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Georgetown Study: Wealth, Not Ability, The Biggest Predictor Of Future Success

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

A big part of the so-called American Dream promises that if people work hard enough -- no matter how poor they are -- they’ll find success. It turns out  that's not completely true, according to a new report by Georgetown University, which shows that wealth is stronger indicator of success than intelligence.

Education professor Anthony Carnevale co-authored the study.

"Young people who are minorities, or from the working class, or low income who are talented when they are young -- they don't make it to the finish line,” Carnevale said. “That is, this study goes all the way into the labor market, and in the end, the loss rate of these young people is huge."

By looking at years of data from different sources, the Georgetown researchers found that smart poor students are less likely to become wealthy by age 25 than not-so-smart rich students. The poor students also have less chance of graduating from college than their low-performing wealthy peers.

Part of it is because affluent kids have parents who often pay for extra help. Poor families can't afford extra supports, and their kids often attend under-resourced school districts that can't help either.

Carnevale said in America, we often celebrate the strivers who beat the odds, but it’s important to remember what those odds actually are.

“The odds are there, and they're high,” he said, “and you've gotta do something about the odds, not just celebrate the strivers who overcome."

The study also found that racial disparities magnify the problems. Poor black and Latino students who are smart, are less likely to find success than their poor and smart white peers. This is especially relevant in Connecticut, which has one of the widest racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps in the country.

Carnevale and his team recommend states operate robust preschools with ongoing interventions, as well as improved counseling and career exploration programs, to help solve this complex problem.

David finds and tells stories about education and learning for WNPR radio and its website. He also teaches journalism and media literacy to high school students, and he starts the year with the lesson: “Conflicts of interest: Real or perceived? Both matter.” He thinks he has a sense of humor, and he also finds writing in the third person awkward, but he does it anyway.

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