Sentences to ponder

by on March 19, 2014 at 12:01 pm in Data Source, Medicine, The Arts | Permalink

Artists grew up in households w/typically higher incomes than doctors did…

There is more information here, along with a picture, and the original story here.

Addendum:  Cowen and Tabarrok once wrote on this topic.

1 Rahul March 19, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Social Scientists grew up in households with higher incomes than both doctors & artists…..

2 fwiw March 19, 2014 at 12:54 pm

I’m stunned that teachers generally do better than their parents, according to that last graph.

Maybe it’s all the English majors I know who spent $200k on college and then went to teach elementary students in the Bronx.

I’d love to see this study done again in 30 years.

3 Z March 19, 2014 at 1:18 pm

According to the SAT, education majors are at low average IQ. That means they most like came from low average parents. Public school teacher has become a trade where the not so bright can make an above average salary.

4 Vernunft March 19, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Licensing exams significantly whittle down those education majors – education majors aren’t teaching, teachers are. So ed major figures are a piss-poor proxy for teacher figures.

5 Anti-ummmm March 19, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Math and science teachers studied math and science. They did not study education. Being in public safety is the best way for a low-g person to earn a nice income. Long Island cops make 150k.

6 Anti-Anti-ummmm March 19, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Not necessarily. Maybe it is different in each state, but I know math teachers who were education majors, not math majors.

7 Jan March 19, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Usually, yes, or at least studied math or science education. Sometimes they are required to have a masters in the field. But really, I don’t care if my geometry teacher can do differential equations. Much more important they know how to convey the material. You know, teach.

8 Jan March 19, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Wrong answer. Teachers are slightly below average for college graduates, which are of course a group that is much above the population average. An interesting analysis would look at the IQs of teachers compared to other professions of the same income.

9 Jack PQ March 19, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Dog bites man?

Being an artist is a luxury. Easier if you can fall back on family money and support.

10 fwiw March 19, 2014 at 12:48 pm

+1. Who could possibly be surprised by this?

11 BC March 20, 2014 at 4:36 am

On the other hand, the childhood household income of artists seems to be only slightly higher than that of doctors, about 62nd vs 55th. This seems to be a story about income mobility (or maybe “life-choice mobility”). If one looks at the “middle” portion of the graph, say from 45-70 pctile of childhood household income (apparently, no one exists in the bottom 20 pctile), the dispersion in adult income is quite striking, running from artists and librarians at the low end to doctors and CEOs at the high end. (Aside: interestingly, doctors are part of the 4%, whereas CEOs are only part of the 6%.)

The graph certainly does not seem to evoke the inequalitistas’ preferred narrative of immobility, which may be why the authors are quick to declare, “These graphs aren’t intended to answer broader questions about inequality and social mobility.” They link to two other sites, which discuss mobility in the “preferred” way, as movement from the bottom to the top. However, there is another type of mobility: dispersion of outcomes for “typical” middle class persons. Both types of mobility are important to understand, and this graph suggests that the bottom-top mobility story may be quite different from the middle class mobility story.

12 Richard Gadsden March 28, 2014 at 9:15 am

What’s the minimum size of a company to have a CEO?

CEO of a Fortune 500 is, well, a job that employs 500 people, so median income for a CEO is income for a CEO of a small company.

13 Bob Zonis March 28, 2014 at 3:50 pm

No, a Fortune 500 company is a company that is on Fortune Magazines list of the top 500 largest companies in the United States. The list is put together using the most recent figures for revenue and includes both public and private companies with publicly available revenue data.

Number of employees has ZERO to do with the Fortune 500.

14 kiwi dave March 19, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Exactly, I don’t see how this could possibly be a surprise. Occupations that are high in prestige/fulfilment but low in pay like the arts are going to be more attractive to people from wealthier backgrounds.

Medicine and dentistry are classic routes to a solidly prosperous (if not quite rich) standard of living for intelligent, hard-working young people, who are often from lower-middle class or low-income immigrant backgrounds. The massive amount of work it takes to qualify make it less attractive to people from wealthier backgrounds. From my experience, also, a lot of the people from better-off backgrounds who go into medicine are people with a family history in the profession; my guess is that if you took those away, the socioeconomic origins of doctors would be a lot lower on average.

I was a bit surprised by lawyers and judges averaging above the 80th percentile in origins — I thought it would be high but not that high.

15 Sean P. March 19, 2014 at 5:43 pm

I suspect that a relatively large percentage of younger doctors and dentists were born outside of the US or have foreign-born parents.

16 Michael March 19, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Sure, it is an unexpected result, but it has major public policy implications that are currently not being discussed–like means testing art fellowships and grants.

17 fwiw March 19, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Grants aren’t charity. They shouldn’t be given as such.

18 uffs March 19, 2014 at 3:26 pm

The government should absolutely stop subsidizing students’ loans to attend art schools. Such students regularly borrow the most money and attend the most expensive schools. The money could be better spent on nearly anything. Same goes for the for-profit schools with similarly higher costs and associated debt levels.

I doubt this would negatively effect art production and it might even improve artists’ financial situation.

19 Mark Thorson March 19, 2014 at 9:50 pm

It would make much more sense to cut off loans to chiropractic schools.

20 Komori March 20, 2014 at 10:02 am

Why not do both?

21 Jamir March 21, 2014 at 1:21 pm

If we are going to use chosen majors as proxies for societal value, perhaps MBAs should be up against the wall. They seem to be highly correlated with diversions of funds from shareholders to holders of MBAs.

22 Floccina March 23, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Yes but many people claim that the rich are not less motivated than the poor and that privilege swamps motivation and this is why the children of the rich do better than the children of the poor.

23 Floccina March 23, 2014 at 8:40 pm

this is no surprise to the rational non political but many people claim that the rich are not less motivated than the poor and that privilege swamps motivation and this is why the children of the rich do earn more than the children of the poor.

24 David March 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Compared with most other fields, medicine is relatively more meritocratic, less racist and discriminatory on class, and less reliant on parental connections. Some subspecialties remain a closed shop, but a poor migrant girl who works hard has every chance of becoming a surgeon. I don’t think that she would have the same shot at being a barrister.

25 TMC March 20, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Medical school is quite racist. The gap in test scores between black and asian entrants to enter is startling.

26 ummm March 19, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Hilarious. If you didn’t amount to anything in life it’s because your parents were too rich or because you were too poor. Personal responsibility out of the question.

27 dan1111 March 19, 2014 at 12:45 pm

The article doesn’t say anything remotely like that.

28 Anti-ummmm March 19, 2014 at 1:43 pm

You have a blog? Good grief, I thought you were writing satire all these months.

29 prior_approval March 19, 2014 at 12:26 pm

And great artists? Pablo Picasso and Jimi Hendrix come instantly to mind, both of whom had a profound effect on art in the 20th century.

Because looking at that study methodology, I wonder how many people were actors – and only working between acting jobs, of course.

30 prior_approval March 19, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Oops – ‘study methodology’

31 Urso March 19, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Easy. If a true genius enters this world, he will be compelled to follow his art no matter what. Therefore, at the upper end of the artistic pantheon, we’d expect to see little correlation between parents’ wealth and artistic career. But if you’re an artistic mediocrity, it helps to have dad’s money to fall back on.

32 prior_approval March 19, 2014 at 1:45 pm

But who honestly cares about artistic mediocrity?

33 dan1111 March 19, 2014 at 2:06 pm

And that is why their income is so low.

34 prior_approval March 19, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Sure – but the study was about the parents of artists, not artists per se.

35 Urso March 19, 2014 at 2:21 pm

No one is mediocre in the eyes of his mom.

36 Michael March 19, 2014 at 2:39 pm

> But who honestly cares about artistic mediocrity?

The NEA.

37 +1 March 19, 2014 at 3:31 pm


38 Richard Gadsden March 28, 2014 at 9:17 am

Their parents, who can afford to subsidize them.

39 Curt F. March 19, 2014 at 12:36 pm

How do you find the income percentile of a profession? Do you average (mean) the percentiles of all individuals that belong to that class? Or average all incomes by class and then find the profession-wide percentile of that profession relative to all others? Either way the averaging seems like could be obscuring a lot of dispersion. What percent of the variation in adult income percentile *for an individual* is explained by the correlation?

40 sam March 19, 2014 at 1:40 pm

People become doctors because they need the money.

People become artists because they don’t.

41 mkt March 20, 2014 at 4:01 am

Pretty much. It’s like the difference in the family backgrounds of students at Harvard vs MIT — and their choice of majors.

There is of course also a prestige factor. Some people, including people from rich families, become doctors because of the prestige rather than the money. But for would-be artists, although the prestige or at least the chance to follow your muse might be an attraction, practicalities such as the cost of attending and trying to repay student loans will price a lot of low income families out of that profession.

42 primedprimate March 19, 2014 at 1:49 pm

It would have been nice to see (vertical and horizontal) standard deviation bars on all those points.

43 tt31 March 19, 2014 at 2:08 pm

I wonder about sample bias in the data – i.e., artists from higher-income families getting connected with institutions that counted by BLS as a “job” that artists from lower-income don’t, even holding actual art production constant.

44 TallDave March 19, 2014 at 10:23 pm

This was also covered in “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” Economically competent parents are more likely to push their kids in the direction of perceived stability.

I never really understood this until I had actual children and I thought about how I would feel with them in a stable, well-paying professional career vs entrepreneurship where multiple painful failures may or may not eventually yield success. There’s an enormous human drive to reduce the risks and stresses our progeny are exposed to, irrespective of the cost/benefit analysis.

45 Steve Sailer March 19, 2014 at 10:46 pm

Right. Most parents think stage moms and sideline dads who push their kids toward stardom are misguided.

One motivation of parents is that they tend to want legitimate grandchildren, for which a stable career path is better. “My NFL star son has 11 children by 9 women” is not really a proud boast for most.

46 TallDave March 20, 2014 at 10:00 am

I don’t think that’s where the artists are coming from — they probably tend to be better-off kids who didn’t worry as much about making a buck.

But look at where the legal profession is on that graph — I’ll bet you those kids were by and large pushed that way by parents.

47 Steve Sailer March 19, 2014 at 10:42 pm

By the way, the modal career path for great composers is ex-law student.

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