The very best coverage of the new Charles Murray book

Could it be the lengthy NYT profile of Stevenson and Wolfers?  Other than finding material on economists interesting per se, and knowing them a bit, I found this profile relevant for two reasons.  First, successful economists really can earn a good amount these days, and at relatively young ages.  They could probably earn much more, if that is what they set out to do.  Second, there really is a cognitive elite engaged in assortative mating, and the children of those couples will have a big head start.  Furthermore that cognitive elite is now global (Justin is from Australia).  No, Murray’s econometrics do not demonstrate all of his conclusions, but nonetheless this family is a walking embodiment of The Bell Curve, not to mention the new book.  (I would have preferred a piece which explored this irony with more depth.)  Some of you are negative in the comments on my post, but the facts about the Wolfers/Stevenson family are hardly exceptional, conditional on a few other variables but of course strongly conditional on those variables.  They own a Noguchi table, we own a Noguchi lamp (cheaper than you think, by the way).  They ban sugar, we do not, but there is no junk food, sugary or otherwise, kept around our house.  My professional writing rails against junk food.  I was disappointed that their nanny has only a Master’s degree.  The nanny in our family has a Ph.d and is a well-known economics blogger.; going back in time, the two other nannies were a professional linguist and translator and an engineer (they are sometimes called “the grandparents”).  Get the picture?  The rhetoric in the profile is oddly non-self-conscious, perhaps in a way that makes the couple look less charismatic than they really are, and that too is worth thinking about.  Parts of the profile felt like a bit of a slog to me (despite my interest in the topic), but I suspect not to most NYT readers, and of course we are seeing a highly skilled and experienced journalist at work along with a first-rate team of editors.

Always try to give things the more subtle reading.


I'm surprised they had a kid.

"The nanny in our family has a Ph.d and is a well-known economics blogger" - could we have more information on this sentence fragment? I've read it ten times trying to figure out if it was serious, and I suspect it is. Did this nanny really go through 6+ years of schooling in econ to become a professional babysitter/personal child tutor? That's amazing.

Basically he means that his step daughter still needed a nanny when she was in middle school and the nanny should be an economist with a Ph.D.

Tyler is referring to himself. Since their daughter is grown, he is no longer a nanny.

And of course Stevenson and Wolfers daughter will have a head start, just by dint of family friends and others who she will meet as she grows up. So what?

@anon That makes more sense. Thanks.

you live in a different world than i do. i think i need to stop coming here.

Why stop? That's true of me too, but I don't intend to stop stopping by and reading (and learning). I'm not an economist but am fascinated by a field I know very little about, and one can learn from reading MR, even if Tyler etc. is in another income bracket.

Besides, good for Tyler. It's not as if he got rich selling drugs, guns...

... or Noguchi lamps/tables, whatever they are... (*starts typing Noguchi into google*)

Not Lamps - LIGHT SCULPTURES get it right.

Well, I had a look at them. Not interested. I'll stick with my, uh, IKEA "light sculptures".

I like them myself

They look like something from IKEA as far as I can see.

I'm not sure if getting rich selling Drugs and Guns is worse then being an economists

Dealing drugs and/or guns strikes me as a more honest way of earning a living.

Why is it more honest? Because of the good old proletarian sweat that develops on your brow when you lift a crate of Glocks?

Because you're providing a real product to people. I mean the service economists provide is basically PR for the rich - it's fundamentally a dishonest profession because your job is to provide cover for the actions of rich people - honesty comes second. Drug dealing or gun dealing are at least providing products - of course many drug dealers are dishonest and provide cut or low quality product.

That's pretty much bull. Just on numbers most economists are liberals. I call these ambassadors to central government. Perhaps that name is just as inflammatory as yours, but I'm right about the numbers.

wow Tyler. . .nothing like comparing who has more upwardly mobile credentials . . .

. . .and from the other post, that they feed their child no meat, may affect where the child lies on the bell curve later in life. Nothing like growing up on tofu, tempha and brown rice . . .poor kid. Hopefully they'll stop at one.

Give it the subtle reading!

forgive me my "quick read" and analysis . . .it appears you have a delicate hand at sarcasm

Hey I comment here without really reading the post all the time - you shouldn't apologize for it though, bad form.

Bang up job you guys are doing ruling the world! Things are really going fantastically well!

Ah, so you are saying it is a hit piece and not representative. Fair enough. But, intentional or unintentional? And if unintentional, just because the Times and/or its readers are so out of touch?

If so, they are dumb, but I don't understand the "subtle" hint, but I do know they are dumb, so here goes.

They want more money thrown at education, but not if it involves more education for the smallest class size possible.

Summary: Education is all benefit until a rich person hires his own personal teacher, then it's all cost.

When the revolution comes...

They'll be the first against The Wall.

I wouldn't count on that, CBBB.

CBBB implicitly endorsing a murderous revolution in one post and further signaling his worship of Krugman on another. Just another Sunday.

What? I can't quote Douglas Adams here?!

Just because you are being humorous does not mean that other people aren't joking too.

...they'll see it coming and go find work in Australia or Switzerland or someplace?

Tyler - in the post above, a paragraph change may have helped us understand where you were serious and where you were ironic/ sarcastic. I think I finally get it now.

I think I understand the vitriol. If someone was writing an onion piece mocking the self-referential pseudo-elite, they couldn't have done much better. The country (and indeed the world) is at a different place right now. No one cares about your two fancy strollers, educated nannies and Noguchi furniture - tell us about your ideas and why we should pay attention to them. May be I'm old fashioned - but I find the article crass and a waste of prime newspaper space. And I'm not poor (my furniture isn't from Ikea either) and I'm not a lefty.

many lefty's are not fans of the "supposed" intelligentsia . . .and demonstrations of affluence

But I am sure those aspects to the article did not come from Wolfers and Stevenson (I have never met them, but I would be willing to bet that they, themselves, did NOT highlight their strollers or furniture brands). That is typical NY Times lifestyle writing. It may be insufferable, but it is standard operating procedure for such pieces.

This is true, just more evidence to support that fact the Style section should go and they should extend Paul Krugman's column to cover the space.

I think that's right. Anyone can be made to look bad depending on what aspect of one's life the journalist decides to caricature or subtly ridicule. Not that most of us need to worry about this, but if a journalist calls you up and says they want to do a story on your life, the safe answer is to politely say no and hang up the phone. There is no upside from a story like this; it will almost surely result in a false and exaggerated portrait of a more mundane and complicated reality.

I read the paper some hours a go - but pretty sure it was in the business section. They had a theme (the tax code) for many of the articles and this article was more or less written in that context.

I didn't mean that it was in a particular section, I meant that it was the NY Times style for this kind of piece, which can -- unfortunately -- pop in any section of the paper without warning. It takes just a few seconds to google up more of the same. This for example, appeared in the 'Real Estate' section:

Many furnishings are inheritances, among them antique perfume bottles from an aunt, Eames chairs from a great-aunt and uncle, and a rocker from Ms. Chaplin’s mother. Decorative touches come from far-flung places and include plates from Spain, fabric from Tibet and a 19th-century farm table from Quebec. “Apparently you can tell that it was a Québécois farm table by the shape of the legs,” she said.

It turns out that NPR has a trainer jokingly called The Host Whisperer -- one wonders if the Times has somebody similar or if their new writers just pick it up by osmosis. This piece is a little farther afield, but maybe should have gotten a 'markets-in-everything' mention by Tyler:

+1 on the co-op link.

My furniture comes from curbside - but Cambridge Curbside. Elite castoffs.

Me too, only DC curbside. Given the transient nature of this city, most of the time it isn't the first trip to the curb for these pieces...

one word: bedbugs!

That they're not married puts them somewhat outside the elite group that Murray describes in his book. Odds are they're not churchgoers either. Murray wrote primarily about what we might call the "mainstream" elite -- these two seem a bit more eccentric (no disrespect intended).

Well they certainly deserve points for not going to Church - I'll give them props for that if it's true.

CBBB goes to church whenever he visits "Conscience of a Liberal"

And on the Third Republican Administration Krugman rose again
and ascended to the Op-Ed pages to be featured at the right side of the Editorial Cartoon
There to judge the living and the dead economists
and they shall be found wanting

Bob: If I may shift gears a bit, CBBB, who would win: Paul Krugman versus a hurricane?

CBBB: Krugman! Krugman!

Bob: Hold on, hold on, hold on. The name of the hurricane is...Hurricane Krugman.

(CBBB begins to pound chest)…..Is everything ok?

CBBB: No problem, just having a heart attack. (Pounds Chest)...Almost over! Done. Done.

Alright - this is all wrong, there would be no paradox here. I mean suppose Krugman (the person) was able to ward off the Hurricane - and I'm not totally convinced he can't do this, with a beard like that he might actually be Prospero - if Krugman wards off the Hurricane then he wins. But suppose he can't stop the Hurrican from destroying the Carolina coast. Then when the clean up work occurs he can use the fact that employment increased from the repair work done in the aftermath of the Hurricane to argue for government stimulus to increase employment. Krugman wins again.

I'm not at all surprised you don't understand the broken windows fallacy CBBB, but I bet Krugman does.

Hi Tyler. When you write that they embody The Bell Curve, you're saying they prove the thesis that black people are genetically less intelligent. But I'm sure you knew that.

That is not what the Bell Curve said.

Perhaps you should read books before you comment on their contents?

Have you read the Bell Curve? It is interesting even if you don't believe that genetics has as much influence on IQ as the authors do.

Even insane people like it? Or do you not actually believe that you can teach trees to become tenured physics professors?

Note they grew up in "dysfunctional" families--also against Murray's book. Tyler is hopefully suggesting that just as the Bell Curve is a book that has been fully dismissed by more careful studies, the subsequent book yet again confirms that Murray is sloppy social scientist whose work and comments should be ignored.

I apologize for my sloppy prose. I love the irony that I forgot an "a" in front of sloppy.

Sloppy prose is the least of your worries.

Then I assume you are scholar who has explored this work carefully? Or the literally hundreds of careful critiques of The Bell Curve?

Can you point us to one or more of the best?

The thesis of The Bell Curve is that individual IQ is a better predictor of that person's life outcomes than the person's family SES, and that the thesis holds equally well for blacks and whites analyzed separately. What about that thesis "has been fully dismissed by more careful studies"?

The reason for all the rage over the years against Herrnstein and Murray is because they said out loud a number of things that most people fear are true.

The classic defense for pricks throughout history.

Linda, the fact that IQ is endogenous and therefore is only an indicator of other inputs into an individual is one fundamental problem with the book--but feel free to read some of the quality social scientists who provide careful critiques and you will fine a wide array of issues with the book. I appreciate raising potentially unpopular opinions--but I want quality research to stand behind it and Murray is not up to the task as he seems blinded by his ideology (the reviews of the current books suggest the same problem here). So raising issues is good--to the extent that people then believe a theory has been proven is where his writing harms the debate...The Bell Curve generated a lot of research that got people tenure..and I expect the same to be true here.

Seen a lot of people take issue with the book, never seen anyone try to get at the thesis as described above. Or maybe you believe that there are lots of 80 IQ tenured professors in the social sciences?

"Or maybe you believe that there are lots of 80 IQ tenured professors in the social sciences?"

That doesn't sound far fetched to me

So, has anyone figured out a non-endogenous intelligence test yet?

Needing to give things "the more subtle reading" isn't a a sign that you [the reader] are sophisticated but that the the writer is bad.

The point of writing, particularly when you do so for a general interest NYT, is to be good enough at it to make things clear. True, some topics are so genuinely technical [string theory] that the reader must be bright and work hard to master the subject matter, even from the clearest exposition. But such topics are few.

To your constant exhortations to readers to see the "subtle" points, I counter to you: write what you mean rather than dancing around it. There is simply no reason for write obliquely, to do the economist's equivalent of calling a gay man a "confirmed bachelors." I shouldn't have to bother to learn some code or parse text like it's a cryptic crossword.

If the problem is that writing clearly and fully, rather than just hinting at your thoughts, takes more time, then take the time and write fewer posts.

If, as I suspect, the answer lies in the fact that hazy writing makes it hard for critics to counterattack [because you make few specific claims] and because it allows you to respond to even the best attacks with "you can see that I acknowledged that argument here, where it wrote 'and such' " or "I wasn't really asserting the point you are attacking," then realize that your aversion to taking a position makes you a weaker writer. And often an annoying one.


That's a good diagnosis of Tyler's writing. He is always intentionally vague.

Normally, his vagueness means that he is supporting a thesis which he knows to be unpopular among his blogging peers because it has been discredited, but which he feels affine to anyway, so he wants to promote the thesis without providing a hook for personal criticism. "Presented without comment: Roissy/Hansonian misogyny". "If I were Germany". etc

I think you mistake dicredited with not politically correct.

Millian, you already argued against a strawman. Isn't that enough?

+2, but it doesn't annoy me.

Well put though.

I completely disagree.

Most pundits have stronger opinions than the available evidence supports. They paint black and white pictures, complete with boogie men and good guys. They ignore the confusing or subtle complexities that would contradict or at least muddle their strong opinions.

Sure, it makes for punchy NYT op-eds. Yeah, it is easier for the masses to digest and regurgitate. But does it improve the discussion? Is it really a contribution if it hasn't carefully (and respectfully?) weighed alternative theories?

I come here because TC is one of the few popular economists/pundits who implicitly and often explicitly signals, "things are not as simple as most lead you to believe." I hope he continues to do so, even if sometimes he errs on the side of too vague.

On the other hand, if I was advising him on how to get a top tier NYT op-ed slot I would tell him to follow Scoop's advice.

No. If what the writer is trying to explain is confusing and subtle with multiple points of view, that is even more reason to explain things in a straightforward and direct matter.
Explain the subtleties, don't imitate them.

(Standing ovation).

Yes...but at the same time, I've lived among people like this long enough to see a generation of their kids grow up, and it's true that most of their kids do very well. But a non-trivial number of the intensively cultivated kids turn out to be undermotivated underachievers. Perhaps they'll mostly eventually 'find themselves', but it's certainly not always a straightforward path to a comfortable, upper middle-class life. In fact, part of the reason parents like this are so nuts about the child-raising is that they're aware of the real possibility of their kids not doing as well.

And, on the other hand, assortive mating is just not new. In past generations, women's college degrees were more likely put to use as 'Mrs.' degrees and unpaid nanny duties, perhaps (as was the case for my mother, grandmothers, and a great grandmother), but the assortive effect was the same. I think Murray is right that working-class culture has changed in the last 50 years, but I just don't believe that's an effect of a new, recent phenomenon of the educated marrying each other (which they've done for quite a long time).

ISTM you're describing regression to the mean.

Is there hard data on the assortive mating question? Most everyone I know met their spouse at work or in college--something that simply wasn't happening so much in 1950, with far fewer smart women going to college or having careers in demanding fields.

Yes, I think people forget what parenting is about. Its about preventing regression the the mean. If you are high IQ, there is a reasonably chance your kids will have a lower IQ. You then use your resources and parenting to arrange it such that they have a better live then their IQ would indicate.

Still, if he teaches the Americans to use the word "bollocks", his life can't be entirely wasted.

I am really happy that while I worked hard to benefit my adopted country I had so many overqualified nannies!


If you worked hard to benefit your adopted country, madam, you didn't understand economics. It holds that you should work hard only to benefit yourself.

I doubt that, as things stand, working for SEC benefits this country.

It is all that non-junk food sitting on the Noguchi table that really does it, Natasha. Overqualified nannies are a dime a dozen, :-).

I'll take an engineer or PhD economist nanny over a nanny with a Masters in education any day.

Oooops! Apologies, Natasha. I see you all have the lamp not the table. Well then, that means that instead of putting non-junk food on the table you all will be able to read this really interesting Ethnic Dining Guide for Washington together for Valentine's Day. It is written by this guy who knows how to play chess, I forget his name right now... :-).

I enjoyed the article, but the NYT made it feel as though another story about celebrities which is generally not my thing. What was noteworthy for me: the relative universe of incentive - sure the signaling is there but who really cares. As to the overqualified nannies; what that really says is that our primary motivation - when we are given the chance - is to educate ourselves and also show others what we learn even if little real monetary motivation is there. That's the incentive that could build a better future if it gets the chance.

Frankly I was most offended by the fact that they're economists. Talk about overpaid.

They are the 1% - where is OWS when you need them.....

What an alienating article. I cannot imagine something more designed to annoy "mainstream Americans" than a rich economist who eskew marriage for tax reasons telling people they should pay other people to raise their own kids. As a non-churchgoing, lives-overseas, PhD-holding elite in the top 5% of income-earners, even I find the whole tone elitist.

Personally, I found the comments here the most informative part of this whole episode. The petty jealousy and anger toward high achievers is pretty much par for the course in the new left.

What achievement?

Ah, now that is a feature of an older strain of leftism: the ridiculous arrogance of presuming to know better than the marketplace what's valuable and what's not...

If these people were physicists or engineers I'd have much, much less problem with this.

Or if one of them had the last name "Krugman."

Speaking as a PhD physicist, I don't see why.

CBBB has a grasp of a wide variety of leftisms, old and new...

How do you know they are leftists? I am not a leftist. I have nothing against people making a lot of money (I make plenty of money) and spending a lot of money. But the way their life is described in the article is fairly horrifying on first blush.

"there really is a cognitive elite engaged in assortative mating"

One kid? If this is "assortative mating," then it's "assortative mating" that's breeding itself out of the gene pool.

Yeah but think about it - if they had two or three kids we're talking like 6 strollers and three masters degree holding nannies - I know their ceilings are soaring but this stuff takes up room.

Not a bad point.

Have you seen the TFR of women with 4+ year degrees? 1 is the median.

We are doomed.

You mean women with an undergrad or more? Really?

Yes, 1.7 average for bachelor's, 1.6 for graduate+, and that's a mean

Honestly, it's possible that there are so many zeros that I'm wrong and the median is two, but that doesn't really change the "we are doomed" analysis

Oh, I thought you were saying a 1 mean. That is not as terrifying, although still bad.

Kids are a consumer item. The higher classes have always preferred quality of quantity in their consumer items.

I was thinking they could have more, but I guess they do look kind of old.

NYT audience is not comprised of "mainstream americans."

As we all know, the plural of "anecdote" is "data," so naturally this all buttresses Murray's points.

They own a Noguchi table, we own a Noguchi lamp (And so on).

But of course. Both you and them are parasites on a body of our society.

Easy enough to get a Noguchi lamp for a few hundred bucks,,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.,cf.osb&fp=fc8f4a6474bcae3f&biw=1366&bih=664, actually we got ours for free from an acquaintance who was moving abroad.

You mean a Light Sculpture.

Let me guess, they were moving to Monaco for "tax reasons". Ha!

I'm surprised that most MR readers did not get this post even after Tyler wrote "Always try to give things the more subtle reading" at the end of the post...

Would it have been more clear if he put a smiley at the end? :-)

That's unexpected. I put a smiley at the end, consisting of a colon, hyphen, and right parenthesis, and it was transformed into a little smiley icon. That wasn't my intention.

You wanted to signal irony without signalling that you are someone who normally uses full on smiley icons? Not mocking, just asking.

Even more annoying is forum software that turns the numeral 8 + closing parenthesis into a smiley. Does this one? Let's try it:

0) 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8) 9)

Your professional writing rails against junk food? What makes pork belly and fat less junk food when it's in ethnic or fancy food? I am pretty sure that the the delicious food at R&R deli is pretty high in fat.

On the issue of gastronomy I must say I stand firmly with Tyler. There is a world of difference between having a few slices of Suyuk and eating a big bowl of Cheetos.

Suyuk pork vs. Cheetos... Is this the CBBB way of drawing Murray's distinction between "Belmont and Fishtown"?

I want to make myself clear - I'm not anti-Snob here, far from it.

There is nothing wrong with fat; time to catch-up with modern RCT studies on nutrition. Sugar on the other hand, and carbs in general.

What is the research on whether outright bans on things like meat and sweets (or TV, or texting, and so forth) work out well? I know of several anecdotal cases where these kinds of bans didn't seem to work out well for the kids. Not that the kids strongly rebelled against the restrictions per se, but the kids just seemed to distance themselves from their parents.

It's just anecdotal, but I wonder if the kids resent the level of control that their parents are exerting. I think Tyler has some experience with control and dishwashing.

Great post Tyler

There isn't any evidence that Wolfers or Stevenson is the result of assortive mating, is there? Their child will surely benefit from having them as parents, but they'll benefit in the same old ways that we all know about: they'll know how people at elite universities talk, they'll have unearned confidence, they will have the financial resources to attempt success, etc. It won't be the nanny that makes the difference. Or the lack of sugar.

Is the Noguchi table supposed to be a symbol that, despite the apparently incredibly incomes they've achieved (a nanny at $50,000 a year (presumably before benefits and taxes) and a full-time driver/personal assistant!), they still have a mass market tastes like the rest of us?

Think of it this way: a person's outcomes in life can be broadly divided into the effects of his genes (and other heritable stuff, but mostly genes), the effects of the part of his environment under the influence of his parents, and everything else. Assortive mating means the kids get, on average, better genes and a better part of the part of environment under the parents' control. What's not clear is how much this part of the environment matters, when you're talking about the difference between a solid middle-class household (no lead paint on the walls, plenty of food, a safe place to sleep, parents who insist on going to school and doing homework, books in the house) and a high-end household. My guess is that it's better for you to be raised by smarter, more educated people in a nicer environment, in general, but that the difference between being raised by two very smart economists and two reasonably bright high school teachers is much smaller than the difference between the two teachers and, say, a janitor and a maid living at the edge of poverty. I think the limited data available more-or-less supports that. Though there's probably not much good data on how this works on the tails of the distribution, with two very smart parents.

There's some differences. If your white and want to get into a top-5 school it really helps to have the kind of things upper middle class and above parents can give their kids. Even if its as simple as knowing how important those school are and what they are looking for. I grew up working class and I had zero clue why top-5 was better then the next tier nor that I was suppose to be resume padding with extracurricular stuff. So though I had an IQ in the middle of the range for top-5, I ended up going to second tier on a scholarship. I won't make the same mistake with my kids.

Now, is life so bad for me? I mean I still jumped two classes from working class to upper middle class, but certainly I could have done better. Doing better would have been easier coming out of top-5. I can still do it, I'm young, but its a much harder road.

re: I ended up going to second tier on a scholarship. I won’t make the same mistake with my kids.

If you got through school with no debt you got a huge leg up in life from that fact. Thats nothing to dismiss. also, I assume "2nd strong" doesn't mean some "Whatsamatta U". Are you talking, say, public ivies or the like? That's nothing to sneeze at, as they provide quality education and good credentials too.

If its not top-5, its garbage. If you don't understand that, your not in the elite.

your not in the elite

You missed this too.

If its not top-5, its garbage.

So you're thinking of picking up a couple of expensive consumer items (kids)? What brand?

"...I ended up going to second tier on a scholarship. I won’t make the same mistake with my kids."

I did this (well, third tier) and am happy I did so. If you plan on doing any postgraduate education I think it's the way to go. I hope my hypothetical kids know enough to always take the scholarship.

This assumes they will post grad at top 5. If your confident of that, go for it. It can't be stressed how much branding matters. If they do a top 5 undergrad that's usually enough to get into elite employment.
In reading the excerpts below, keep in mind Rivera's slightly different emphasis on law, consulting and I-banking, as opposed to hedge/venture funds and startups (more quant/technology focused) in my post.

Ivies, extracurriculars, and exclusion: Elite employers’ use of educational credentials

... In the following article, I analyze how hiring agents in top-tier professional service firms use education to recruit, assess, and select new hires. I find that educational credentials were the most common criteria employers used to solicit and screen resumes. However, it was not the content of education that elite employers valued but rather its prestige. Employers privileged candidates who possessed a super-elite (e.g., top 5) university affiliation and attributed superior cognitive, cultural, and moral qualities to candidates who had been admitted to such an institution, regardless of their actual performance once there. However, attendance at a super-elite university was insufficient for success in resume screens. Importing the logic of elite university admissions, firms performed a secondary resume screen on the status and intensity of candidates’ extracurricular accomplishments and leisure pursuits. I discuss these findings in terms of the changing nature of credentialism and stratification in higher education to suggest that participation in formalized extracurricular activities has become a new credential of moral character that has monetary conversion value in labor markets.

Below are some excerpts from the paper.

... So-called “public Ivies” such as University of Michigan and Berkeley were not considered elite or even prestigious in the minds of evaluators (in contrast, these “state schools” were frequently described pejoratively as “safety schools” that were “just okay”). Even Ivy League designation was insufficient for inclusion in the super-elite. For undergraduate institutions, “top-tier” typically included only Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, and potentially Wharton (University of Pennsylvania's Business School). By contrast, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, and University of Pennsylvania (general studies) were frequently described as “second tier” schools that were filled primarily with candidates who “didn’t get in” to a super-elite school.

Definitions of “top-tier” were even narrower for professional schools, primarily referring to Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and to a lesser extent Columbia law schools, and Harvard, Wharton (University of Pennsylvania), and Stanford business schools.7 A consulting director (white, female) illustrates, “Going to a major university is important. Being at the big top four schools is important. Even it's a little more important being at Harvard or Stanford [for MBAs]; you know it's just better chances for somebody.” A consultant (Asian-American, male) described of being at a “top” school, “It's light-years different whether or not we are going to consider your resume.”

Evaluators relied so intensely on “school” as a criterion of evaluation not because they believed that the content of elite curricula better prepared students for life in their firms – in fact, evaluators tended to believe that elite and, in particular, super-elite instruction was “too abstract,” “overly theoretical,” or even “useless” compared to the more “practical” and “relevant” training offered at “lesser” institutions – but rather due to the strong cultural meanings and character judgments evaluators attributed to admission and enrollment at an elite school. I discuss the meanings evaluators attributed to educational prestige in their order of prevalence among respondents.

Educational credentials = signaling proxy for brainpower.

In line with human capital, screening, and signaling accounts of the role of educational credentials in hiring (see Bills, 2003 for review), participants overwhelmingly believed the prestige of one's educational credentials was an indicator of their underlying intelligence. Evaluators believed that educational prestige was a signal of general rather than job-specific skills, most notably the ability to learn quickly. An attorney (white, female) described, “I’m looking for sponges. You know a kid from Harvard's gonna pick stuff up fast.” However, it was not the content of an elite education that employers valued but rather the perceived rigor of these institutions’ admissions processes. According to this logic, the more prestigious a school, the higher its “bar” for admission, and thus the “smarter” its student body. A consultant (white, male) explained, “The top schools are more selective, they’re reputed to be top schools because they do draw a more select student body who tend to be smarter and more able.” A law firm partner (white, male) agreed, “If they’re getting into a top-tier law school, I assume that person has more intellectual horsepower and, you know, is more committed than somebody who goes to a second or third tier law school.”

In addition to such an intelligence-based perspective on university admissions, evaluators frequently adopted an instrumental and unconstrained view of university enrollment, perceiving that students typically “go to the best school they got into” (lawyer, Hispanic, male). Consequently, in the minds of evaluators, prestige rankings provided a quick way to sort candidates by “brainpower.” When sorting the “mock” resumes, an investment banking recruiter (white, female) charged with screening resumes at her firm revealed how such assumptions played out in application review. She remarked, “Her [Sarah's] grades are lower but she went to Harvard so she's definitely well-endowed in the brain category…Jonathan… went to Princeton, so he clearly didn’t get the short end of the stick in terms of smarts.” This halo effect of school prestige, combined with the prevalent belief that the daily work performed within professional service firms was “not rocket science” (see Rivera, 2010a) gave evaluators confidence that the possession of an elite credential was a sufficient signal of a candidate's ability to perform the analytical capacities of the job. Even in the quantitatively rigorous field of consulting [HA HA HA], a junior partner (white, male) asserted, “I’ve come to the stage where I trust that if the person has gone to Wharton, they can do math.”

By contrast, failure to attend an “elite” school, as conceptualized by evaluators, was an indicator of intellectual failure, regardless of a student's grades or standardized test scores. Many evaluators believed that high achieving students at lesser ranked institutions “didn’t get in to a good school,” must have “slipped up,” or otherwise warranted a “question mark” around their analytical abilities. ...

An investment banker (white, female) expressed a sentiment that was common across firms, “The best kid in the country may be at like Bowling Green, right. But to go to Bowling Green, interview 20 kids just to find that one needle in the haystack doesn’t make sense, when you can go to Harvard it's like 30 kids that are all super qualified and great.”

The finding that elite employers largely restrict the bounds of competition to students at the nation's most elite universities is important because large-scale studies of status attainment have historically focused on estimating the effect of years of schooling or college completion rather than institutional prestige in explaining occupational outcomes. ...

Rocket scientists need not apply:

... By contrast, those without significant extracurricular experiences or those who participated in activities that were primarily academically or pre-professionally oriented were perceived to be “boring,” “tools,” “bookworms,” or “nerds” who might turn out to be “corporate drones” if hired. A consultant (white, male) articulated the essence of this sentiment: "We like to interview at schools like Harvard and Yale, but people who have like 4.0s and are in the engineering department but you know don’t have any friends, have huge glasses, read their textbooks all day, those people have no chance here…I have always said, [my firm] is like a fraternity of smart people." ...

A banker (white, male) summarized the tradeoff evaluators believed they were facing, “I would trade an outgoing, friendly confident person for a rocket scientist any day.”

Here's an article about the research in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

If you want to get a job at the very best law firm, investment bank, or consultancy, here’s what you do:

1. Go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or (maybe) Stanford. If you’re a business student, attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania will work, too, but don’t show up with a diploma from Dartmouth or MIT. No one cares about those places.

2. Don’t work your rear off for a 4.0. Better to graduate with 3.7 and a bunch of really awesome extracurriculars. And by “really awesome” I mean literally climbing Everest or winning an Olympic medal. Playing intramurals doesn’t cut it.

That’s the upshot of an enlightening/depressing study about the ridiculously narrow-minded people who make hiring decisions at the aforementioned elite companies. The author of this study—Lauren Rivera, an assistant professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University—gained inside access to the hiring process at one such (unnamed) business, and picked the brains of recruiters at other firms.

The portrait that emerges is of a culture that’s insanely obsessed with pedigree. These firms pour resources into recruiting students from “target schools” (i.e., Harvard, Yale, Princeton) and then more or less ignore everybody else. Here’s a manager from a top investment bank describing what happens to the resume of someone who went to, say, Rutgers: “I’m just being really honest, it pretty much goes into a black hole.”

What’s surprising isn’t that students from elite universities have a leg up; it’s that students from other colleges don’t have a chance, even if those colleges are what the rest of us might consider elite. Here’s what a top consultant had to say about M.I.T.:

You will find it when you go to like career fairs or something and you know someone will show up and say, you know, “Hey, I didn’t go to HBS [Harvard Business School] but, you know, I am an engineer at M.I.T. and I heard about this fair and I wanted to come meet you in New York.” God bless him for the effort but, you know, it’s just not going to work.

There are exceptions, but only if the candidate has some personal connection with the firm. And the list of super-elite schools varies somewhat depending on the field. For instance, Columbia might be considered elite by some investment banks, but others describe it as ”second-tier” or “just okay.”

So going to Harvard is a prerequisite. But you also need to prove, in the words of the recruiters, that you’re not “boring,” a “tool,” or a ”bookworm.” This is where your leisure pursuits come in. Among the acceptable extra-curricular activities listed in the paper: traveling with a world-renowned orchestra and building houses in Costa Rica. It’s good to play sports, but they have to be the right ones. Being on the crew team is acceptable; being on the ping-pong team is not. Ideally, you should be a national or Olympic champion. And if you like hiking, you should summit some impressive peak.


While that quote is truly horrifying, you assume that people want to be in IB or consulting. I can tell you it does not work that way for engineering/science or in law.

asdf, this article is old news - I've been saying much the same thing.

Many people DO want to be in IBanking and Consulting - these are the jobs that not only pay by far the best but let you have some of the best long-term career and life options. And they're totally monopolized by a tiny group of people from a handful of elite universities. This is why I really don't buy all the arguments about the best paid being the best able - there's far too much of these status games that determine who gets what.

"Mr. Wolfers, an iPad fan, wants to get rid of their print books. Ms. Stevenson has read the research suggesting that children go further educationally if they grow up surrounded by books. So far, the books have stayed — in custom-built shelves." Dear God, this passes as intelligence?

and you're saying she didn't receive tenure?

Makes one wonder if economics genius Ms Stevenson is aware of the common error of confusing a cause and an effect.

Actually she got this meme from the Freakonomics guys, it's in their book. It was literally the only variable they could isolate that correlated with better educated kids. Not how much they are read to, or if you take them to musuems, or if they watch too much TV, or Baby Einstein flashcards, etc. Nothing had any effect on kids' educational outcomes. Except how many books were in the house.

They never claimed causation. Their theory was it didn't matter what you DO as parents, it matters who you ARE. Which brings it around to assortive mating again. And also means Stevenson could indeed heed her husband's advice to go digital, the kid is who she is regardless.

You should explain all this to Ms Stevenson. It's she who does not seem to understand such obvious things.

Do you have her phone number?

I said it in 1/3 the words.

Tyler, I hope the fact this person calls himself "Tyler Fan" isn't causing you to hesitate for a second in deleting his gratuitously cruel comment.

Ah but he's right. I'm not trying to be cruel but if you're going to have a bunch of Harvard PhDs marrying each other - I'm afraid that the set of women who go through the Harvard Economics PhD program and the set of women who would be in serious competition for a position as a Victoria Secret model are not exactly close to overlapping. If you want to put an analytical spin on it: very attractive women are not maximizing the benefits of their assets by sitting around in Ivory Towers.

And TF is right - a couple of inches more in height and a good figure get you further in life then a couple of extra IQ points

It applies to men too by the way. Height and looks can make up for some IQ points.

Yeah I agree it goes all ways - but I think for women it's more helpful

Well, for women it's looks .... height. For men it's height... not being ugly or scary-looking......... good looks.

Holy stopped clock moment!

BTW, over at Foseti's blog we figured out that what Murray is really advocating is Mormonism.

The Mormons do pretty well actually.

I sometimes think maybe I should convert to Mormonism so I can be sure to have some grandchildren

The year's worth of pantry items will also be handy come the zombie apocalypse.....

Murray, is his methodology predictive of the future?

Saturation Macroeconomics: Gobbledy-Gook or the Real Deal?

Time for a new mathematical model, a new paradigm, for macroeconomics?

Is there a patterned science representing the time dependent evolution of macroeconomics?

The last paragraph of the Economic Fractalist main page ....

The ideal growth fractal time sequence is X, 2.5X, 2X and 1.5-1.6X. The first two cycles include a saturation transitional point and decay process in the terminal portion of the cycles. A sudden nonlinear drop in the last 0.5x time period of the 2.5X is the hallmark of a second cycle and characterizes this most recognizable cycle. After the nonlinear gap drop, the third cycle begins. This means that the second cycle can last anywhere in length from 2x to 2.5x. The third cycle 2X is primarily a growth cycle with a lower saturation point and decay process followed by a higher saturation point. The last 1.5-1.6X cycle is primarily a decay cycle interrupted with a mid area growth period. Near ideal fractal cycles can be seen in the trading valuations of many commodities and individual stocks. Most of the cycles are caricatures of the ideal and conform to Gompertz mathematical type saturation and decay curves.

For the Wilshire, the US composite equity index March 09 to October 2011 was a 4 phased Lammert growth and decay fractal series..

x/2.5x/2x/1.5x :: 5/13/10/7 months. That's an empirical real system observation - available to all - of the time dependent workings of the macroeconomic system.

2005 was the description, the hypothesis - March 2009 to October 2011 was the empirical asset valuation evolution...

The flash crash on 6 May 2010 ..... does that not meet second fractal criteria?

"A sudden nonlinear drop in the last 0.5x time period of the 2.5X is the hallmark of a second cycle and characterizes this most recognizable cycle."

Maybe this is all occurring by chance alone .... Likely.... Very very very likely ....not.

A profoundly irritating piece of writing cataloging the trivial occupations of the coward class.

The domestic sphere is often trivial (couples talk about what shade of what color to paint their walls, what kind of coffee table to have, etc., and that's probably true of tens of millions of North American families). The Style section of newspapers is indeed irritating, but enough people read this stuff in magazines and newspapers...

I take issue with the term coward. What makes them cowardly? They are academics. They want to understand and explain facets of our (economic) world, including economics and women, love economics, and economics of the family. Is this cowardly? Or should they be forced to man the ramparts of the revolution? We can't all be as brave as you undoubtedly are, Mr/Ms Kaganovich, with your charity work, your innovative recycling program and your poverty reduction volunteer work.

What do you mean? Wolfers ran away for a promising Crocodile wrestling career to become an effete academic. Sounds like a cowardly way to betray Australian tradition to me.

Somehow I don't believe the supply of Australian, would-be croc wrestlers is in any danger of drying up.

But this guy's also an economist, so he could've been the world's Austrian croc-wrestler.

The "dangers" of overqualified nannies:

Second, there really is a cognitive elite engaged in assortative mating, and the children of those couples will have a big head start.

So is the head start out weighed by lack of motivation that their parents wealth should produce?

I'd like some data on that. Not a lot of my peers who just don't care about money and are happy living at a small fraction of the income their parents made when we were growing up, and of those who are like that, a large percentage got into academia or non-profit or were women who went into teaching

But at the top end, you're just not likely to wind up making the money your parents made no matter how smart and motivated you are (although a certain percentage will). There aren't enough positions making that money for it to be possible. They still wind up mating with highly intelligent people and having very smart kids.

In the tiny percentage that is downwardly mobile and the tiny percentage that is upwardly mobile.

How is this different from the upper-class for the past 1000 years? Special tutors, better than average diet, resulting most often in children lacking in drive and/or inbreeding of bad genes. This is the sort of economic theory that there IS historical evidence to back up. and it doesn't look good for your conclusions.

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"Unmarried for tax reasons..."

What a lame excuse. Here's a technique:

Apply for marriage license. Get married in a Cathedral using the "The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony" from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Get the license signed by the solemnizer as per procedure. Then don't mail it in. You'll be Married in "in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation," and still not married for government purposes (SSMs who want to marry take note). In actual fact, couples marry themselves. (the sacramental or the civil-volitional act of the drama is performed by the couple.)

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