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> Faculty members at prestigious universities are 50 times more likely than the average person to have a parent with a Ph.D. American meritocracy has become a complex, inefficient, and rigged system conferring its graces on ambitious children of highly educated and prosperous families.

What’s the ratio in other fields of top achievement for kids to follow in their parents’ footsteps? It’s entirely unsurprising that academics raise academics, doctors doctors, Olympians Olympians, teachers teachers, etc.

It’s equally unsurprising that the ambitious children of highly educated and prosperous families themselves pursue such a similar path and achieve similar outcomes. I’m an engineer and my spouse a scientist. Our kids have commensurately higher chance to pursue one of those or a closely related field due to exposure and biases.




From the NYT:

Working sons of working fathers are, on average, 2.7 times as likely as the rest of the population to have the same job but only two times as likely to have the same job as their working mothers, according to an analysis by The New York Times, one of the first to look at mothers and daughters in addition to fathers and sons. Daughters are 1.8 times as likely to have the same job as their mothers and 1.7 times as likely to have the same job as their fathers. [0]

From the General Social Survey[1]:

If your father was a legislator, you are 354 times more likely to be drawn to that career, too. Kids whose father was a doctor are 23 times more likely to follow in his footsteps. If your father was a lawyer, you’re 17 times more likely to become one, as well.

Jobs in the trades figure into these statistics, as well.

- The sons and daughters of plumbers are 14 times more likely to pursue a job in this field.

- The sons and daughters of electricians are nine times more likely to pursue a job in this field.

- The sons and daughters of carpenters are five times more likely to pursue a job in this field.

And, maybe it’s all that brushing and flossing – but the sons and daughters of dentists are 13 times more likely to become one, too.

[0] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/01/learning/will-you-follow-...

[1] http://gss.norc.org/About-The-GSS


I was just going to look for data on plumbers and carpenters. One common theme to all these jobs is that they tend to be quite stable, and require a life-long set of skills.

My father did metalwork before moving to an office job in the civil service. He was the son of a die pressman. Who was the son of a blacksmith. Dad taught me how to weld and cut and so on before my teens. My intellectual interests went to math and computers early on, and he did encourage me to go wherever that might lead. Yet after university and exploring the world I end up in a job where I make circuit boards. It's nearly all automated now but I still do far more welding in my job than most people with a degree.

Sometimes it feels like our life scripts are often sketched out by circumstance and trends long before we're even born.


I went into software dev while my father was a construction worker.

He is really proud of buildings he was working on and that he was able to build things with his own hands.

Even though I have an engineering degree and work in totally different environment I think that something I took from him is that I am really happy with the systems I have built and ability to create things on my own.

I did it with keyboard while he did it with hammer.

So I don't think it is "cartels" it is still a lot of what you experience in your childhood. If your parent is a dentist he will talk about that and you won't have problem to understand things in that area, maybe you will visit his practice and be able to play with the tools even. Well it still is some kind of upper-hand but not every child can have the same exposure to dentistry and I am fine with that.


Looking back, I think that one superiority of construction over software is that your work has real permanence.

Now and again I'll see a very expensive thing I worked on on eBay for a penny on the dollar. Maybe it's time to build a Museum of Me in a spare bedroom.


I wonder if I'm the only kid who expressly did not do what their parents did in this thread.

Of course I also sit in a cluster, knowing several other kids who also did not want to become restaurant workers. It was simple really, our parents would say "I'm serving fried rice to people so that you won't have to." None of my family friends have taken over the family business. It's nearly an insult to suggest it, I remember seeing an article about my friend's dad having his anniversary at one of Copenhagens most beloved Chinese grillbars. The FB comment section made it clear she had no intention of taking that over, his hard work had resulted in a cushy white collar job for her and she was thankful for that.

Oddly my wife, a doctor's kid, also got put off being a doctor by her dad. He had long become cynical about working in the NHS and let his kids know when they got to the age where you think about this.


> I wonder if I'm the only kid who expressly did not do what their parents did in this thread.

My father and my father's father were both anesthesiologists. I'm a software developer with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Growing up, I saw a lot of my dad's frustration butting his head against hospital and regulatory bureaucracy and decided to steer clear. (His biggest headaches came because it's not uncommon for one anesthesiologist to cover 3 simultaneous low-risk operations, circulating among the operating rooms while each surgery has a dedicated nurse anesthetist. There was one billing regulation that was ambiguous in a corner case for such simultaneous services, where one reading indicated that they weren't allowed to charge any fees at all in a corner case. His company inquired for clarification from the government regulator and got no response. Years after their inquiry, they got sued regarding corner-case billing of the government for services provided to low income patients. The legal discovery process found internal government memos where regulators joked with each other over my dad's company's inquiry about how it would be great to have zero-cost healthcare at the expense of physicians. The laws were later clarified to avoid the ambiguity to essentially match my dad's company's interpretation, but unfortunately, the lawsuit was over the laws at the time the billing was made. They were actually sued by a third party on behalf of the government, in exchange for a percentage of the money recovered for the government. Some of the key pieces of evidence were shown pre-trial to be "mistakes" where the other side had "accidentally" photocopied several bills twice and redacted the two copies of each bill slightly differently. There were some "anonymous whistleblower" faxes that were traced to an office service center across the street from the other party's offices (conveniently preventing the whistleblower from having to answer questions under oath), and all kinds of other obvious dishonest evidence submission. Most of the complaints were thrown out pre-trial, the rest they settled out of court rather than risk a jury trial pitting "rich doctors" against a government program for low income folks, over ambiguous wording. There were also anti-trust allegations made by defining a market as the area right around the hospital's where dad's company operated and conveniently ignoring some hospitals in-between those included hospitals. At least the anti-trust stuff was dropped pretty quickly, but the whole ordeal was a high-stress multi-year situation for my dad when I was in elementary school.)


>rather than risk a jury trial pitting "rich doctors" against a government program for low income folks, over ambiguous wording.

Well, were they following the standard of American healthcare in price-gouging patients because it was technically legal to do so? Which would not necessarily be a strike against your dad, but simply an acknowledgement of the way health care costs are "managed" in this country.


> standard of American healthcare in price-gouging patients

They were charging MediCare, not patients, and they were charging MediCare according to the price schedule dictated by MediCare, which was significantly less than insurance companies paid. The problem was there were poorly worded rules for adjusting prices when one doctor was simultaneously treating multiple patients, particularly around how multiple discount factors should compound.

I don't remember the exact details from 30 years ago, but IIRC, it was something like under one interpretation of the rules, if a doctor were treating 2 private insurance patients and 1 MediCare patient simultaneously, then the MediCare discount factor was reasonable. However, if a doctor were treating 3 MediCare patients simultaneously, under one interpretation the discount factors compounded additively such that the doctor's fees went negative and the doctor was best off doing the 3rd case pro-bono. The real trouble came when a doctor was treating 1 patient with private insurance and 2 under MediCare, where the incorrect reading resulted in discount factors unreasonable compounding, but not to such a degree that it was so clearly an incorrect interpretation.

When MediCare didn't respond to their request for clarification, my dad's company went with the interpretation that gave sane results for 3 MediCare patients, and applied that same interpretation to the 2 MadiCare patient case. It would have been immoral and illegal for them to refuse to treat the patients, so they went forward in good faith with the most sensible interpretation. This despite (as discovery showed) MediCare officials acting in bad faith by intentionally not responding to their inquiry and privately joking about it. They presumably realized the correct interpretation resulted in higher fees, but avoided responding in hopes the lower fees would be charged.

Whichever bureaucrats had written the original billing rules were clearly aware that some doctors simultaneously treated multiple patients, but had clearly hadn't sat down and tried calculating a bill for one hypothetical situation for each of the possible corner cases.

The rules were later amended to be unambiguous. The lawsuit was filed a few years after the rules amendments, and all of the allegations of wrongdoing were for billing prior to the rules amendments. Everything they did was always clearly correct under the later rules. The only question was if the earlier and later rules were equivalent. My dad's company's assertion was that the earlier ambiguous rules should be interpreted as being equivalent to the later rules. The opposition's assertion was that the rules change wasn't in fact a clarification, but instead a meaningful change that allowed doctors to bill more.

The billing rules were so complex that in the late 1970s, my dad's company of 15-ish doctors hired some developers to spend months sitting down with the doctors coding up the billing rules. Even the mid 2000's they were making more on licensing the anesthesia billing software than they were on providing anesthesia services.

Don't go into medicine unless you really like helping people.

My dad studied hard enough to get very high MCAT scores and went to med school after 3 years of undergrad, so he never got an undergrad degree. (Med school was less competitive in the 1970s, and he didn't go to a top-tier med school, though he did well enough that he did his residency at the Mayo Clinic.) I'm pretty sure there were plenty of other things my dad could have done that would have been roughly as lucrative, but lower stress and left him with more time with family. I think part of it was that he felt a duty to carry on his father's career that was cut so short.

I saw my dad's paycheck one month in the mid 1980s. He made 10k/month, which was good money for the 80s (about 300k/yr in 2021 dollars), but he also had to pay malpractice insurance and med school loans out of that (Grandpa drowned when dad was 9 years old and Grandma had to go back to being a school teacher). He and many of his colleagues had stress-related acid reflux. Hospitals need anesthesia 24/7, so he was on a rolling shift work schedule. Sometimes I wouldn't see him for a week because he'd either have the evening shift and be out before I got home from school, or he'd be working the graveyard shift and wouldn't wake up until after my bedtime. Anesthesiologists have pretty high rates of suicide and drug abuse. You occasionally pull some genuine miracles out of your hat and save a doomed person, but you also carry with you forever the names of those you couldn't save.


Thank you for speaking frankly about your dad's situation. It doesn't confirm what I thought, but speaks to the spirit of it in that the presence of private insurance unnecesarily complicated what should have been a simple fee-for-service. Likewise, I'm sorry to hear that your father and other anaesthesiologists, as well as many other American workers across many fields, fell and fall victim to a systemic deficiency in labor management practices. I worked a night shift warehouse job for barely half a year before I couldn't stand the negative effects it was having on my health; I can't imagine doing it for years on end. Your father was paid well, but I imagine that it barely covered the costs of the negative health outcomes he experienced from prolonged and chronic sleep deprivation, as well as limited contact with his family. So many of our businesses are in need of process advancements that would allow for larger workforces working shorter hours, so that we're not putting so much on each individual worker. And as far as healthcare goes, we really, really just need to go to a single-payer system. I'm afraid that our unwillingness to make the decision to make those shifts means that we'll see more situations like this in the future.


Having lived in Hong Kong for the past 9 years, the US medical insurance situation is the main thing that gives me pause about moving back to the U.S. The whole situation is a tragic mess.

It's not even a free market run amok. There's essentially zero price transparency, which is necessary for an efficiently operating free market.


Re this thread specifically, I suspect medicine is viewed differently in the US than in the UK. There's certainly an impression, imo, of the profession in the US that's derived from the upper percentiles of the earning potential here; I've heard (but am not sure) that the range is less extreme in countries with superior healthcare systems.


Yeah, I happen to have relatives who are doctors in the US. I think they get paid more than my father-in-law did, but they talk about malpractice insurance taking up a lot of that income, so I'm not sure how it nets out.


My dad was a telecom salesman, I became a software engineer. I do remember seeing big stacks of dBase binders in his closet, and he taught me how to use a command line, but a developer he was not.


Another big aspect to trades is there’s often a union bureaucracy or something similar to navigate. It helps to have someone to show you the ropes.


It's a test for most union trades. To those interested, call the union hall where you live. So, it's usually a test, and a interview. The interview counts for 1/2 of the hiring process. The test is usually an 8th grade, or high school equivalency test. It's not hard, but in certain high paying markets, like San Francisco, a 1000 guys might show up to take the test, so you need to get most questions right.

Once you get into the union, it's kinda a cake walk. You can achieve a middle class income, health, and retirement.

It wasn't for me, but a lot of people like it.

(answering the top question. I never wanted to do what my father did. We had a strained relationship the minute I stopped agreeing with him. Even as a kid, I loved my father, but didn't want to be like him in any way--including career.)


>Once you get into the union, it's kinda a cake walk.

Knowing people in the highly unionized film biz, getting your next job always seems to be the order of the day so it seems to depend. It actually sounds pretty tough compared to a 'normal' gig at a company, but you do end up with good stories to tell.


I'd say it's a script filled with probabilities rather than absolutes. And isn't that all of life, the universe and everything?


Pretty obvious when you think about it. My Father was an engineer, although a different one than I am. As a child you pick things up when you grow. The fact that I had a computer at home back 3 decades ago, automatically meant I already had an upper hand and a better understanding of how computers work than most of my classmates who only got to see a computer almost a decade later for an hour every week in school. Also having an engineer as a father meant you had these weird books full of knowledge that you could browse through and get immersed in, for free, since I was basically a toddler. He could help me with homework, even if it was to explain integral calculus, which I could not comprehend before. Not saying that I couldn't choose any other profession, just that I naturally had the upper hand and years of experience in certain things even before going to college. I'm sure its the same for pretty much every profession as long as parents stay involved with their kids.


I still resent my parents for not keeping any books in the house apart from the dictionary. I can't remember how many times I flipped through the dictionary out of boredom growing up. Whenever I'd go to my grandmother's place, I loved to take random books off the book shelf and read through them.

I honestly feel like a great way to educate kids is not to teach them anything directly at all, but to instead leave lots of material around for them to discover themselves.


This is essentially the Montessori method of teaching, which is why families with higher incomes make such a fuss about them.


My father had a big book shelf in his office room in our house which spanned two of the walls. As a kid I loved to browse the shelf and pick up different kinds of literature. I remember reading Jules Verne's “Journey to the Center of the Earth“ around the age of 10 and although it was a rather tough read, I was blown away.


Why anyone is surprised? Parents are the most powerful role models for children, especially at early age. Also they have good opportunity to teach they kids and what they will teach depends on what they know. This limits social mobility, but all proposals to fix this so far IMHO will do more harm (to high acheivers) than good (to under achievers). This is a difficult problem to tackle so I don't expect easy solutions to work here.


So, looks like contacts and internal knowledge are much more important for a PHD than it is for most professions, but the situation is still much better than for politicians.

I'd say that means the PHD job market has a large problem. When politicians are the ones you can compare yourself to look good, it's because things are not good at all.


That is one interpretation. Another interpretation is that in pursuing academic career requires a certain attitude towards studying which people growing in a family of academics are a lot more likely to have. In STEM it makes a lot more sense financially to enter the workforce after graduation so staying in university for another 5+ years requires some real love for science. In my experience people with parents in academia are more likely to get financial and moral from their family while they are doing phd.


Not to mention shared genes for educational attainment and interests.


Is there a proven role of genetics here or is this pseudoscientific determinism?


It is pretty well established that educational attainment is significantly heritable [1]. Although less studied, there is evidence of significant heritability of interests as well [2]

[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41539-017-0005-6

[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8407707/


Heritability is not necessarily genetic, which is probably what he was getting at.

Behavioral genetics is fairly controversial for being an entire field which begs the question.

https://www.wichita.edu/academics/fairmount_college_of_liber...

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/my-problem-...


Twin studies, adoption studies, and now GWAS studies are quickly putting an end to the idea of some significant but elusive environmental effect that accounts for heritability measures in exclusion to genes. Regarding the articles, I don't find them compelling. The author of the first one identifies himself as an emergentist, which is conceptually vacuous. The critique in the second article doesn't target the strongest of heritability studies regarding IQ, educational attainment, etc, which have been widely replicated.


All behavioral genetic studies heretofore rely on statistical analysis to draw correlations from datasets. Even ones that identiy specific SNPs are often unable to identify the physiological mechanism by which, say, Gene X influences intelligence. Without that, it's impossible to conclude that expression of Gene X isn't environmentally-influenced, and only has positive effects on intelligence when a certain diet is consumed, or sleep schedule kept, or common childhood illness avoided, for example. Another trait influenced by complex genetic and environmental factors, variability in adult height, has similarly been held to be highly heritable based on flawed studies with flawed construction, methodology, and assumptions, despite the fact that the average in many countries has changed on a time scale incompatible with a purely or even highly genetic basis. And height is easy to measure: get a ruler. Models of intelligence have shifted over the years because, speaking frankly, we don't really know how to measure it objectively.

Your objection to the first is ad hominem, to the second erroneous.

Belief in genetic determinism, as we conceive it, is at odds with the principles of skepticism and scientific inquiry. Like eugenics before it, it really, really wants to find a scientific basis to justify the state of the world we live in even as that state shifts under us. There are massive holes in both the execution of studies and the underlying rationale, and it's impossible to speak in good faith on the topic without acknowledging that.


>Without that, it's impossible to conclude that expression of Gene X isn't environmentally-influenced

Conclusions do not require certainty. Science is about converging to the best explanation, not about unimpeachable conclusions. But when there are no plausible causal paths to explain measured correlations aside from, e.g., gene->phenotype causation, then causation along the available causal path is a valid tentative conclusion.

> variability in adult height, has similarly been held to be highly heritable... despite the fact that the average in many countries has changed on a time scale incompatible with a purely or even highly genetic basis.

I don't know how you can possibly think this supports your argument against genetic heritability. Height has a heritability measure of around 80%, which leaves 20% for environmental factors. There is no contradiction in noting that average height has increased over time when the current best analysis leaves significant room for variation due to environment.

>despite the fact that the average in many countries has changed on a time scale incompatible with a purely or even highly genetic basis.

Nothing you've said demonstrates this claim.

>Your objection to the first is ad hominem

Nope. Emergentism is his avowed conceptual framework, a lens through which he analyzes evidence and draws conclusions. But if the conceptual framework is vacuous, which it is, then that undermines the value of conclusions based on that framework.


>Conclusions do not require certainty.

If certainty has not been achieved, then you should remain skeptical. The lack of a causal explanation is a massive discontinuity in logic which suggests that our conclusions may be very wrong ("retrograde action" wrong).

>Height has a heritability measure of around 80%, which leaves 20% for environmental factors.

This is what I mean. The studies that determined this used datasets from wealthy Western countries that are more ethnically homogeneous than average. Similar studies done in less wealthy countries found measures of environmental influence as high as 40%. In countries of similar wealth, average height can be predicted by measuring the level of economic inequality, suggesting that environmental factors such as healthcare, nutrition, and fitness access are all significant inputs.

>Nothing you've said demonstrates this claim.

Dutch average height for men grew 8 inches in a century. For comparison, average height for men worldwide has grown around 3 inches in the last millennium. There is evidence to suggest that pre-agricultural male height was similar to where it is now, if not taller; the structure of our civilization is the difference between the average man being 5'6" and 6", i.e., more than one SD from today's average in either direction.

I understand that it is harrowing to think that even our basic physiological attributes may be determined in no small part by the way we're treated by society (that is to say, that decisions could be made to improve your quality of life but are not), but it is very much a possibility.

>Nope. Emergentism is his avowed conceptual framework, a lens through which he analyzes evidence and draws conclusions. But if the conceptual framework is vacuous, which it is, then that undermines the value of conclusions based on that framework.

You are literally invoking a textbook ad hominem fallacy.


>If certainty has not been achieved, then you should remain skeptical

This is like saying you should be skeptical of all scientific claims. But such a claim is in tension with the obvious successes of science and engineering despite the inherent tentativeness of scientific conclusions. Clearly we need something more nuanced. We can draw tentative conclusions and move forward with knowledge while also acknowledging the tentative nature of said knowledge. Global skepticism regarding all scientific results is paralyzing.

>The studies that determined this used datasets from wealthy Western countries that are more ethnically homogeneous than average.

It has to be for any such measure to be meaningful. For example, if you put a toddler in a box and starve it to death, its development stops completely. But this doesn't mean that environmental influence is 100% for all phenotypes. Heritability is a blunt measure for something highly multidimensional. As such, care must be used in its interpretation. What heritability tells us is that given similar environments, what variation in measurable traits is due to variation in genetics or variation in environment. An ideal measure of heritability is a function of environment and would be proportional to the rate of change of environmental influence at every step change in environment.

Of course, such a measure is impossible and so we're left with our current blunt measure. But we can reason about some features of the ideal measure. For example, environmental influences have diminishing returns, thus there comes a point at which the rate of change of environmental influence is zero, meaning better or worse environment has no bearing on the trait and genetic variation dominates outcomes. On the other extreme, environmental influences are dominant. The relevant questions for the validity of heritability is whether the rate of change of environmental influence is steep at the current average environment. If it is steep, then it invalidates drawing conclusions based on measured heritability as the value is unstable.

But your point about Dutch average height does not bear on this. The heritability measure is blind to global average changes in quality of environment. The fact that average height grew so substantially implies that the average environment changed substantially over that period. The Flynn effect is another example, where the average IQ across the population grew substantially over a similar time period. But this doesn't have any direct relevance to the heritability measure of IQ. The question is whether current measures of heritability are stable for typical variations in environment. Regarding height, I would guess yes as calories are abundant in the western world, even among the poor.

>You are literally invoking a textbook ad hominem fallacy.

Notice the word fallacy. Identifying logical fallacies by name is to help recognize patterns of invalid arguments. Ad hominem is only relevant if the argument is not valid. But my point a vacuous conceptual framework leading to specious conclusions is a valid argument.


Hmm. My mother was a university lecturer in mathematics and I don't think contacts etc helped at all with my PhD in maths and academia. What did help was the enthusiasm she passed in for her subject when I was young and the encouragement she gave me. Our house was full of mathematics books.

My sister on the other hand had no interest in mathematics whatsoever!


What’s the difference between a senior faculty and a politician? In both cases, you’re more of an icon than and individual contributor. The difference gets even smaller if faculty become dean.


Thats Indian Varna system right there.


An underrated comment this.

For those who don't know, the Varna system, also known as the caste system has long been justified as the 'natural order' of a scholar's child being a scholar, a warrior's child being a warrior, a tradesmen child being a tradesman and the lowest class of a menial worker's child being a menial worker.

The fact that so many are willing color the discussion with - observable trends seem to suggest this is a natural fact of life is only elementary is both disgusting and unsurprising.


I think there's a difference between cramming someone into a caste in perpetuity and ... them having a childhood where they're exposed to job skills and study habits that somewhat favor a certain career because that's what their parent does.

My kids saw a whole lot more of "how technology works" and mathematics during elementary school than most kids. A lawyer's kid probably heard a lot more of argument, rhetoric, and legal reasoning than mine did. They still could do something completely different-- the lawyer's kid could go do technology and my kid could grow up to be a lawyer-- it's just a somewhat less likely outcome.


> the lawyer's kid could go do technology and my kid could grow up to be a lawyer-- it's just a somewhat less likely outcome.

And what would be the likelyhood of the child of a single mom working 2 unskilled jobs to be either of those? Like I mentioned in a different comment, Systematic barriers exist without being consciously built and are then perpetuated as just the natural way of things.


Obviously paths out of poverty need to be improved-- and everyone given as much of a hand up as possible.

And, what you're saying is a bit orthogonal to what was discussed here: attaining social mobility for everyone doesn't need to erase familial proclivities towards certain professions. In your eagerness to speak harshly to everyone else here, I think you're missing that what others are discussing is not what you're attacking.

Indeed, uh... I left a tech career where I averaged making 7 figures a year to run youth programs and help kids from non-engineering backgrounds-- including a large share of disadvantaged kids-- into having many of the same kinds of advantages my kids do in being able to imagine an engineering career and learn basic skills and the details of the path at an early age.

So, please don't lecture me about systematic barriers. You don't need to tear down family traditions and passing down of skills to greatly reduce inequity: you just need to ensure that everyone gets a reasonable chance at a path upwards. Some can show up in my programs and become engineers and mathematicians; others can go in someone else's speech program and become marketers and lawyers; other, more fortunate people, can lean on familial upbringing; and yet others can choose something other than the path of least resistance and do something less probable.


Where exactly did I attempt to tear down family traditions?

This entire thread of conversation began with my highlighting the parallels of how the Varana system, supposedly of divine origins, accepted and prevalent, even today in Silicon Valley[1], is not dissimilar to what the original article and the parent comment spoke about.

Though sure, please do go ahead and argue the things that I allegedly said.

[1] https://duckduckgo.com/?q=silicon+valley+caste+system&t=fpas...


You went on the attack vs. someone who pointed out that you were likely to follow in the footsteps of your parents.

It's not a social justice or caste issue to have a probability distribution that says, say, within the trades, that a plumber's kid is more likely to be a plumber than an electrician, and vice-versa of an electrician's kid, when the two professions are of equal status.

If there's a whole lot of people below the class of tradesmen who have no real path to moving up-- that is a social justice, class, or caste issue. But surely not all manifestations of not-quite-equally likely outcome are social justice, class, or caste issues.

> Though sure, please do go ahead and argue the things that I allegedly said.

Seriously, the rush to sarcasm/abrasive language is not helpful to actually figuring out what you're arguing or to having a productive conversation.


Someone I know is an illegal immigrant from Central America. She cleans houses for a living. Her husband is also illegal immigrant and he paints houses. Her daughter is going to one of the top private schools in SF, on a full scholarship. She dreams of Yale, and I would bet that she gets it easily.

If you are dedicated to education, there is plenty of opportunity to succeed. It’s sad that some bloodlines don’t make it out of poverty easily, but that’s just how the world works. For those that make the effort, it’s very available.


That’s not actually “just how the world works” that’s “how people have chosen to organise society”. Other places work differently with different outcomes.


Too bad, "I have no other [ways to organize society] for you" (Stalin [my edit]). In a paradise there is no shortage of anything and everyone has whatever they wish. Not the case for the real world we live in. Take it or leave it.


Well that’s a non-sequitur. The idea that the only other approach is an unattainable paradise is nonsense. There are so many different approaches in operation on this planet right now after all.


> It’s sad that some bloodlines don’t make it out of poverty easily, but that’s just how the world works.

Right, right, my mistake, this is nothing like the Varana system.


It’s only varnana if you think of yourself as a victim. Those that choose to not think of themselves as victims can succeed unfettered if they focus their efforts in the right direction.


Ah ok, so if the daughter of the person you mentioned doesn't get into Yale on a scholarship where as the boy who has Yale alumni parents and didn't need scholarship did get in, then it is perhaps because the girl didn't think of herself as a Yale student. It's all clear to me now.


I think that’s a bit facile. When you look at other traditional cultures, or unmodernized cultures offspring still likely follow their parents’ footsteps, but that doesn’t mean those are caste systems. People are permitted to pursue alternatives and aren’t forbidden.


> People are permitted to pursue alternatives and aren’t forbidden.

Systematic barriers are seldom built consciously, yet they exist and without conscious effort to break down continue to be perpetuated.

From the point of view of opportunities/privileges available to an individual, is there really a difference between the caste system and a class system?


I think there is a difference. As I understand the caste system, it’s inherited durably. If I’m X, not only will I always be X, but my kids and grandkids will also be X, so there’s no point in trying to become “not X”.

Not so for socioeconomic class. My grandfathers milled steel and mined coal. They made sure their kids became the first generation in the family to attend college. My parents became teachers and made sure their kids focused on education and we all attended “good colleges” and have built careers. My generation is saving for college while the kids are still in diapers.

That’s still systemic advantages from the family, but it’s marked change in economic class in just two generations, which is IMO dramatically different from the Indian caste system. It still matters who your parents are, but in a significantly different (and I think more fair) way.


> It still matters who your parents are, but in a significantly different (and I think more fair) way.

It amazes me when people think the current socioeconomic structures are fair.

You do realise that most people here, including perhaps you are, economically speaking, closer to being poor than being part of the 1% rich, right? The economic gap between those you might consider poor and yourself is a rounding error magnitude of the gap between yourself and the super rich. This is not an accident.

God forbid, but you and your kids are perhaps one or two medical, legal or natural calamities away from that few generations of advancement you talk about.


More fair =/= perfectly fair.

I don’t care that someone has well over 5 orders of magnitude more wealth than I have. It doesn’t materially negatively affect my life in the least and, on the contrary, their inventions make my daily life better by wildly more than any negative impacts their houses, yachts, airplanes, or rockets could possibly have.

I’m here to spend my life energy and time pursuing the things that are important to me: raising and loving my family, doing work and hobbies I find stimulating, traveling and learning about the world. Bellyaching that I’m not a literal or figurative monarch is not among the ways I choose to spend my time and energy.


> I don’t care that someone has well over 5 orders of magnitude more wealth than I have. It doesn’t materially negatively affect my life in the least and, on the contrary, their inventions make my daily life better by wildly more than any negative impacts their houses, yachts, airplanes, or rockets could possibly have.

Wait, are you under the impression that people with extreme wealth typically got it by inventing something?

It's called capitalism because the owners of capital reap most of society's economic rewards. Which is in the form of more capital.

IOW, the rich get richer.

The optimal wealth investment strategy to grow a large pile of money into a larger pile over the long term is pretty simple too (rebalance your portfolio annually, buy and hold), and attempts at a 'smarter' strategy tend to fail pretty miserably.

The American story used to be rags-to-riches-to-rags, but not anymore. These days once you've reached 'riches' your descendants are fairly likely to stay rich, and laziness on their part (ie. leaving the money pile on autopilot) is actually an asset (eg. Donald Trump would be a wealthier today if he had invested his inheritance and just left it alone).

Conversely, it is harder than ever to go from rags-to-riches in the first place.

You do not benefit from the wealthy in society pulling the ladder up behind themselves.


It appears to be strong enough that it is expressed in genetics.


Kind of a goofy comment IMO.

My parents are not intellectual in the least. The career advice I received from them growing up was all bad. Lucky for me I ignored them.

Now take one kid getting bad career advice and another kid getting good career advice from mom and dad.

After thousands of iterations the asymmetry is going to be huge.

Sorry that doesn't line up with the institutional victim mentality.


Not sure what you mean by “institutional victim mentality” but I would say that your example is a great example of institutional failure. Ideally kids would get good career advice from many other places (schools etc) which would rectify a lot of the negative damage caused by the bad advice from their parents.


The thing many of these have in common is that connections help you. In other words, if your parent is in x career, it means that you get a starting bonus if you do the same. On top of this, most children have some knowledge of the job conditions: Familiarity seems to lessen risk (even if it doesn't - it is the reason showers seem safe but airplanes might not).

Legislators seem to get more done if they are well-connected, for example, and a parent introducing you to their connections makes you a better legislator, probably at a younger age than your parent. Yes, you can do some job shadowing at this other dentist's office: I can put in a good word for you at the electrician's union so you can get into the schooling they offer. Yes, you can work at my plumbing company and learn - it isn't like this state requires licenses, so you'll be just fine.


I’d be interested to see what the rate increase is for Athletes. I think of landing a top research as the equivalent of getting a spot on an NBA team (or other major sports team).

Both are extremely competitive with only a select few spots in the entire country. Additionally, starting at a very young age is a huge advantage for both athletes and aspiring academics.


There are plenty of current professional athletes whose parents were also professional athletes. Pat Mahomes's son may be familiar to you, Patrick Mahomes.

Peyton and Eli Manning are the sons of Archie Manning. Ken Griffey Jr. and his dad played on the same team at one point. Jr.'s son "Trey" made it into the NFL as a wide receiver.

It does seem to matter to a degree. It's not a guarantee though.


For me, the progression has been: software engineer, software engineer, railroad engineer, railroad engineer, farmer. I will be very interested to see what my son picks and I very much plan to allow him to pursue his own interests.


It is a little off subject, but I agree. I am watching my kid develop with great interest and while I do have preferences, I recognize she will need to play to her strengths.

Unless she turns out to be an idiot, in which case I may need to force a path.


so it seems that the better paying a field is the children of parents in that field are more likely to choose that field as well.

on edit: by paying I also mean all the perks you get as well (just as when I negotiate on a job I also negotiate the perks), when you're growing up and see you have a pretty good life that would be something that might attract you to the field your parents are in. So academics might not get paid as much as the private sector but at the higher levels there are some pretty sweet perks.


> It’s equally unsurprising that the ambitious children of highly educated and prosperous families themselves pursue such a similar path and achieve similar outcomes.

That kind of misses the point. You want to train as many effective engineers and researchers as you can. The point of the article is that most Ivies can comfortably train more people, but doing so would reduce some of the scarcity "value" of an Ivy League degree. Who cares? The goal is building.

Claude Shannon and Kelly Johnson both got their start at Michigan. The Michigan model of "train as many engineers as you can without compromising substance" is a great. If the Ivies want to create artificial scarcity to avoid "diluting brand value", then their ability to access public subsidies should be curtailed. Give it to Michigan instead.


But are Ivy League universities really that much better at training people or is their success mostly due to skimming from the top of the applicant pool? If the latter, then it seems like those students would do just as well if they didn't exist and nothing's really lost or gained either way by their exclusivity.

If they have a magic recipe for creating success, why can't other universities copy it? Does it depend on scarce elite professors? In that case, they probably can't scale themselves up either.


There’s been research on this point and it supports your thesis. After adjusting for applicant scholastic aptitude, the additional benefit from attending an elite school is “generally indistinguishable from zero.”

Excerpt from article*: In November 2002, the Quarterly Journal of Economics published a landmark paper** by the economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger that reached a startling conclusion. For most students, the salary boost from going to a super-selective school is “generally indistinguishable from zero” after adjusting for student characteristics, such as test scores. In other words, if Mike and Drew have the same SAT scores and apply to the same colleges, but Mike gets into Harvard and Drew doesn’t, they can still expect to earn the same income throughout their careers. Despite Harvard’s international fame and energetic alumni outreach, somebody like Mike would not experience an observable “Harvard effect.” Dale and Krueger even found that the average SAT scores of all the schools a student applies to is a more powerful predictor of success than the school that student actually attends.

* - https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/12/does-it-ma...

** - https://www.nber.org/papers/w7322


I wonder if a similar analysis could find whether there is a 'skull and bones effect'.


Their magic recipe is putting a bunch of smart, mostly rich, people in one place and then telling them they are part of an exclusive community. Then they give them access to the older successful members of the community and constantly remind them that once they are the older successful members they need to help out the recent grads.


Sounds a lot like Freemasonry, but unlike Feemasonry, it seems to be actually working as intended.


You could also use the formula, "rich, mostly smart".


This seems obvious and unharmful.

Its funny, my co worker insisted that his children shall go to MIT so they can have all the opportunities he did. He didn't see any irony is saying this to me, his peer, a first gen engineer from University of Midwest Farm Community.

And I agree, its not surprising kids learn by example and inherit so much from their parents.


> first gen engineer from University of Midwest Farm Community

Fellow alum!


Even your undergrad (which I’m interpreting as UIUC) is elite compared to most state schools for CS, and is very selective for direct to major. People like me are doubly screwed.


UIUC is a fairly huge assumption. Are you sure you want to do that?

I think you're imaging a person that has more advantages than you do (or I did -- UIUC wouldn't have me). That's very likely not the case, at least not nearly as much as you think. Don't sweat it.

You're not screwed, and it's not a competition anyway. I came from humble academic beginnings and failures and managed to get a job I love that pays the bills and helps me save for the future. It was the passionate people I met that got me through it, not the credentials of the university (by quite a long shot)


Perhaps I don’t! I also went to an ag school, except one that’s objectively unimpressive.

I honestly can’t save as much as my peers, make a pittance compared to the Ivy Leaguers and have never achieved a fraction of what most of these hyper accomplished folks did even while being much older. Sometimes I feel like I should just wither away because there’s not much hope of ever achieving anything at this rate if I’m just innately inferior.


Well, don't feel that way. That's some poor story telling about yourself. And how you frame issues is everything. [1] At least you can save, which puts you over a huge % of Americans, and 99% of the world I'd bet. You have an education (I assume?) which is a huge leg up. I wouldn't bother saying all this, except I was a very late start myself, with lots of debt, zero education, and not even a high school degree. It took time, but that's something we all still have.

There was a guy in the warehouse (3rd shift) that worked with me before all the re-invention. He was +20 years my senior, working two jobs. He gave me a talk similar to above and it was a wake-up for me. That helped me. Nowadays, my peers help me by being supportive and inspiring.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_behavioral_therapy

Hey by the way, i always thought CBT was rubbish, until the intersection with that, Stoicism, and Meditation was made clear in the book Happiness Hypothesis. How dumb / arrogant was I to write off stuff that seemed to help millions of others ... Another thing I had to learn the hard way.


Also, what is this “has become” language for? It implies that the this elite group is more self-reinforcing than it used to be, but there’s no evidence for that. Harvard’s 1940s admission rate of 85% was certainly not a more meritocratic time.

The ratio you ask for is almost certainly decreasing over time, not increasing, right?


>The ratio you ask for is almost certainly decreasing over time, not increasing, right?

Since the 40s, most likely. Since some time in between then and now, I'm not so sure.


Admissions rates mean a lot less than people think they do.

Meritocracy - what you’re really saying is, the most qualified people get to do the thing with the scarce stuff - has risen.

Anyway, historically, if you felt wronged by an educational institution, you made your own schools.


> Anyway, historically, if you felt wronged by an educational institution, you made your own schools.

Source on this? I doubt that spinning up a whole new school was ever this simple and accessible.


So for instance the story is that Cambridge University was founded by people who were disgruntled at Oxford. Also there's a number of institutions that were founded due to religious affiliation, IIRC UCL in London.

Nowadays there's an entrenchment that makes it hard to just go and do your own uni. It's not illegal, but you need to find supporters who won't just say "hey why don't you just go to X existing uni". And there's already a uni for whatever speciality you're into, plus the big names that are the specialists for every subject.


Science needs to advance more so that we can determine nature vs. nurture. It's all genetic (nature) in the end - but I think being able to say "x lacks the genetic makeup to dunk a basketball" vs "x was malnourished as a child so they wont grow enough to be able to dunk a basketball" is useful. I think articles looking at outcomes of the children of successful people are unhealthy and will focus too much on environmental impacts. We will see uneven breakdowns (by race, sex, height, etc.) and think that means something needs to be fixed...but we aren't able to fully explain how the breakdowns got to where they are.


I think it's been fairly well established that genetics determines the max values -- max IQ, max height, max athleticism, etc. and then nurture determines if you reach the max.


This seems overly reductionist. You have at least two cases that contradict:

1) The fact that biological processes tend not to have hard limits and "kill switches" at those limits, but rather feedback loops which increase or decrease in efficacy due to a number of factors, which are themselves factors for further downstream processes

2) The tendency towards physiological plasticity to facilitate functional homeostasis (e.g., there was a case of an athlete whose smaller blood vessels enlarged in order to maintain blood flow following an embolism; this was disabled athlete who walked on her hands in lieu of her non-functional legs)

I think what is more likely is that that there is a level of a given quality which your genes will have you tend toward (with environment determining how much you will overshoot or undershoot it), but also that the human form is very adaptable and will often respond to pressures by routing around lower-functioning systems, which may require unconventional support but also create unconventional and exceptional achievement (the aforementioned athlete is a paralympian with arm-based muscular strength and endurance - a neurological matter - which outpaces most abled athletes).


There's plenty left to be directly determined by nature after setting maximum values.

You've got far more food than you need. You can't get any taller -- what do you do with it? Should you eat it at all?

How resilient should you be to less-than-ideal input? Say it's unseasonably cold for a few months. Should you get shorter, or is it better to just give up and die?

You don't have enough food. You're not in any danger of starving, but you're not going to reach maximum height, IQ, _and_ athleticism. Which trait(s) should be lowered? By how much?

Genetics doesn't just specify the maximum outcome. It specifies the entire set of possibilities, and how those possibilities are reached.


People being drawn to professions they are familiar with is not "rigging" the system.


I would add into the mix that it's also about access and resources which give maybe a bigger leg up.

Engineers, college educators, etc make more money, their kids presumably go to good schools, they presumably have more hands on time available to help their kids succeed and more connections, legacy admissions etc.

I see this in my sport. One of the olympians for climbing for US comes from climbing 'royalty.'

being literally born into the sport from day 1 makes a huge difference. plus having access to a groundbreaking gym and youth training program your mom literally created ;0

Not to take away achievement. strength is strength, intelligence is intelligence. it's all very impressive and doesn't come without work.

but I think opportunity and access to resources are important factors to consider.


You likely don’t realize that your kids will also have an easier chance at succeeding because of other privileges they enjoy, aside from the merits of having intelligent and educated parents.

Take a similarly educated family who happen to live in Gaza, for instance, and it’s obvious that the children will have a different set of opportunities available to them.


Is there any basis for your assumption that I don’t realize that?


Most of all your kids are likely to have IQ's close to the median of you and your wife. This is likely the most important factor of all as heart-breaking and unfair as this is.


The median of two numbers is the average.


Closer than other kids but with regression to the mean (of the population).


This really misses the point I feel, although I struggle to say why.


He used median instead of mean, and forgot regression to the population average. IQ is only ~80% genetic


> He used median instead of mean

What's the difference when you only have two values in the set?


Same result but unnecessary complexity


Definitely seemed very true during my PhD. Many of my peers had PhD or professor parents (I don't). I think the primary reasons for the increase are valuing the career through parents and having a mentor who knows the admissions game. I blundered my first couple times applying because I lacked good mentorship in preparing my applications.


> good mentorship in preparing my applications

I don't get this. Why does one need mentorship in filling out an application. I got mine in the mail, filled them out, and sent them in. It never occurred to me I needed someone to guide me.

My dad (MIT) did tell me many years earlier what was necessary to get into MIT: 1. straight A's 2. high SAT scores 3. an achievement in extracurricular activities

(MIT rejected me.)

It's like the Boy Scouts. I talked with an Eagle dad a couple years ago, who talked about shepherding his boy through the Eagle program to get the badge. He was very proud of his son. I mentioned that I was an Eagle, too. He asked me how it was with my dad helping me. I said he never did a thing, and it didn't occur to me to ask. I just decided I wanted one, got the list of requirements, and did them one by one. None of them were hard, it just required time and persistence.

He looked at me like I was an alien.


> I don't get this. Why does one need mentorship in filling out an application. I got mine in the mail, filled them out, and sent them in. It never occurred to me I needed someone to guide me.

> My dad (MIT) did tell me many years earlier what was necessary to get into MIT: 1. straight A's 2. high SAT scores 3. an achievement in extracurricular activities

> (MIT rejected me.)

Aren't you confirming that mentorship is needed?


Good question. Although rejected by MIT, Harvard, and Stanford, I was accepted by Caltech, Dartmouth, and Johns Hopkins.


Yeah, so many of these arguments about who comes from what category seem to assume that talent and inclination is randomly distributed among 18 year olds and that university where you find yourself.


> What’s the ratio in other fields of top achievement for kids to follow in their parents’ footsteps? It’s entirely unsurprising that academics raise academics, doctors doctors, Olympians Olympians, teachers teachers, etc.

Actually, I suspect that most teachers discourage their children to follow in their footsteps ...

And your points about doctors, olympians, academics, etc. have a common point:

Large, up front expenditure of money.

A child of a steelworker simply isn't becoming a doctor short of a very, very small number of paths (generally involving military service).

A child of a high-school teacher simply isn't becoming an Olympic figure skater. The monetary investment is far too titanic.

Engineering used to be one of the few fields where you could transition from blue collar to white collar even if you were a child from a poor family. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be very true, anymore.


> A child of a steelworker simply isn't becoming a doctor short of a very, very small number of paths (generally involving military service).

This wasn’t true in Ireland in the 70s or 80s, a far poorer country than contemporary America. The US system of funding higher education has many, many problems but not allowing smart people to study more is not among them. If you can get admitted to medical school you will get a loan to cover the costs.

> A child of a high-school teacher simply isn't becoming an Olympic figure skater. The monetary investment is far too titanic.

Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever, is the child of a middle school principal and a police officer. Tiger Woods is the son of an infantry officer. Money is not the limiting factor on more people becoming elite level athletes. It’s some combination of talent and insane, deluded commitment.

> Engineering used to be one of the few fields where you could transition from blue collar to white collar even if you were a child from a poor family. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be very true, anymore.

The average US college graduate has $35,000 in debt. Engineering is one of the fields where your college matters least. More people attend college than at any time in US history.


> Engineering used to be one of the few fields where you could transition from blue collar to white collar even if you were a child from a poor family. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be very true, anymore.

It seems more true than ever before. Software engineering in particular is probably one of the least credential sensitive careers in existence, and is huge and growing faster than just about any other job market.

I sometimes wonder about all the complaining that goes on about software engineering interviews. In many (maybe most) other fields of comparable earning potential, the gatekeepers are 4-12 years of schooling and professional unions, not a few hours of awkward whiteboarding.


> least credential sensitive careers

Yup. I know successful ones without even a high school diploma. I have no academic education in CS.

> all the complaining

I do, too. One thing never mentioned is that a lot of people apply for software jobs with fraudulent resumes and just having memorized some jargon. The job interviewer needs some way to filter out these people before committing to 6 months of a high salary. Sure, they'll miss a few diamonds in the rough, but it's likely better than hiring a team of frauds.


> A child of a high-school teacher simply isn't becoming an Olympic figure skater. The monetary investment is far too titanic.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuzuru_Hanyu

> Regarded as one of, if not the greatest male figure skater in history, Hanyu has broken world records nineteen times ...

> Hanyu was born ... the second and youngest child to his father, who is a junior high school teacher

Oh, maybe this doesn't count? After all, his father was a junior high school teacher. /s


> She accompanied him during his training in Toronto, Canada, while his father and older sister, Saya, stayed in Japan.

The exception merely proves the rule. Not sarcasm.

Who paid for their ice time? Who paid for them to live in Canada? Who paid for Brian Orser to be their coach?

The fact that someone somewhere hits the jackpot on their first pull in no way changes the fact that the majority lose.

And how many children as good or better didn't get this kind of support?


Quite a few teachers enjoy being teachers. When my younger brothers moved out of the house, my mother decided to become a school teacher to occupy her time. She can yak for hours about the school board blundering or administration being dicks or her colleague being a weirdo but make no mistake; she loves that job. Every summer, all she can talk about is how she can't wait for the school season to start again.

I guess you mean that teachers do a lot of lobbying, and take that to indicate job dissatisfaction. But if so, that's a mistake. Thinking that you aren't receiving enough funding and simultaneously enjoying your work are not mutually exclusive.




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