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Who Had Richer Parents, Doctors Or Artists?
March 20, 2014 8:11 PM   Subscribe

What's the link between household income during childhood and job choice during adulthood? Stats and pretty graphs ahoy!
posted by forza (44 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
White people living on Kauai with only one job MUST have the richest parents.
posted by tarvuz at 8:22 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]


I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.
-- John Adams
posted by nixt at 8:32 PM on March 20 [63 favorites]


What is this saying, besides that if you are very successful (financially speaking) that you are probably doing better than your parents?
posted by cman at 8:40 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]


Is this actually telling us anything? Shouldn't there be some average or standard that we're judging against, like, are people whose parents are doctors more or less likely to be doctors than people whose parents are non-doctors? Etc.?
posted by quincunx at 9:05 PM on March 20


"What is this saying, besides that if you are very successful (financially speaking) that you are probably doing better than your parents?"

It's saying that the wealth of the household is a significant factor in determining the future earnings of the children who grow up in said households.
posted by vapidave at 9:13 PM on March 20


It's saying that the wealth of the household is a significant factor in determining the future earnings of the children who grow up in said households.

Uhh... "These graphs aren't intended to answer broader questions about inequality and social mobility." Nor should they be. They do suggest that nursing/doctoring is a typical path out of the middle class.
posted by one_bean at 9:18 PM on March 20 [4 favorites]


They also suggest rich kids can afford to be artists.

No snark here, just callin' it how I see it.
posted by 3FLryan at 9:19 PM on March 20 [9 favorites]


sviatoslav, of course! oh,"richer". never mind.
posted by facetious at 9:23 PM on March 20


They also suggest rich kids can afford to be artists.

Exactly. Becoming a doctor is almost a proverbial way for an ambitious person who is not born wealthy to move up in the world. Becoming an artist... yeah, not so much.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:26 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]




They also suggest rich kids can afford to be artists.

But the really rich kids get to control the legal system.
posted by Garm at 9:30 PM on March 20 [9 favorites]


I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain...

...in order to give their children the freedom to devote their lives to hedonism, spending their time chasing new hole-in-the-wall restaurants for novel ways to titillate their senses.
posted by anonymisc at 9:39 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]


What is this saying, besides that if you are very successful (financially speaking) that you are probably doing better than your parents?

I couldn't figure out the comparison. For example, managers are doing better, but compared to what? Are we talking about managers who had managers as parents?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:46 PM on March 20


My dad was a pipefitter in the union, and around age 40 (1980) he started his own company. While he made a lot of money in the early part of this career (1960-1975), after the slowdown of the mid-70's and the real estate crisis of the early 80's (a time that was far more harrowing, albeit for a shorter period of time than the crisis we are living through now), times were very hard. In the late 70's he had to "go up north" for work on construction projects, to Skagway, to Haines Juntion, to Stewart, to Churchill Manitoba.

When he started his own plumbing and heating business times were very hard, although he managed to do well in the mid-80's from a residential construction boom.

His career kind of mirrors my own. I made decent money until my mid-thirties, when I somewhat unwisely decided to move back to Canada from overseas. I got laid-off at around the age of 40, and it has been tough going. I hope I get a second act like my father did in his 50's when he did lucrative consulting for pulp mills switching over to natural gas.

My sisters, though, are different. One is a successful lawyer with (outside of work) a comfortable life. The other is a geneticist who spent many years in poverty as a student and as a postgrad, but finally is earning good money in her late thirties in the private sector in applied research.

Also, Canada is probably a little different than the States, as (based on what I've read on MetaFilter) Canadian society is a bit more egalitarian when compared to the States.

I don't understand the survey though.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:54 PM on March 20


They also suggest rich kids can afford to be artists.

The artists' families had an income in the $60s, adjusted for inflation. Not poor, but not exactly
rich either.
posted by lunasol at 10:10 PM on March 20


The artists' families had an income in the $60s, adjusted for inflation. Not poor, but not exactly rich either.


But stuffed with cultural capital. Rich where it matters. The kids I knew at Reed who were on financial aid were all extravagantly advantaged not because they were wealthy but because they had creative parents who parented them well and who fostered the life of the mind that Reed further encouraged.

Kids like me with high-school dropout parents who never had political discussions around the dinner table because "dinner" was steak-ums or White Castle and "the table" was the TV tray in front of Wheel of Fortune were the really impoverished who ended up poorer than their factory-worker parents- or dead from suicide, drug overdoses or cancers from growing up downwind of the mills and chemical refineries of Northwest Indiana. I got out of course but most I grew up with didn't. How I ended up at Reed and as a college professor is a story and it's not one that people from my socioeconomic and cultural class are supposed to have- ever.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:01 PM on March 20 [26 favorites]


I don't think this can even be seen as the "average". I dug DEEP in this on the various sites you click through to, and with google. and i can't find an answer to my main question which is what is the sample area for this? the entire US? a specific state? a specific city?

In my city the vast majority of artists and musicians i know or have met grew up poor, in rural towns beyond just being suburbs 20 minutes out of the city i live in. Like in that 35-50k bracket where everyone doesn't come out doing that.

I mean it's anecdotal, but i really want to know more about the sample of this and i'm having trouble finding it.
posted by emptythought at 11:27 PM on March 20


But stuffed with cultural capital. Rich where it matters. The kids I knew at Reed who were on financial aid were all extravagantly advantaged not because they were wealthy but because they had creative parents who parented them well and who fostered the life of the mind that Reed further encouraged.

I grew up in that kind of household -- very culturally rich, but financially poor. Poor by choice is absolutely different than genuinely poor; my family had very little money but there was zero deprivation, for example. It opened doors to college and grad school, and I'm not any worse off for it that I can tell.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:31 PM on March 20 [5 favorites]


"Uhh... "These graphs aren't intended to answer broader questions about inequality and social mobility." Nor should they be. They do suggest that nursing/doctoring is a typical path out of the middle class."

That they issued a disclaimer does not disclaim the reality of what is reflected in the data.

Did you even take a look at the "Moving Up, Moving Down" graph?
posted by vapidave at 12:18 AM on March 21


I grew up in that kind of household -- very culturally rich, but financially poor. Poor by choice is absolutely different than genuinely poor; my family had very little money but there was zero deprivation, for example. It opened doors to college and grad school, and I'm not any worse off for it that I can tell.

Wait, poor by choice? What do you mean? (Honest question). I'm sort of seeing the distinction that you guys (ethnomethodologist and Dip Flash) are making, but I don't think I really have a handle on it.

One issue I have with these charts that maybe someone else knows the answer to -- they're talking about household incomes based on the jobs, but how do one- v. two-income households factor into this? It surprised me, for example, to see that servers have something that I read as pretty close to a -42% drop in household income as adults compared to the household income they had as adolescents, and I'm wondering if that might be because, for a significant number of people in that group, their households as adults are one-income but their households as adolescents were two-income?

Also, is there any way that they're factoring in whether an industry/category/job is predominately staffed by men or by women? Because I think maybe this data needs to be divided up by gender, especially on the lower income levels. In the "The Big Picture" graph, in incomes below the 60th percentile, it looks like all the categories above or on the line are traditionally/disproportionately male, and all the categories below the line are traditionally/disproportionately female. I think the effects of gender (in terms of job choice and in terms of adult income) might be warping the analysis enough that we're getting a false picture of what's happening.

In my city the vast majority of artists and musicians i know or have met grew up poor, in rural towns beyond just being suburbs 20 minutes out of the city i live in. Like in that 35-50k bracket where everyone doesn't come out doing that.

Similar here (though I've never lived in a rural area so virtually everyone I know is from the city or maybe the burbs, but same diff). I don't think there's anything about being analytical or creative or artistic or curious or politically involved or anything else that has to do with a "life of the mind" that would really lend itself well to the kind of low-wage labor that a lot of people get steered into -- from what I've seen, showing that on the job gets read as insubordinate. Also, there are lots of smart, creative, interested people out there who just aren't good workers for one reason or another or who weren't able to get through high school or college, and it seems really common for them to see artistic careers as the only non-drudgery, possibly lucrative careers that might still be open to them or just want to work on artistic projects as an outlet.

In Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen talks about artists being a class unto themselves, and I think it might be an interesting take but...can't find the quote (so frustrating!).
posted by rue72 at 1:05 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


How I ended up at Reed and as a college professor is a story and it's not one that people from my socioeconomic and cultural class are supposed to have- ever.

Aren't those the best stories though? Aren't the exceptions what make being an adult human being more interesting than a character in a story where everything is pre-ordained?
posted by DigDoug at 5:36 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


There aren't any classifications in the lowest 20 percentile? Time for Harrington's students to update Other America. The original is still in print but 1962 was a long time ago.
posted by bukvich at 5:42 AM on March 21


In the graph below, bars stretching to the right show people who are doing better than their parents, in terms of income; bars stretching to the left show people who are doing worse than their parents. So doctors, chief executives and police officers are doing much better than their parents in terms of income; designers, secretaries and waiters are doing worse.

Interesting that physical, life, and social scientists are on a par with counsellors, social and religious workers as all being apples not landing far from the tree.

Also you see from the chart that those professions which reflect an improvement in social status also require study and dedication on the part of the individuals who achieve them.

Every profession on the lower half of the scale - janitors, maids, designers etc. - are "careers" which do not require any study, any self-improvement, and hardly any effort at all.
posted by three blind mice at 5:54 AM on March 21


The thing that pops out at me there more than anything is how the legal system is run by the group that started out the richest and then got even richer.

That simply must introduce some very severe systemic bias to the system.

We also know the demographics of those most likely to end up in the legal system on the other end, ie, in prison. Which is pretty much the exact opposite end of the chart from where lawyers and judges come from.

So what we have is one extreme end of the social system (the already-richest who have become richer) running the system that has an outsized negative impact on the exact opposite end.

Not that we didn't know what already. But there it is popping out of a handy chart.
posted by flug at 6:10 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


I want to see a graph that shows the happiness of kids as a function of their parent's socioeconomic class and job!
posted by Riton at 6:17 AM on March 21


Every profession on the lower half of the scale - janitors, maids, designers etc. - are "careers" which do not require any study, any self-improvement, and hardly any effort at all.

I suspect some of the designers here might object quite strongly to that characterization. There's a school in Rhode Island that even specializes in the study of design.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:29 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Every profession on the lower half of the scale - janitors, maids, designers etc. - are "careers" which do not require any study, any self-improvement, and hardly any effort at all.

I suspect there are a number of counselors, healthcare techs, archivists, curators, librarians, and yes designers, artists, and musicians who would disagree with you on the "require study and self-improvement" part, and an equal number of people from well literally every single one of the jobs on that list on the "hardly any effort at all" part. (Srsly have you ever seen what a janitor or maid has to do all day? "Hardly any effort"?)
posted by ook at 6:47 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


Wait, poor by choice? What do you mean? (Honest question).

I'm not Dip Flash, but I suspect this means pursuing a career with a lower expected salary than one's other options.

Also you see from the chart that those professions which reflect an improvement in social status also require study and dedication on the part of the individuals who achieve them.

What jumped out at me was that police/fire (dedication, absolutely; study, I don't know) and truck driver(!) are both solidly in the "moving up" category, whereas I'd thought of them as both being standardbearers for the multigenerational lower-middle class. (Also this is a nuance, but "social status" is a different thing in America.)
posted by psoas at 6:48 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


There aren't any classifications in the lowest 20 percentile?

My hunch is that people in the lowest earnings quintile don't generally have careers that can be as easily categorized.
posted by psoas at 6:54 AM on March 21


Every profession on the lower half of the scale - janitors, maids, designers etc. - are "careers" which do not require any study, any self-improvement, and hardly any effort at all.

More like, they are careers which society thinks require "hardly any effort or study" because they don't perceive these careers to have any "real value".

Maybe a global strike of all social workers, secretaries, office managers, librarians, designers, archivists, and health care techs would convince you otherwise.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:59 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


I'm trained as a scientist and I found this fascinating. I had never been around so many people from wealthy families as I was during grad school; I thought it was just because it was a much better school than my undergrad. Maybe not.
posted by gerstle at 7:26 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Every profession on the lower half of the scale - janitors, maids, designers etc. - are "careers" which do not require any study, any self-improvement, and hardly any effort at all.

Two friends of mine are what most people would consider a janitor. I wish we were better friends, but our schedules are very different. Both have shifts, but there's also a 24 hour on-call component that doesn't go away from either job.

One of the two guys works within the school system. He has three kids, all in the school system, and he knows every part of the school. HVAC? Electrical? Snow Plowing? He knows it all. His title now says something like 'Head of Maintenance, Second Shift' - but he calls himself a janitor. He can rewire an industrial freezer, replace a toilet, machine replacement parts for a lawnmower, and any and everything the school needs. Ever year, someone proposes they cut that expensive line item in the school's budget - the janitorial staff looks like a good choice for outsourcing. They've got decent sized pensions, and they make a livable wage. Then they point out that they would need to hire contract janitors, contract HVAC specialists, contract electricians, and contract plumbers. Moreover, that they would have to CORI every single one of them to make sure that none of these new contractors would abscond with some random child - especially given that in any office building most people have worked at - the contractors are routinely replaced and reassigned. That's not a working model of the school. So every year, he defends his job as a janitor.

My other friend works in the corporate world in support of an engineering firm. Similarly, he cleans floors, but he also builds their clean rooms and plans the long term maintenance of their buildings. While he is paid significantly more than the school system because of how his overtime works, he has no pension and his 24-hour calls aren't snow removal - they're whim removal. It means that, like an office worker he gets a deadline, but basically because the world of facilities is the way it is - he's worked to the bone.

So yeah, both do floor mopping, both clean toilets, but both have wound up learning a lot of additional skills and continually retrained to ensure that they provide a complete set of services to those that hired them. There is NO easy work anymore unless you come from money and don't have to worry about work.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:31 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


Wait, poor by choice? What do you mean? (Honest question).

Grad students are poor by choice -- they have excellent educations and work skills, but are choosing to live on a $16k stipend for a few years. Artists tend to have good educations and good technical skills. Almost everyone who is doing WWOOFing, or is seasonal staff at those outdoor leadership camps -- they all have degrees and cultural capital and have much more remunerative options available, but are choosing to live on a very low income in exchange for other rewards.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:07 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


ethnomethodologist: "But stuffed with cultural capital."

Habitus.
posted by meehawl at 9:54 AM on March 21


Every profession on the lower half of the scale - janitors, maids, designers etc. - are "careers" which do not require any study, any self-improvement, and hardly any effort at all.

Hardly any effort to work as a janitor or maid? If you've either a) never cleaned anything for a living, or b) had the world's most laid-back supervisor when you did, then maybe read something about what it's like to clean for a living. Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed is the easy and obvious suggestion, but there are certainly others out there.

Somebody's gotta do even the low-level cleaning. It's physically strenuous and it's time-consuming -- and it deserves respect, decent working conditions, sufficient wages to have a life, and sufficient leisure to recover from the time spent doing the work.
posted by asperity at 11:26 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


This is seemingly illustrative of Gregory Clark's points in The Son Also Rises, which argues that social mobility is much lower than conventional measures say it is. When conventional methods show that say artists or librarians are going "down" in income from their parents, they haven't really gone done in status: they just chose fields with lower pecuniary, but higher personal rewards. And they still retain all the real middle class advantages of their parents.
posted by dgaicun at 11:29 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


When conventional methods show that say artists or librarians are going "down" in income from their parents, they haven't really gone done in status: they just chose fields with lower pecuniary, but higher personal rewards. And they still retain all the real middle class advantages of their parents.

I think the conversation about downward mobility is a lot more complicated than that when you're talking about fields that are traditionally and disproportionately staffed by one gender and not another (including librarians). In general, men and women have very different income elasticities (men have more elasticity at the bottom of the scale, women have more elasticity at the middle/top of the scale) and men and women are also different populations in terms of how/when/where they get tax credits and how they're effected by other income transfers (which is important because cash income =/= purchasing power). Lumping men and women together in charts about income is going to warp the picture, because you're not actually comparing like against like. It's also really difficult to compare the earnings of generations of women because of how labor force participation has changed for women, so even now, these kinds of comparisons are probably only going to be useful/valid when you're talking about men.

If you're talking about the US specifically, you're also going to get wonky results if you don't separate out by race and immigration status, because blacks make significantly less than whites across all income groups (though blacks and whites have virtually the same rate of income persistence), and because families/people who immigrated to the US within the previous three generations show a lot of income mobility compared to families that have been in the US longer.

As far as I can tell (though please correct me if I'm missing the information?), this article just lumps everybody together (even different household sizes?), which means that the actual income trends in this data are getting lost in noise and aren't really decipherable.

Also, "real middle class advantages" -- what are those? I'm not saying there aren't any (status markers and privileges run all the way up and down society) but when you're talking about things like income and purchasing power, those "advantages" get very very fuzzy. It can be very hard to pick out the difference between an actual advantage and a sucker's prize or self-delusion. This reminds me of the FPP we had yesterday about people not wanting to get "lumped in" with lower income groups because of social stigma and how that affects how we talk/write/report about class issues. To a certain extent, money actually does equal power and privilege, including the power and privilege to participate in and influence society. I agree that you can't ignore the "socio" part of "socio-economic" but you *also* can't ignore the "economic" part.

I also think that "choice" gets extremely complicated when you're talking about income. There is obviously *some* individual choice involved, but it's hard to say how much. Judging by how high income persistence is across generations (in the US anyway, which has relatively high income persistence) and how income is (statistically) effected by factors that aren't about individual choices, like race and gender (and natural ability), I personally think there's relatively little choice on an individual level (though of course that also depends on how you would interpret "a little" versus "a lot" of choice). I read a paper about the issue a few weeks ago and I think they were saying that individual variation accounted for something like <10% of income variation but I'll have to dig it out to be more specific or to back that up.
posted by rue72 at 12:56 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I also think that "choice" gets extremely complicated when you're talking about income. There is obviously *some* individual choice involved, but it's hard to say how much.

That definitely isn't true at the higher end of the scale. If you become a lawyer or a banker, there's a high chance that your priority in life is income, and you could have chosen to have a more socially rewarding career with less $.
posted by Riton at 1:28 PM on March 21


Are the Suburbs Making People Live Paycheck to Paycheck? - "Households without any cash savings are twice as likely to be wealthy as poor."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:04 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


Twists ant turns, your link goes back here...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:08 AM on March 23


the man of twists and turns is linking to a recent "The Atlantic" article.

When conventional methods show that say artists or librarians are going "down" in income from their parents, they haven't really gone done in status

But in the world of capital in which we live, your income is a large part of your status. I'm reminded of a party I attended recently hosted by a tax accountant who had bought a midtown Manhattan penthouse and remodeled it from scratch. A number of the guests there were artists of one sort or another. One of them had been commissioned by the host as his interior painter. She had used all kinds of exotic paints with funky metallic textures and used her artistic eye for color matching, but painting walls and doors was not what she had in mind when she had decided to embark on her career.

She was a charming and witty woman but, all of that wealth and comfort, she could only experience it vicariously; after the party was over she had to return to her tiny rent-controlled one bedroom that was not much larger than the host's walk-in closet. To the extent that she had any status at all, it was dependent on her wealthy patrons continuing to find her useful and entertaining. Otherwise she was just a glorified (!bespoke!artisinal) housepainter, with a mixture of digust and envy at the sheer ostentation of the proceedings, coupled with that cold-sweat fear that she might fall out of favor and into poverty, with only her memories and her grad-school vocabulary separating her from the rest of society's detritus.

Yeah, I got all of that out of a five minute convo over hors d'oeuvres. ;)
posted by xigxag at 7:14 AM on March 23 [2 favorites]


I think that what three blind mice was saying was that those careers took "hardly any work" to get into, not that those careers are the kind where its all just fun and games.

I thought it was understood that, in general, those jobs that pay the least tend to also be the most physically taxing.
posted by LizBoBiz at 10:18 AM on March 24


I think that what three blind mice was saying was that those careers took "hardly any work" to get into, not that those careers are the kind where its all just fun and games.

If that is what he was saying, he was still wrong. A lot of those careers require advanced degrees.
posted by ook at 1:50 PM on March 24




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