The good news: Elite colleges are admitting increasing numbers of disadvantaged students. The bad news: They will likely under-earn their peers by significant margins, says a new study out in the Journal of Higher Education.
“Education is not the equalizer that many people think it is,” noted researcher Anna Manzoni, an associate professor of sociology at North Carolina State University. “We like to think that if someone makes it to college and becomes a lawyer or doctor, they have ‘made it.’ But what we see is that even earning an advanced degree is unlikely to put you on the same professional footing as someone who earned the same degree but started higher on the social ladder.”
Manzoni studied the earnings of 56,819 college graduates while tracking their parents’ education levels. She found that if, say, two doctors earn medical degrees, but one had parents with advanced degrees and the other did not, the latter would earn less on average. For men, the effect is strong across all education levels. For women, it’s higher among those with four-year degrees, and the effect largely disappears for women with advanced degrees.
This is a blow to the idea that a college degree erases prior sociodemographic trappings, and the idea that talent, hard work, and opportunities result in professional equality.
This research does not identify the cause of this structural inequality, and Manzoni says that further study is necessary to understand when in careers these differences arise, as well as the impact of factors like professional specialities, and access to capital, or social connections.