Hard Work Doesn't Guarantee Success (by 2nd Anon 1st-year student)

posted Jun 1, 2017, 6:52 AM by Daniel Laurison

My sociology professor’s dentist said to him, “No matter what you do, if you're a plumber or a [something; maybe business

consultant], you can put your all into it and make it meaningful and move up.” Political and moral questions about whether this should be the case aside momentarily, the fact is that in today’s USA, working hard does not translate to the ability to move up—it is in fact extremely difficult to achieve mobility by whatever measure used. The following graph comes from research on economic mobility, and measures how many people in the top 20% come from different economic backgrounds broken into fifths of the general US population. If moving up was solely a product of hard work, one would expect that each quintile would be made up evenly of people across classes, or, using the image of the graph, that the top 20% of income earners in each year would have come from each quintile of American earners at an even amount of 20%. If hard work were the only determining qualification for mobility, income groups should have an even makeup of income group origin.  

Contrary to this dentist’s claim, the opportunities for mobility within certain career paths are extremely limited for some due to the value that societies and markets place on some jobs and not others. The Bureau of Labor statistics publishes incomes for different careers by percentile, so for example 10th percentile wages mean that 10% of people earn less than that amount for that job whereas 90% earn more per year. The results show that some paths such as management occupations, have a 10th percentile wage no lower than $45,000 a year, including some jobs, like Architectural and engineering management, where 10% of workers earn less than $83,580. Conversely, in other fields, even being in the top percentile of earners in that field does not guarantee a high income. Fast food cooks, for example, have a 90th percentile wage of $25,290, so even fast food cooks who “put their all into it and make it meaningful,” and make it to the top 10% earners of fast food cooks, do not end up moving up in the income ladder.

Fischer et al identify specific government policies and illustrate how these ensure that hard work alone will not catapult one to a top earning group starting from the bottom quintile. Using the example of the footrace, someone with all the privileges of wealth, education, a good career path and more opportunities will have to exert much less to finish the race than someone who has student debt or never got a degree and whose career prospects look much more like plumbing than finance. Someone with much more disadvantages can work twice as hard to get half as far, and reproduction and wage data confirm that this is the reality of the US today.