniform in others.

Likewise, knowing the right jokes, playing the right games, watching the right TV shows, all of these things influence how you fit into an environment and how productive you will be there.

An unstated assumption behind analyses like the one in this article is that the way to get ahead is by being an employee. All of the issues about "decoding the culture" only apply if you are an employee trying to learn and adjust to a culture that someone else created. But if you are the founder of your own business, you create its culture; you don't have to learn someone else's.

That seems a little disingenuous though. If anything as a founder the cultural imperative is even stronger - you need to relate with and connect with customers first and foremost, and potentially investors and employees down the road. In general, being an entrepreneur almost always involves a huge amount of "networking hustle," where "culture fit" can really help or hurt your chances of having doors open.

Whatever culture you create has to take into account that your business has to serve its customers, of course; without that you don't have a business. But it seems like there is a lot of room for cultures that serve customers without having to be "decoded" the way the article describes, such that people from certain types of backgrounds are implicitly favored.

Until you need to raise money, then you need to convince the VCs that they should work with you. I'd say out of everyone I've ever met, investors are the most classist.

Not all businesses need to raise VC money. Not even all startups do (though it's certainly a lot more common with startups).

…and then of course your main investor, your wife, the classiest of them all!

This phenomenon in America is related but different, and oddly physical in that the physical presence of people from elite backgrounds often has an almost childlike, sexless affect in both men and women. I think it comes from a lack of reliance on physical competence and years of the practice of acting through others. It's easy to recognize, and almost impossible to fake for very long.

I see educated people try to replicate it, and it comes off as a kind of unctuous, false over agreeableness that catches on the same way up-talk and baby talk do among teenagers, but for a set of more subtle affectations related to their schools.

The shibboleths of class are ever present, and the best solution to monocultures is to enable better mobility instead of contriving ways to filter against them.

Did you generate this with some machine learning algorithm?

No offense, but to a layman who isn't part of this rich culture, your whole post reads like a bunch of incoherent nonsense.

Can you ELI 5?

I'm curious. Do you have more specific details about this effect?

Possibly something along these lines: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Official_Preppy_Handbook

The summary on that wikipedia page made me chuckle lightly at work. All kidding aside, I'm now doing searches for all manner of 'subculture' handbooks. Looks like I'll be encountering some new reading material soon.

Can you elaborate?

And give away the game? Never.

However, it essentially boils down to what people perceive as that effortless alignment to power. The difference between real and fake is how effortless it is and why.

Why wouldn't you want to give away the game?

motohagiography doesn't have enough power to make that move.

>The word we use in sociology is homophily—people like people who are like themselves.

None of the studies I've seen have even considered whether a privileged background does translate to higher than average merit. And why wouldn't it? We already know household income is correlated with IQ, and growing up having access to better schools, better extracurriculars, less influence from crime, etc is likely, or at least possibly going to build a more competent child.

This field is hopelessly biased. These soft "scientists" start with the premise, that we are all equally competent and set out to prove that cultural factors simply get in the way of perception of merit. The irony is that these same people harp about workplace culture, with claims that "good" [PC] culture has positive effect on business outcomes - doesn't it follow that different home cultures will similarly effect adult outcomes? Why won't anyone with academic clout admit that the culture of your childhood effects how much you're likely to learn, how disciplined you're likely to be and, ultimately, how well you're going to function in a professional environment?

It's a conflation between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. Frankly, is bad for business and bad for society.

>None of the studies I've seen have even considered whether a privileged background does translate to higher than average merit. And why wouldn't it?

Because (on average) privilege kids eventually become soft, entitled, no-good jerks quite soon as generations pass. And even their education can (and often is) paid for. So much for merit. Many have had the "privilege" to witness the "intellectual capacity" of kids of the privileged classes in action...

To quote an article I've read:

  The Chinese have a saying: “Wealth does not pass three 
  generations.” But it’s not unique to China; the same 
  sentiment is expressed across multiple cultures, from 
  Japan (“rice paddies to rice paddies in three 
  generations”), to Scotland (“the father buys, the son 
  builds, the grandchild begs”) to even here in the U.S. 
  (“shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”).

In the US I've mostly heard the three-generation sequence as, "built it, grew it, blew it".

Growing up in a loving upper middle class home is not the same as the charicature of a snobby trust fund baby that you're envisioning.

No, but it's not that "privileged" either.

> None of the studies I've seen have even considered whether a privileged background does translate to higher than average merit. And why wouldn't it? We already know household income is correlated with IQ, and growing up having access to better schools, better extracurriculars, less influence from crime, etc is likely, or at least possibly going to build a more competent child.

We don't know where brilliance will come from. We do know that high stress levels early in life are detrimental to achieving it, though. By not offering high quality, low stress education to all children, we are probably leaving a lot of creativity and innovation on the table.

A good example of such a phenomenon that succeeded would be https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srinivasa_Ramanujan, however, there are far more examples of brilliance rising from blue collar/impovershed beginnings.

If we instead just leave education to the whims of wealth access, then it should be pretty obvious that while education would be better for people who are wealthy, it wouldn't guarantee that it would be effective for generating the most competent people possible, since the input was limited by wealth.

You've totally missed my point. I'm not arguing that we shouldn't give people equal access to early education, or anything of the sort.

This is a question of whether or not circumstances and culture in upbringing can have an effect on merit. If they do, and you are operating a business with the goal of maximizing success, then rationally it is valid to use culture as a proxy for merit.

I've got to be honest, I initially reacted to this kind of emotionally, thinking that of course external circumstances don't have any bearing on intrinsic merit. I definitely have a bias toward thinking that everyone is more or less equal and that modern workplaces often enshrine a kind of cultural bias towards using inconsequential factors as proxies for merit.

That being said, it's been my impression for a while that IQ scores at least are mostly irrelevant, and not well correlated with economic performance. Is that a mistaken impression? I fully agree with the rest of the factors you bring up as positive influences, it's just the connection to IQ that I have a concern with.

I would argue, also, that the "equal competence" premise could be better stated as "that we all have an approximately equal potential for competence". I'm curious if you think this alternate premise would also be bad for business and society?

Thanks for prompting me to challenge my own assumptions and biases, btw

According to my observations, IQ correlates very well with the person being "smart" in a usual, common sense way.

100 would be an IQ of an average person.

130 is a rather smart person. Remember that guy in your class who could solve the problem in his head before it was written on the blackboard? That's probably him.

IQ of 85 is the lower limits for getting into the US army.

IQ of 70 is the official definition of being mentally retarded.

Does being smart correlate with economic success? Yes, up to some extent. Being too smart? Well, there's a chance most people around simply won't understand you, which is rarely good for career advancement.

It is more correlated to income than wealth:

> each point increase in IQ test scores raises income by between $234 and $616 per year after holding a variety of factors constant

From: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016028960...

Interesting. I don't have access to the full paper, but it appears that the individuals in that study were 28 when the research was conducted. I'll definitely be searching for recent studies conducted on the same cohort when I get the chance, but I do wonder if that correlation holds steady-ish over time, and also if it will be replicated with cohorts of a later generation as other economic climates develop.

I appreciate the information!

>that we all have an approximately equal potential for competence

No one wants to hear it, and with good reason, but there is simply no proof of this, and substantial evidence to the contrary. We know intelligence is strongly heritable, for example.


Life is unfair. But our modern academic institutions are beating around this bush, I think because on a base level, empathetic people are fearful of the consequences of scientific research that may effectively justify certain racist ideas. But that makes for bad science and, possibly, bad policy, if different people require different solutions to different problems. It also makes it hard for me to trust academia, because the bias is so entrenched.

Check out Amy Chau's book The Triple Package. Its premise is that 3 cultural factors influence economic outcomes: Superiority Complex, Insecurity, and Impulse Control. It explains why there are subgroups in the US that do better an the average in terms of income: Chinese, Jewish, Indian, Iranian, Lebanese, Nigerians, Cuban exiles and Mormons.

I think you can boil it down to both IQ and culture as being the main drivers of economic success. Culture can be split further into ethnic cultural modifiers and socio-economic cultural modifiers/multipliers. You can do pretty well if you have positive points in 1 of 3 of these areas. We all start relatively equal but having one of these three modifiers can propel you to the top, with few exceptions.


I vaguely remember a study in the past that suggested that, at the extremes, high IQ people were more likely to stake out an easy life for themselves in place of a highly successful one.

#1 strongest correlation with lifetime earnings is IQ #2 strongest correlation with lifetime earnings is conscientiousness (which is roughly half orderliness, and half industriousness --- also contains traits of dependability, my word is my bond)

I can't find a reference right this moment. Jordan Peterson talks about this a lot so it should be in 1 of his videos on Youtube.

I’d be very interested to know who was studied for those results.

It’s easy to imagine that people at the highest end simply weren’t available to be selected for the study.

Likely not the research referenced by the GP, but this paper: http://web.econ.ku.dk/gensowski/research/Terman/Terman.pdf finds that Conscientiousness, IQ, and Extraversion are correlated with increased income (for men at least) among the Terman survey.

If I'm summarizing correctly, the Terman survey includes a group of 856 boys and 672 girls born around 1910 and selected in 1921-1922 who were followed until 1991.

Looking at that study, the high end simply wasn’t included. It seemed to just cover wage earners and professional salaried workers.

I also don't have a reference right now, but I would assume they've taken a thousand of random people and ran some statistical analysis on that sample.

Chances of someone from this thousand people being among the highest end are indeed pretty small.

Regardless of whether or not your hypothesis holds up, I'm glad for your post. Challenging unstated assumptions often results in more-interesting discussions.

> None of the studies I've seen have even considered whether a privileged background does translate to higher than average merit. And why wouldn't it? We already know household income is correlated with IQ, and growing up having access to better schools, better extracurriculars, less influence from crime, etc is likely, or at least possibly going to build a more competent child.

A few counterpoints to this:

* I don't dispute that markers of privilege are positively correlated with intelligence (as measured by IQ or whatever other metric). But there are other factors worth selecting for, like worth ethic, for which I could just as easily see the correlation going the opposite direction.

* My impression is that elitist selection processes select for culture first and foremost, and intelligence only incidentally. I bet the dumbest student at an Ivy League school is more likely to get an elite job than the smartest student at an unselective state school, even though the latter is smarter. (To some extent, this is a marker of efficiency on those employers' part, since it doesn't make sense to send recruiters to schools where only a tiny fraction of students are qualified. But I bet this would still be true if, for example, both students applied online.)

* Your claims are based on (and likely accurate for) averages within populations, but that's not the most relevant comparison for real-world selection processes. If you only consider people with bachelor's degrees, for example, you're comparing the top, say, 10% (based on some combination of intelligence and work ethic) of people from lower-class backgrounds to the top, say, 90% of people from privileged backgrounds. I don't think it's at all obvious that the latter population is more qualified than the former, but they're far more likely to get hired.

I assert, without a significant amount of evidence at my fingertips, that the single largest factor in the growth of the American economy and of American prosperity in the last 100 or possibly 150 years came from the introduction of women in large numbers into the "real", employment economy.

I rose to the top in programming by fixing stuff the uni grads couldn't.


It is not hard to place a label on a phenomena, but what we could achieve by such a labelling?

Lets for example look at obscure dress codes which no one truly understands, but some can follow them while others do not. Meritocracy in action? Yeah. And what? Such a mechanism would work with any society, with hunter-gatherers, with capitalists or socialists. It is a human nature, you cannot fix it by a label. Maybe it is possible to invent some clever solution to a problem (some kind of anti-fashion? or afahsion? agnofashion? or maybe some kind of strictly formalized dress codes, like in army?), but to invent it one needs no labels, labels could even be an obstacle because they frame a potential inventor into (possibly) wrong pattern of thinking.

Or we can look at financial help from parents. Meritocracy? Yes, a good label for it. And what? Labelling doesn't help us in this case also. (Communists in Soviet Russia at their start had a solution for that problem: lets rip children from their parents and place them into orphanage. Such a way all children will have equal chances, they will be equal. Moreover it will help with breaking apart old ugly social customs and prejudices, we actually have a chance to make a reality from fairy tale of "Soviet Human". Later commuists became more human-like and instead of orphanage they promoted nurseries, kindergathens, and so on, so a young Soviet Human could be educated from his birth how to be a Soviet Human by professionals. This less radical and more humanistic solution was not perfect, but worked for some lengths)

Labelling mostly used by humans to make excuse for not thinking about a problem. By placing label one put an end to a thinking and happily continues his travel through life without inconvenient feeling that he understands nothing about reality.

Well put.

Simple labels to complex problems don't work most of the time.

To be fair, it's hard and time intensive to look at all problems this way. But it will probably lead to success more of the time...though sometimes a complex solution can be difficult to implement.

Well put

I disagree. That was pretty badly put. You put it far, far better.

Presuably you're not advocating that we abandon nouns. So what are you advocating? I get that you don't like labels, but if the alternative is your rambling style of discourse, you're not selling it.

Is your polemic against meritocracy, or against labels?

Learning Meritocracy the Hard Way

16% gap pay is not that big an issue considering it's about elite workspace : If one earns 100k year, the other got "only" 84k a year. Hardly a bad income and not a life changing gap.

Their (84k earners) children will be born into wealthy/high middle class and fare well, and earn the whole 100k once in the workforce while discriminating the new generational minority.

Hate as much as you want, it's life and it will never be perfect.

Seldom immigrants make it big, but their children or grand-children might.

I think our society expends a lot of energy and political capital trying to make equality within a single generation possible. I believe that will never work. Who you were born too will always be a huge influence on where you end up on life. In addition, one of the biggest motivations for parents, is to give their children every advantage that they possibly can.

However, instead of fighting with this parental desire to better our children, we should use it. While it may not be possible to achieve equality in a single generation, it should be possible in 2-3 generations. Many immigrants have demonstrated this. The first generation may only work low-paying menial jobs, but they provide enough of an education for the second generation to get higher paying jobs and enter the middle class. The second generation works and saves and their children attend elite universities. The third generation is part of the upper middle class, and with the right connections and luck, they are their children can enter the top class of society. Thus we do not have to do the Sisyphean task of trying to make equal outcomes for everyone, we just have to work to make sure that each parent has the ability to make life better for their children.

Your looking at it wrong people will see that as a 16% pay cut and people feel a cut much worse than they would about the same increase.

That extra $16K per year is your 'power' money. That's the stuff you'll spend on investments and status.

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