Taking down David Brooks

by MooshiMooshi

I usually try to tour the conservative websites each week to see what is being discussed (except for WSJ because of its paywall and Breitbart because it is just too icky). While I think there are better sites than RedState – it reminds me of Huffington Post with its generally breathless tone and overheated headlines – but sometimes they really get it and this takedown of the obnoxious David Brooks column really hit the nail on the head. It is hilarious. I find myself agreeing with much of it (ok, ok, not the school choice point which I think will lead to more stratification, not less, and in fact Stella Artois is a working class beer, in France anyway). After reading David Brooks smarmy column:

How We Are Ruining America

read read the RedState takedown and giggle.

David Brooks And The DOA Column: A RedState Autopsy

Advertisements

272 thoughts on “Taking down David Brooks

  1. I’m really sensitive to this stuff because for years I had to live with the disdain of some members of my Louisiana family for my allegedly fancypants and inauthentic tastes. It was all class anxiety on their part, but they found a way to put the knife in emotionally over these things. They were reverse snobs, and were at times really mean about it. I don’t believe that is excusable. That said, the fact that I was far more comfortable moving in cosmopolitan settings, and had more cosmopolitan tastes, meant that I had doors open for me, professionally and otherwise, that they would not have had.

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/sandwich-david-brooks-culture-class/

  2. I had a big culture shock when I went to college in a SLAC in the Northeast. I didn’t know what rugby was–or lacrosse. I had to learn about the differences between Choate and Andover. I wore makeup and shaved regularly, and dressed up for high school–this was considered giving in to the patriarchy in college. I felt like an outsider for my 4 years there, and didn’t feel truly comfortable until I graduated.

  3. Does Brooks really think families wanting a better life for their progeny is a new concept?!

    Do the majority of parents want their kids to have a better life than they’ve had if it means abandoning the family’s values? I would guess no. Certainly most toebaggers don’t place a lot of value on their kids having a better life.

  4. Houston said “I had a big culture shock when I went to college in a SLAC in the Northeast. I didn’t know what rugby was–or lacrosse”

    Same! I guess I had heard about rugby in a translation of an Asterix comic, but lacrosse? What was that? I had massive culture shock when I went to college, even though in comparison to a typical middle American kid, I had seen and read a lot more.

    Though my makeup culture shock was different. I wore Walgreens cosmetics, as did most kids in my HS. When I went to college, I had a roommate with an arsenal of makeup from the department store counter. Clinique was all the rage then, and was not in drugstores or Target yet, and she had a pile of it. I had brought Kmart shampoo to school with me.

  5. MM,

    IIRC, your dad was a physics professor and your mom was an art teacher. Do you think their academic sensibilities held you back from your most lucrative career path? I think Brook’s point was those sorts of attitudes and values hold people back at levels much further down the SES ladder.

  6. Huh? I was commenting on something Houston said. Despite my parents employment (and actually, my mother was not a teacher at that point, she was trying to get the college degree she neverhad, like many women of her generation), I was essentially a middle class midde American – i knew about the stuff my friends know about. I had never lived anywhere that lacrosse was played. And kids in my HS didn’t buy department store cosmetics or shampoos. So there was a cultural difference. Many of the kids at my university were very wealthy and very sophisticated, much more than I was.

  7. I had lived in France and Germany, so I was familiar with soccer. But they don’t play lacrosse there either. And stuff like Choate? Had never heard of the place. I had never gone to 8 week sleepaway camp and never knew anyone who did. I thought that was something in novels about 1950’s preppies. Kids in my elementary school went to vacation bible camp or Y daycamp like I did – a week only because it cost money. So there was this East Coast preppie world that I did not know, but more importantly, there were all these wealthy international kids – even the ones with US citizenship were very international in their outlook – and they were very strange to me. Yes, I had lived in Europe, but I had lived among French and German middle class kids, not wealthy international kids.

  8. Although I certainly agree with Brooks comments about lower SES people. But not deli sandwiches! Our kids probably are better with fancy deli sandwichs than Brooks is, because they are NYC kids. I see the deficit more in terms of knowing what their opportunities are, and knowing how to do the things needed to get there.

  9. I don’t think at any point have I been intimidated or felt uncomfortable due to differences be it class, culture, race or religion. If I don’t know, I will just ask.
    My kids many a times will be horrified at my barging in and asking. I was a very shy child, so somehow I had to develop this sort of ability that was not innate.

  10. Many of the kids at my university were very wealthy and very sophisticated, much more than I was.

    But you seemed defensive about it rather than eager to adopt the values and mores of your economic superiors. Which is what I think Brooks is trying to say. If some group is surging forward you should try and find out what they are doing and imitate that. But people get defensive about their values, even when those values are no longer working.

  11. Rhett, you are making assumptions. I said I was ignorant of this culture. I didn’t say anything about what I did next.

  12. I didn’t say anything about what I did next.

    You went through your punk rock phase.

  13. Mooshi: Same with the Clinique. For me, you can add Neutrogena to the list. Never heard of Rainbath before college.

  14. I think Brooks is insufferable. This column provided much amusement in my facebook feed for several days.

  15. MM,

    It could be you’re a bad example. But the larger point would be people held back by values that may have worked at one time and place in the past but no longer do. I’ve mentioned before when I was working in the rust belt they said the anti-education bias took root when factory jobs paid solid middle class wages. The factory jobs left but the values stayed and they were holding everyone back.

  16. I also think David Brooks has too much of an emphasis on cultural markers that are not important, and likely have more to do with where you grew up than your actual economic class. Any NYC kid will know a ton more about ethnic food than a kid from Tennesee. I went out to dinner last month with a UMC lady from the South who had never had Indian food before. My lower SES kids all know Indian food from cheap takeout buffet places. There are many families in my town who are making 200K or more in their contracting businesses, who have tastes in movies and music that one might peg as more working class.

    But there are aspects of culture that are important. Simply being able to read big words, which is a problem for many of our students. Knowing people who went to college, so that you know that office hours are important. Knowing that you should start looking for internships in Feb. Knowing that if you are having trouble with your classes, you need to do something about it. Knowing that as a senior, you should have a little 30 second oral blurb about your major and career interests, in case you meet someone that could help you find job opportunities. That is the important stuff.

  17. “But you seemed defensive about it rather than eager to adopt the values and mores of your economic superiors. ”

    LOL! I’m surely guilty as charged here. My post-college roommate was from a background similar to mine, but at his elite private undergrad university, where he’d been an ROTC student, he also had come to idolize this kid who was definitely one of our economic superiors.

    So when we had a free weekend, he took me to meet up with his old college buddy, now living in Manhattan in a two-bedroom doorman apartment, with sweeping views of NY Harbor, that his parents had bought him, and doing some kind of Wall Street trading job that they also supposedly bought him.

    This guy was every bit the superficial stereotype that you might imagine. Obviously, he didn’t care a bit about me; I’m not sure he asked a single question, but he really couldn’t care less about my roommate, either, the one who worshipped him. I think he was just used to hangers-on being enthralled with him.
    And his sort-of girlfriend who hung around a little bit was even worse than he was.

    They didn’t come across as people whose values and mores I really wanted to emulate.

  18. “You went through your punk rock phase.”
    As did a certain number of the rich international kids. It was the friggin’ 80’s. They could afford coke, though, which set them apart.

  19. Any NYC kid will know a ton more about ethnic food than a kid from Tennesee.

    That’s part of the problem. People from parts of the country that are doing poorly are reluctant to move to areas of greater opportunity because of cultural differences.

  20. That said, it was rather intimidating to hang out with this guy and his crowd. While Brooks has become insufferable and his column simply comes across all wrong, his point is accurate.

    The article Rhett linked in his first post states it much better than Brooks did.

  21. Milo,

    What would you do if you came to find out that your values weren’t working anymore?

  22. The other issue with adopting the values and mores of one’s economic superiors is that you need to be careful to distinguish the causative mores (first generation) from the correlative ones (subsequent generations).

    It wouldn’t have done my roommate or me any good to adopt the lifestyle and habits of a rich heir.

  23. “What would you do if you came to find out that your values weren’t working anymore?”

    that’s a pretty open-ended question. everyone has a different threshold for deciding that something is no longer “working” for himself and whether the next option is worth overcoming life’s inertia and the various hurdles in place.

  24. It wouldn’t have done my roommate or me any good to adopt the lifestyle and habits of a rich heir.

    Sure it would. At the very least you’d have pursued a much more lucrative career path in order to finance the lifestyle.

  25. MM – I think Rhett’s point is that you asked questions if you didn’t understand some cultural marker. If you didn’t know what sopressata was, you’d ask without a hint of “are they making fun of me? Do they think I’m dumb?” (You could have felt those things, but you didn’t let on).

    The difference is that other folks (maybe from other places in the country/world, other SES, etc) wouldn’t. They would see those markers as closed doors. And return to their comfort zones.

    “But there are aspects of culture that are important. Simply being able to read big words, which is a problem for many of our students. Knowing people who went to college, so that you know that office hours are important. Knowing that you should start looking for internships in Feb. Knowing that if you are having trouble with your classes, you need to do something about it. Knowing that as a senior, you should have a little 30 second oral blurb about your major and career interests, in case you meet someone that could help you find job opportunities. That is the important stuff.”

    A lot of this stuff I didn’t know how to do before college, or even during. I sorta figured it out by either (a) being told to do something at a certain time or (b) missing the boat. Failing that first test made me realize the value of office hours. I don’t come from traditional-college educated parents. My dad earned his degree in at a PT pace and then 2 years FT when he was married and in his late 20s. My mom graduated high school. I was one of the first people to move away for college at 18 years old in my family.

    My culture (and the rest of my family) do not indicate someone who should have the degrees I do. But my parents did teach me how to ask questions, and to be willing to explore other places/cultures. Thanks to them, I learned quickly that if you’re genuinely curious, people are kind and helpful. If you make the effort, they meet you sometimes more than halfway.

  26. “At the very least you’d have pursued a much more lucrative career path in order to finance the lifestyle.”

    Possibly, but in the example I gave, the lifestyle was only possible based on steady payments from his parents, including what was probably a $2M apartment 15 years ago.

  27. Rhett, I think cultural differences are not the primary reason people are reluctant to move. Most people are reluctant to move for family reasons, either because they’ll lose help with childcare when their young kids are sick or (later) because they have obligations to elderly parents. Plenty of people I know were in the military and handled cultural difference just fine but returned to their geographic area of origin.

    Others have commented on the high cost of living in the highest opportunity areas and the difficulty of starting out in high cost areas without a family backstop. I think this is an issue only for particularly fields (finance, law, consulting) and not more typical professional fields (healthcare, teaching, accounting)

  28. ) because they have obligations to elderly parents.

    That’s a cultural value as well. Others might feel it’s the parents’ duty to save enough to afford their own care without having to rely on their children.

  29. @WCE – I agree completely. I would also say that when I go back to my hometown, there is a significant number of people who just “don’t like big cities”. Big cities not necessarily meaning Chicago/NY/LA either. It also means Des Moines, Rochester, and Madison and even smaller places. I don’t know that it has to do with deli meats. You can buy soppressata at HyVee.

    And like WCE said, the COL adjustment makes it hard to just pick up and move from small town Iowa to NYC or Chicago, especially if you are not 22 and willing to cram into a tiny apartment with 4 other people that you know from college.

    While some of this is definitely true, the whole sandwich shop fabricated example was insufferable. At least I hope it was fabricated.

  30. Milo – I have always loved that Onion article because I know that guy. I know lots of those guys!

  31. Ivy,

    It’s so hoarderish but yet so clean. Maybe their OCD cleaning helps mitigate the hoarding?

  32. “Do the majority of parents want their kids to have a better life than they’ve had if it means abandoning the family’s values? I would guess no. Certainly most toebaggers don’t place a lot of value on their kids having a better life.”

    Huh? I thought the whole Totebag ethos (which was also reflected in Brooks’ characterization of the UMC) was that we deprive ourselves now to ensure our kids have the best start in life, and thus the best chance to succeed at appropriately-sanctioned self-supporting careers? The examples that have come up since then are more the flip side of that that Brooks assigns to the LMC/blue collar ethos, where staying put/following tradition/staying in the church/etc. are more highly valued than maximizing earnings.

    FWIW, I would characterize all of those things WCE mentioned as “cultural differences” — e.g., I was raised with the expectation that I would go to the best college I could get into (wherever that was), the best post-grad (again, wherever that was), and then take the best career option I could get (wherever that was) — with the unifying theme of “potential career/advancement is the highest priority.” That was a fundamentally different expectation from that of my blue-collar classmates, whose families had lived in town for generation, and who themselves were fully expected to do the same. Same with child/elder support — many of those decisions aren’t solely financial ones, but are deep-seated in the perceived importance of having those tasks done by family vs. paid help.

    FWIW, I agree with Milo: I thought Rhett’s linked article explained it much better. There really is an issue here, even if Brooks’ presentation of it was rather insufferable. It’s like the Sneetches, except that the stars are invisible to those who didn’t go through the machine — and then the “right” stars change seemingly at whim.

  33. After looking at pictures on the NY subways this summer, I am glad not to have to endure a train commute in those circumstances. When I used to travel my train was known as suicide special because at least twice people tried to commit suicide right at rush hour.

  34. LfB,

    thus the best chance to succeed at appropriately-sanctioned self-supporting careers?

    I don’t get the sense that you’re Amy Chua’ing your kids into being equity partners at Cravath. Most totebaggers want their kids to stay at the same UMC level. They aren’t moving heaven and earth to move them up a few SES notches.

  35. “Do the majority of parents want their kids to have a better life than they’ve had if it means abandoning the family’s values? I would guess no. Certainly most toebaggers don’t place a lot of value on their kids having a better life.”

    I agree with Laura. I think totebaggers have the assumptions that their kids will do better than they did, so it’s just unspoken.

  36. “They aren’t moving heaven and earth to move them up a few SES notches.”

    You go back and forth between arguing that these sorts of outcomes are mostly baked in through genetic personality, and implying that with the right combination of Amy Chau’ing, parents could have a reasonable assurance that their kids would achieve the seven-figure income threshold before the age of 30.

  37. Rhett – I think most Totebaggers wouldn’t want to be seen as Amy Chua but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t coaching/guiding/berating (nicely) their kids.
    Its the art of unparenting, parenting.

  38. RIP Roland Cazimero.

    I know most of you probably weren’t familiar with the Sunday Manoa and the Cazimero Brothers, but they were a big part of the musical background to my life.

  39. Milo,

    I think there is some role for default assumptions. If you grow up thinking that you can’t keep clean on less than $400k/year, then you tend to aim for those sorts of occupations. If you grow up thinking you can’t keep clean on less than $60k then you aim for less.

  40. “If you grow up thinking that you can’t keep clean on less than $400k/year, then you tend to aim for those sorts of occupations.”

    I think there’s a regression to the mean here that’s far more powerful than you realize. People who truly believe that you can’t keep clean on less than $400k/year are, I presume, setting up trusts for their kids to ensure that lifestyle is maintained despite what will most likely be more modest earnings by their kids.

  41. Rhett – I’m pretty sure that the intergenerational repeatability of an individual earned annual income > $400k is very different from the picture of overall income mobility examined by that study.

  42. I’m pretty sure that the intergenerational repeatability of an individual earned annual income > $400k

    Based on what?

  43. Oh my that house! Those mannequins! If the owner were to perish in the house, no one would notice! (Did you see the mannequin posed *under* the table in the Master? Picture 12 lower right). This house would be on Hoarders if it were any smaller… So.Much.Stuff.

  44. I think that social media is an equalizer and some of you don’t realize how much girls and teen girls learn from complete strangers on Instagram or Snapchat. I’ve traveled a lot this summer into the south and deep pockets of rural upstate NY. I see girls wearing similar clothes in NYC and in rural areas. Fashion and makeup trends are widely known by any kid with a phone or access to the internet.

    Most kids that are applying to a SLAC today aren’t going to show up and be unaware of the stuff that we might wouldn’t have known about 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

    These kids are exposed to the entire world by something’s by they can hold in their palm.

  45. “Based on what?”

    Logic, common sense, and personal observation.

    It can take hard work to make the varsity track team. But let’s say that you did, and you loved it so much that you really want your kids to be on the varsity track team in high school. With the right amount of pushing, and assuming that they don’t rebel against your efforts, you can be reasonably assured that they will make the team. I’d equate that to earning a top-20% individual income.

    Now, let’s say you’re a state champion in your individual event. Do you really think that you can Amy Chua your kids into being state champions in the same event? That you can be successful at this with two, or three, or four kids?

    The further to the right you move on any distribution, the less repeatable it is. $400k individual income is well above 1% (which is normally based on HHI and is skewed by a lot of dual-earner couples).

    Of the people I knew as kids who had wealthy’ish (or even downright wealthy parents), none pursued lucrative careers. And this includes some whose parents sent them to expensive private schools. There are a number of barely employed musicians who work as bartenders and a chef whose parents bought him his restaurant; then the girls seemed to become teachers of some sort.

    Even among this group, of the few who have older kids, there are already a few taking more circuitous routes to even get through college.

    And remember what SoFL said about so many of the young-adult kids in her community and DS’s school: there was little desire to move away (to NY/Wash/etc.) and complete the early stepping stones to highly lucrative careers when the alternative is to live in a mansion at home on FL’s intracoastal.

  46. One time I had an extra seat (bleachers) to a day playoff game, walking distance from the office, and took my then senior VP boss, a blue blood from upstate NY whose grandfather was such a staunch Republican he wouldn’t lick an FDR stamp. He had never been to a major league game outside of box seats or suites, not even as a college kid. He had on his fancy loafers and tailored suit. He had no idea how to behave, cheer/boo lustily or whether his suit would be ruined. He found the experience discomfitingly quaint or some such.

    The difference between him and a working class kid hampered by failure to navigate the class markers (remember, I arrived at my college with a trunk full of clothes I made from McCall’s patterns), is that after his uncomfortable afternoon he retreated securely to his bastion of privilege.

  47. “$400k ain’t that much money. If you said $4 million, I’d agree.”

    lol Classic Rhett.

  48. Milo,

    That’s not what the data seems to show. But the argument may hinge on the percentiles 1% vs. 5% 200k vs. 400k. What the data does clearly show is that the amount of mobility has declined significantly over time.

  49. I honest to God can’t follow the conversation today. Are y’all more disjointed than usual or is this early onset dementia for which I’d better prepare to wipe out my savings?

  50. “That’s not what the data seems to show.”

    1) I think we’re still ironing out the effects of women joining so much of the long-term full-time paid workforce. Give that 30 more years for the dust to settle and look again.

    2) Immediately following the removal of many of the previous artificial barriers that kept certain groups from moving up, you’re going to have higher social mobility. But eventually, your favorite explanation of heritable IQ (and now, assortive mating) is going to reassert itself as the dominant variable, which will limit mobility.

  51. I just realized that part of what bothers me with this whole line of “forget about the 0.1%, it’s the upper middle class that’s keeping folks down!” is that it’s disconcertingly similar to the “you no longer have a pension, so why should those crappy government employees keep theirs?” line of thinking we’ve been seeing for years. In other words, in the face of structural changes in the economy and the dissipation of labor as a force to be reckoned with, let’s scapegoat the people in our community who’ve kept their heads above water, instead of looking for what’s causing the flood. It’s very convenient for that top sliver of a percent that’s invisible to most people because they’re not flying commercial, they’re not working regular salaried jobs, they’re not shopping at the same stores, and so on.

  52. But eventually, your favorite explanation of heritable IQ (and now, assortive mating) is going to reassert itself as the dominant variable, which will limit mobility.

    Right. But in my ideal world where college admission is only based on SAT scores that would still be a big issue. But, if you have a system where it’s SAT scores and a mountain of busy work that can only be navigated with intense parental involvement, that’s a much less fair system. Just because there is a problem doesn’t mean you have to double down on the effects.

  53. I’m not sure what you mean about me doubling down on the effects.

    Do you want the system to rank kids by aptitude and ability or do you want them ranked by aptitude, ability and level of parental involvement?

  54. HM – like your comment.

    I also like LfB’s comment about the information that is available via the internet. People are much more aware of things in the world in general. It depends on whether it interests them enough to pursue it.
    Coming back to the sandwich shop, lots of people I know will decide that they don’t want to pay more than a given amount for a sandwich and will therefore not frequent certain lunch places. It’s not that they don’t know or are uncomfortable with the ingredients, it’s what they are getting for the price.

  55. Rhett, a kid from a modest background with only high numbers and no busywork travel soccer or unpaid whale counting internships can still get into a state flagship or good but not HSS private. She can then catapult into a top law or medical school along with the trust fund kids. You are setting up the tiny HSS admissions lottery as a far more important factor in SES mobility than it actually is.

  56. a kid from a modest background with only high numbers and no busywork

    No class busywork/homework? Are high SAT scores generally enough to overcome a modest GPA?

  57. I’d prefer to leave parental involvement out of if, if that’s ever possible. But I would fear that making it solely about standardized test performance would irresponsibly ignore the persistence/grit factor that I think is often more important to success than raw brain power.

    It seems that standardized tests that are supposed to eliminate cultural and socioeconomic advantages are reduced (too far, imo) to things like visualizing a two-dimensional image as a three-dimensional shape and translating and rotating it about various axes and so forth. It’s an interesting skill, to be sure, but one of limited predictive utility, as I see it.

    If we make it based on SATs, then we’re dealing with the inequalities of preparation, not to mention the question about how to deal with the many requests for accommodations, and the unsolvable question between what constitutes a disability vs. “normal” lesser ability.

  58. Milo said ” things like visualizing a two-dimensional image as a three-dimensional shape and translating and rotating it about various axes and so forth.”

    I’ve always understood that this skill correlates very highly with the ability to learn advanced mathematics. Am I wrong in that?

  59. things like visualizing a two-dimensional image as a three-dimensional shape and translating and rotating it about various axes and so forth. It’s an interesting skill, to be sure, but one of limited predictive utility, as I see it.

    I’ll agree with MM that it indicates the potential to master advanced mathematical concepts and it’s (somewhat) independent of the quality of ones education/test prep.

  60. irresponsibly ignore the persistence/grit factor

    Other than the fact it’s measuring the parental grit factor rather than the kid’s grit factor to a very significant degree.

  61. Rhett, grades count in admissions too, especially at huge flagships that cannot afford the staff to do holistic reviews of 30,000 applications. The kid with straight As from an average non totebaggy school can get admitted to plenty of good colleges, even if his SAT scores aren’t enhanced by prep courses. If he wants to grit his way into the top 20%, there is a path.

  62. Rhett, grades count in admissions too

    Right, but the grades are (increasingly) based on doing the extra credit any coloring inside the lines, not mastery of the material.

  63. Off topic – on account of my concerns about having all of my eggs in one S&P 500 indexed basket, I’ve moved 20% to DODWX and DODGX. The are large (aum $270 billion) with a managed contrarian streak that seems like the best bet for the diversification I seek. Thoughts?

  64. Rhett, a smart driven kid can get good grades without needing the extra credit. Grade inflation is rampant.

  65. Houston that was a fascinating article. I was not able to open the link to the Stanford study and wonder whether some of the racial gap in towns like Chapel Hill stems from overachievement on the part of the white (heavily faculty) kids. There just aren’t enough black faculty at any of those schools to be able to make an apples to apples comparison of the family backgrounds of the two racial groups, not to mention that (presumably) leaving out Asians and other non-black minorities may further distort things. Maybe the researchers addressed those points.

  66. Rhett, a smart driven kid can get good grades without needing the extra credit.

    You seem to agree that the pendulum has swung in favor of busy work and extra credit and away from mastery of the material….doesn’t that trend tend to favor the well parented of the equally able but less well parented?

  67. Scarlett, that totally depends on the school district. Grade inflation is not rampant here, and coloring between the lines is critical!

  68. I think I mentioned that I went out with a mom from the South recently. She has a kid on the AP/honors track in her state, and our conversation very much fell to this topic – harsh grading for violating very specific constraints on busywork. That mom was not happy about it.

  69. Grade inflation is rampant.

    It’s surprisingly absent in the AP / honors classes at my kids’ high school. The regular track / non-tracked classes seem to give out As and Bs as long as the work gets turned in, but the APs will do things like have a significant part of the grade be based on the raw percentage score of practice AP tests (which of course are normally scaled — i.e. a multiple choice performance that would put you on track for a 4 on the test might be less than 70% as a raw percentage, thus giving the student a D in the gradebook.) Non-AP honors classes aren’t so harsh, but still grade noticeably more harshly than the regular track.

    Some kids clearly manage to pull respectable grades, and I suspect keeping on top of *everything* and not letting any opportunity for extra credit pass is a part of it. And kudos to those kids — so many have parents who don’t even speak enough English to be checking the online gradebook so it really is their grit rather than parental efforts. But my son is far from the only boy in honors / AP with crap grades. (His AP scores were all 4 and over though, sigh.)

    I think it’s a bit weird. Is this to prove that the AP / honors track is hard and discourage kids from taking those? And you can tell that the school doesn’t view parents as customers the way the privates do. But, there it is. The students are apparently learning the material reasonably well, which is the important thing.

    Sorry about the digression.

  70. MM, sounds like their school is not the only one then! And I know that with my sister’s kids school in a middle-class but not Totebaggy Boston suburb, the honors / AP classes were known for epic and ridiculous levels of homework as a way to demonstrate their rigor — which of course, if you didn’t do it all, would tank your grade.

  71. Spatial ability matters for higher math. It also matters for tradespeople who read construction, piping and electrical diagrams. And there are far more trade jobs for which spatial ability is important than jobs for which the level of math associated with spatial ability is important.

    I use spatial ability to integrate top-down views of integrated circuits with side views. It’s an area where I am worse than most of my male peers.

  72. Hah! We don’t even get an online gradebook, so we fly blind. Assignments come back graded so late, and often with inscrutable grades, to be worthless in tracking how you are doing. It makes me bananas because I believe an essentail skill for students who succeed is the ability to dispassionately track your own performance in order to improve.
    We can’t even get most of the teachers to state an average on the darn mid-quarter progress reports.

  73. I do well on those spatial ability tests but still turn the map when I navigate (or naggravate as my family says it). Even a small percentage of misdirection due to a brain fart is too high when so readily preventable.

    Or at least I used to, back when paper maps were standard . . .

  74. I have been amazed by the number of applications I read with 1300/32 SAT/ACT scores but high grades in AP courses from non totebaggy schools. My sense was that at those schools — where few kids were maxing out on AP courses and no need to weed out students, the grading standards were not stringent.

  75. How are those students doing on their AP tests? My kid, and the kid of the mom I am speaking about, have been getting 4’s and 5’s so far. And my kid has a 800 on the SAT2 Bio and also on Physics, and a 770 on the SAT Chem. So if nothing else, they are being well prepared given all that pain.

  76. MM, that’s the thing. They are getting 4s and 5’s on the tests. But their SAT scores are below the median for our students. And their writing was usually mediocre. So without a hook they were mostly getting rejected, though they will all get into decent other schools.

  77. Scarlett, if the kids whose applications you’re reviewing are getting As and Bs in the AP classes, and 4s and 5s on the AP tests, that doesn’t suggest they’re benefiting form grade inflation since they’ve apparently mastered the material as measured by an objective standard. I understand that your school would prefer the kids who get the high GPA combined with high AP scores and ALSO have higher SAT / ACT scores, since you have that option, but I don’t see that it follows that the lower SAT kids haven’t earned their As and Bs so long as their AP test results are consistent with those grades.

  78. Scarlett, I would expect different performance from a 32 ACT student (98th percentile) and an SAT M+V 1300 student (87th percentile). Am I interpreting your comment correctly?

  79. DH said that ability to visualize – I guess this is the spatial ability helped him tremendously in engineering. Those students who couldn’t had a harder time of it.

  80. At kids school placement on the higher level
    Math track was determined by test scores, class grades and teacher recommendations. Kid was sick in the last quarter when one of the placement tests was given but got in due to grades, one other standardized test and teacher recommendation. Nothing is mentioned about higher level Math placement till almost the end of the school year, so there wasn’t any advance warning if that was your first child. For kid 2 it won’t be a surprise.

  81. WCE, back to the cell phone for a second — if you’re in the bowels of the building and the battery is running down searching for a signal, put the phone on airplane mode. You’ll save a ton of juice that way. Also, sometimes (not always) phones waste juice looking for bluetooth connections, so turn that off too. Turn them both back on when you’re back on the planet surface.

  82. WCE,
    the hazards of posting by phone. I meant ACT 30. But at our school, students with ACT below 34 and SAT below about 1400 had equally dismal chances of acceptance. But even those kids usually had GPA’s above 4.0.
    HM.
    It may well be that the students are mastering the material, but the point is that so many of them are apparently mastering the material, and therefore earning A’s, that their GPA is no longer a helpful metric in the admissions process. It’s why so many high schools no longer rank their students, and have multiple valedictorians.

  83. Scarlett, I’m guessing you also don’t want the ones with the SAT and ACT over your threshold and good AP scores but GPAs well below 4.0, though ^_^. So I can understand the schools feeling like they don’t want to hurt their students’ chances by grading more harshly than the AP tests themselves do, and I’m sure that’s also a response to parental pressure. The school’s grading is within its own control, and higher grades not only make students and parents happy, they also make students appear eligible for scholarships (including the prestigious ones like national merit or presidential where scores are also important) and for selective colleges. Like I said before, the thing I find more odd is the schools that *are* grading harshly in their AP / honors track.

  84. Thanks RMS. The technical portions of that paper were beyond me, but this comment seems to address, at least in part, what I was wondering about:

    “One thing that is not clear in Figures 2 and 3 is the extent to which achievement gaps vary across

    the U.S. because of variation in white students’ academic performance or because of black and Hispanic
    students’ performance. For example, the white-black and white-Hispanic achievement gaps are relatively
    small in West Virginia and Appalachia; is this due to lower than average performance of white students in
    Appalachia or higher than average performance of minority students? Given the high poverty rates
    (among whites as well as black and Hispanic populations) in Appalachia, one might guess that this is due
    to below average performance of white students, but the map (and our methods of computing
    achievement gaps) does not provide evidence of this. Thus, the data illustrated in these maps is
    informative about relative performance, but not of absolute performance.”

    So, in other words, the opposite dynamic is at play in the college towns, whose white students are disproportionately from Totebaggy academic families while the black students are not (only about 5-6% of tenured faculty at places like Berkeley, Michigan, and UNC are black). The larger gap there is because the white students are over-performing, not because the black students are (necessarily) under-performing.

  85. Which APs? Some of them are a tad fluffy. I have had a couple of students who scored high enough on the Psychology AP to get credit, but were abysmal writers.

  86. That ability to rotate 2D images mentally into 3D shapes, as well as the ability to mentally fold and unfold boxes to see where their patterns lined up, was my super power in high school calculus. I was the only kid in the class who could rotate the images, so I would tell everyone else what solid to expect when doing those problems.

  87. I do agree that grades are really poor predictors, though, so I am surprised that so many universities are stressing grades more than tests now. I see all the data for our CS majors – pretty much all of them have 3.3’s or thereabouts, in college track but non-AP courses (we are seeing more AP but a lot of it is fluff AP). Yet some have SATs around 1400 and others are around 1000. And when I see a kid coming in with a 500 on the math SAT, I just know that kid is not going to survive. Same for the verbal score if the kid is a native speaker. Yet, they all have that same darn 3.3.

  88. “Scarlett, I would expect different performance from a 32 ACT student (98th percentile) and an SAT M+V 1300 student (87th percentile). Am I interpreting your comment correctly?”

    Scarlett’s correction notwithstanding, what I’ve seen at my kids’ school is that the ACT has been looked at as the easier test, so kids who’ve not gotten SAT scores to their (or perhaps their parents’) desires often take the ACT, which often puts them into contention for colleges that they wouldn’t be in contention for based on their SAT scores.

    Every year there are also a bunch of kids who aren’t NMSF, based on the SAT-like PSAT, but become Presidential Scholar nominees, which is based on both SAT and ACT scores.

  89. Scarlett – I’m not sure I agree with you on the idea that a kid can go to “state flagship or good but not HSS private” and then “She can then catapult into a top law or medical school along with the trust fund kids”.

    I can only comment on medical school, but it is very difficult to get into, even for the HSS private kids. Standardized test scores matter a ton, as do extracurriculars (research, volunteerism, leadership). If I wanted to Amy Chua my kids to medical school (I don’t), I am not sure I can do it. It is not a guaranteed destination. The weeding point for doctors is admission to medical school (I understand it is The Bar for lawyers). If you get it, you will almost certainly be able to practice medicine someday (though now residency slots are more limited, that is also in question).

  90. “At kids school placement on the higher level Math track was determined by test scores, class grades and teacher recommendations.”

    At kids’ school, placement into Honors track for science is, similarly, supposedly based on test scores, class grades and teacher recommendations.

    According to my kids, how it actually works is near the end of 8th grade, the science teachers ask their classes who wants to take Bio Honors in 9th grade.

  91. For us, placemen into honors is strictly based on grades. The main way is to score above a threshold the first 2 quarters of 8th grade (they make the placements during 3rd quarter so they only look at the first 2). If you didn’t quite make it but get your average above the cutoff in the second two, then they will reconsider – but only if you have a parent who knows this and makes a fuss.

  92. Anyway, I liked Milo’s analysis. I think I could pressure my kids into a 95%ile job, but not a 99.5%ile job. I’m not sure what the direct path is between my special snowflake’s appititudes and earning 7 figures by the age of 30. Probably because it is high idiosyncratic?

    DH earns >10x what he did when he entered the workforce post college. I imagine had I been at a different medical school in a different city, that could be 5x, or perhaps 50x. Also, had he been +/- 5 years in his career during the 2 recessions, it would have vastly affected his trajectory.

  93. “I do agree that grades are really poor predictors, though, so I am surprised that so many universities are stressing grades more than tests now.”

    That’s a really interesting take, especially coming from you.

    I’ve heard so many times, e.g. during many college recruitment presentations I’ve seen, that generally, HS grades are the best predictor of college grades, although many of them do qualify that. The impression I got was that in comparing students from a given, known, HS, with similar class lists, the expectation is that kid with higher grades and lower test scores will get better college grades than the kid with lower grades but higher test scores (sorry, Mooshi and HM).

  94. I read the black/white college town article and interpreted it as supporting my long-standing belief that it’s class, not race, that matters. In a county that is 0.84% African American, Leslie Robinson’s (niece of Michelle Obama) admission to Princeton set up our African American success statistics nicely. It won’t surprise me a bit if David and Harriet Nembhard’s three children (dual engineering professors- she is head of largest? department on campus) do similarly amazing things for our statistics.

  95. Anyway, I liked Milo’s analysis. I think I could pressure my kids into a 95%ile job, but not a 99.5%ile job.

    99.5 percentile is $450k. 95th is $150k. I’d say $450k is doable for most kids of median Totebag aptitude, if they had the desire.

  96. “Rhett, a kid from a modest background with only high numbers and no busywork travel soccer or unpaid whale counting internships can still get into a state flagship or good but not HSS private.”

    It depends on how high the numbers are and how modest the background.

    A kid with all 800s and 4.0 UW in honors/AP track, who is also from a family in which no one else has even graduated from HS, could well get into a HSS. Such a kid who is also URM has an excellent chance of HSS acceptance.

    “No class busywork/homework? Are high SAT scores generally enough to overcome a modest GPA?”

    I assume GPA is one of the numbers that is high.

  97. I assume GPA is one of the numbers that is high

    I’m not. I’m assuming a curriculum with a lot of busy work with harsh penalties for not putting the proverbial new cover sheets on the TPS reports.

  98. WCE, WRT phones, I’ve bought DD a couple of really inexpensive ZTE Android phones (e.g., ~$25). I had to buy two because she lost the first one.

    She really liked both, as much as she might like phones that are not iPhones. However, her plan is text and voice only over the carrier, and internet access is via Wifi.

  99. “’ve heard so many times, e.g. during many college recruitment presentations I’ve seen, that generally, HS grades are the best predictor of college grades, ”

    Yes, I hear the same spiel. And yet, it isn’t what I SEE. What I see are very tightly clustered GPAs, with wide divergence in test scores and wide divergence in outcomes. Maybe this is becausw we aren’t a HSS. We aren’t looking at kids with a ton of AP/honors courses. They are just normal, college track kids from about 50% Catholic schools, 50% public – spread around both the suburban metro area and the city itself, and some from out of state. For this group, test scores tell me a lot more.

  100. The discussion between ACT vs. SAT made me recall how Iowa had top SAT scores in 1993. I looked up the data and Iowa and Utah were the only states to have a mean verbal score over 500.
    https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d95/dtab129.asp

    Note in the far right column the percentage of high school students taking the SAT by state. It is certainly possible that people who “should” do better on the SAT do better on the ACT because the ACT format suits their skills better, but having a small fraction of students taking either test will dramatically skew the resulting scores.

    https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d95/dtab129.asp

  101. Mooshi, much of the “inability” of ACT/SAT scores to predict college grades is that most science/engineering students have high ACT/SAT scores but their college coursework is graded much more harshly than that of psychology, business and education majors. Controlling for major, I suspect SAT/ACT would be a better predictor than high school GPA. And controlling for courses taken in high school AND grades received would be more predictive than predicting from high school GPA without considering coursework.

  102. Mooshi, following on WCE’s point, I’m curious as to whether you get to see more of your students’ HS grades than just GPA, and if so, whether you see more of a correlation between HS math grades and grades in your classes.

  103. “’ve heard so many times, e.g. during many college recruitment presentations I’ve seen, that generally, HS grades are the best predictor of college grades, ”

    They could just be repeating what was conventional wisdom 20 years ago.

  104. WCE, my recollection is that BITD, ACT taking at my school was largely limited to Mormons planning to apply to college in Utah.

  105. WCE, I’m also wondering if a relatively high %age of SAT takers in places like Iowa and Utah were NMSF taking the test to facilitate becoming NMF and availing themselves of scholarship money.

  106. Finn, over half the SAT takers I knew personally were NMSF. I had to drive 50 miles to the nearest SAT test center and I could take the ACT in my city of 30,000.

  107. I assume GPA is one of the numbers that is high

    I’m not. I’m assuming a curriculum with a lot of busy work with harsh penalties for not putting the proverbial new cover sheets on the TPS reports.

    And that difference in assumptions is where this whole digression ties back to the original topic. If the school Rhett’s envisioning is more likely to be one of the non-Totebaggy ones sending its students to MM’s not-too-selective college, and the school Finn’s envisioning is a Totebaggy one where most of the class has over a 3.5 and where students regularly apply to Scarlett’s highly selective college, then the brightest and most capable students from MM’s feeder schools are going to be at a disadvantage when they apply to Scarlett’s college and its peers. Their 3.3s will suggest a student getting below-average grades at what’s assumed to be an easier school than the totebaggy usual suspects, from a geographic area that is already well-represented in the applicant pool.

    Of course, that’s assuming that there’s more than just anecdata to support the idea that the less UMC-oriented schools are more likely to grade in the traps-for-the-unwary style Rhett described. And even if the effect exists, it could vary from place to place. For instance, maybe the middle class schools in MM’s major metropolitan area are taking major points off for missing the TPS cover sheets but still adequately teaching the AP curriculum, while a rural school (like one we’ve heard about on here before) could be more generous with the grades but failing to teach the curriculum.

  108. Earning their own money is a big motivator for some kids. DH was one of those high test scores, zero homework kids. In a cut throat academic system, he was labeled a sure failure. But he definitely wanted to leave his home town and money was definitely a big motivator for focusing in college. I would think some of the students Mooshi describes will be quite successful even though they aren’t in a highly selective college.

  109. “It’s also most pronounced in wealthy, white schools, and particularly in private schools (although I wonder if the SAT scores in those specific subcategories might justify the As)”

    When i look at our local school that’s not the case. While in some cases AP/Honors courses have tough grading, I’ve seen what HM wrote:

    “The regular track / non-tracked classes seem to give out As and Bs as long as the work gets turned in”

    And as was suggested in a few comments, social confidence can develop from a good education. In addition to the required parental involvement that Rhett mentions, another way low-income children have been harmed has been from the education establishment’s opposition to teaching children a uniform body of knowledge (ED Hirsch was vilified for his Cultural Literacy) in favor of using instruction with content pulled from popular culture or no content at all.  So now we hear sob stories from folks like Brooks that we’re increasing barriers to social mobility by not teaching the “language of privilege“.

  110. Related to the grade inflation, high school graduation rates are up. But many of graduates are not adequately prepared for college. When we hear stories of low-income students failing in college, part of the reason is lack of social support but a big part is that they are simply not ready to do college-level work.

  111. I was musing yesterday about Swell water bottles. I think they were mentioned on here and I when I looked them up, they seemed good for camp.
    I ended up buying a knock off from Amazon.
    When I showed it to my DD turned out kids at her school had them. I have experienced the same with a bunch of other things like fidget spinners, pop sockets, rainbow loom bands, the list goes on.
    So, I do get what Brooks is saying.

  112. My sense is that the non-honors/AP classes, the supposed college track courses, are where a lot of the grade inflation is happening. Those courses, despite their label, do not prepare students for college. I see that even with the non-AP history that my oldest took last year. They do very little writing in that course. He is returning to AP history for the coming year because he is worried that he needs to take his writing up to another level.

  113. I wonder how high schools with a lot of AP offerings can get the staff to teach all those subjects. I used to think AP was only for core subjects but I have realized that I was wrong.

  114. I think a lot of the APs are consolation prizes, so that our school can claim that some high percentage of its students take an AP course. They gatekeeper access to the “real” AP courses pretty tightly by requiring a chain of honors courses leading to the APs, but it is pretty easy to get into the other APs.

  115. I know the conversation has moved on, but I had to share a “cultural” experience this morning. On my drive in, the morning show hosts were talking about last week, when PVD hosted the annual governor’s meeting and some foreign dignitaries were in town as keynote speakers. Anyway, one host mentioned his friend served one southern governor and a foreign dignitary for dinner. The rest of the hosts went on to make fun of the governor and dignitary by claiming that they wouldn’t know how to say some key Italian words to order dinner around here. They put on fake southern accents and mangled “gnocchi”, “Parmesan,” and a few others.

    So ya, maybe those folks Brooks talked about are right – they are being made fun of in a way that would make them feel like they don’t belong, in a way that would close a door to them and make them return home. While these little things are little – people do like to be treated fairly and with respect.

    I realize this is grumpy and only tangential to the OP – but I found myself getting inordinately mad at the radio hosts this morning. I’ll go play alone in the corner now.

  116. “I don’t get the sense that you’re Amy Chua’ing your kids into being equity partners at Cravath. Most totebaggers want their kids to stay at the same UMC level. They aren’t moving heaven and earth to move them up a few SES notches.”

    Ok, I’m sorry I got busy and couldn’t get back to this. Tl;dr: I agree with Milo.

    One big thing is that I think my kid would throttle Amy Chua. I do not tend in that direction, and DD is exceptionally willful and obstinate, and attempting to parent her in that way would have been an epic fail.

    Perhaps more important, I fundamentally and strongly disagree that that version of parenting is good for the kids long-term. I think you are happiest and have the greatest potential for financial success when you find something you enjoy doing/can tolerate/are good at, and then develop your own initiative and perseverance to put in the work. Dictating what my kids do, when, and for how long does exactly the opposite. I grew up limited in activities to what I could afford; one of the great joys of my “success” is being able to let my kids explore different things that *they* might like, regardless of cost.

    I also do not define success as “make a minimum of $400K.” I am very happy with our income, but it is also eminently clear to me that you can be happy and successful and secure making quite a bit less. And it is also eminently clear to me that the path we chose comes with tradeoffs, and that other people can reasonably conclude that those tradeoffs are not worth it. I want my kids to be happy and content in their lives, whether that is CEO of somewhere or staying home with the kids.

    (Yeah, ok, the “staying home with kids” is totally talking through my hat with DD (the “Commander”), who would totally Amy Chua the hell out of any kid and probably drive her DH nuts. DS could probably be happy doing it if he had a garage and a sufficient tinkering budget, but he likes expensive cars. But the larger point remains and completely sincere.)

    Finally, my desires for my kids’ future careers are tempered by my growing knowledge of those kids’ abilities. I have been elated/dejected/frustrated by DD for 16 years now, because she has so much innate potential but misses so many little things, and the gaps are compounding, and I just don’t see the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. So my choices are to ride herd and push her and get all up in her business and get tutors and force medication and all that — basically, Amy Chua the ADHD — and I can tell you exactly what the result would be: she will crack from the stress, be convinced that her academic performance is all that matters, and feel stupid and like a failure because my hovering shows that I can’t trust her and what she can do by herself isn’t good enough. With all due respect: fuck no. That is a massive parental fail IMO. Academic achievement at the cost of my kid’s belief in herself is not worth it. She needs to live her dream, not mine.

    OTOH, DS is freaking brilliant in that intuitive way that I am more familiar with, and he naturally throws himself into projects/work in a way that makes you smarter. I am counting on his financial success to buy me my beach house — unless he decides to be a theoretical physicist, in which case I’ll settle for a Nobel Prize. :-)

    But none of this has anything to do with not wanting my kids to be as financially successful as we are. I’d love it if they both made a bundle, because then I’d worry less about them and any future grandkids. I just don’t want them to think that their success in my eyes is determined by their salaries.

  117. “it is also eminently clear to me that the path we chose comes with tradeoffs, and that other people can reasonably conclude that those tradeoffs are not worth it.”

    This, for sure. It is unlikely that more than one of our kids will ever earn what DH does now, but they all well know the tradeoffs and even the apple still stuck to the tree, so to speak, is probably not willing to make them.

  118. LfB & Scarlett,

    That totally makes sense of course. I’m just contrasting it with immigrant families I know in which each generation is expected to do better than the last. I would also add that families making $50k not $270k also feel the same way and don’t see a lot of value in aiming for more than what they consider middle class. I raise that to object to the quote in MM’s article where they felt that parents wanting their children to do better than they did. That attitude is actually quite rare.

  119. Edit: I raise that to object to the quote in MM’s article where they felt that parents wanting their children to do better than they did was somehow universal. That attitude is actually somewhat rare.

  120. “I realize this is grumpy and only tangential to the OP”

    Rhode: This is exactly the point–not tangential at all.

  121. Rhode – I mispronounce words even though in my head I know how they are supposed to be said. This morning internet memes came out as mimes, which my kids caught right away.

  122. “I think a lot of the APs are consolation prizes, so that our school can claim that some high percentage of its students take an AP course.”

    Exhibit one would be AP Psychology.

    Rhode’s anecdote reminded me of an experience from about 30 years ago that still makes me cringe a little inside. At a swanky company dinner I was the first to order, pronouncing lobster bisque as “bis kay”. The next diner ordered the same thing, pronouncing it correctly of course, and I wished I could have disappeared under the table. It’s a little thing but I still remember it today.

  123. Rhode, what kind of morning show was this? Most of the shows I listen to are too polite, but there is a lot of stupid junk like that on the morning sports call in shows that my husband listens to.

    In truth, though, if you listen to a morning show down South, you will hear the same stuff directed at Northeastern politicans – a fair amount of making fun of Italian-American and New York accents, and so on. Remember, we aren’t supposed to be PC any more. All in good fun, right?

    On FB, someone I know posted a list of the “most white-trailer-trash towns in Indiana”, complete with photos of people with no teeth and trash littered trailer parks. It was pretty offensive. The person who posted it, a proud Trump voter, lives in one of these towns and she posted it mainly to complain that her town was ranked slightly above another one. I know some of those towns, so I posted saying that I thought the list was disrespectful to everyone in those towns.

  124. I expect that my kids will have a similar income and lifestyle to us. Hopefully with more stability. We’ve protected them from the ups and downs, so I’m not sure that they understand the trade offs.

  125. I have never ever been able to say gnocchi. My mouth cannot form that sound.

  126. On the original topic of multigenerational UMC cultural markers, it is really not about the earning power of the next generation or moving up the financial ladder or even the cost of things. My first husband and his family still look down on me because the hierarchy of professions is scientist-professor, rabbi/ humanities professor, physician, engineer, attorney, dentist, government or NGO, and for girls – teacher, nurse, artist/artisan. Everything else is working with vulgar money, trade or clerical. So those who do something with computers and the Patent office paralegal and the artsy females rank above the finance pro and the accountant. But you have to fine tune it. Opera at the Met is a bit too much conspicuous consumption, unless you live in NYC and sit in the upper balconies. A 6 afternoon subscription at the local symphony, and some regional theater, okay. Eco tours are great, even if expensive. Paying for first class airfare to get there, showy. Paying full price for chosen private college, okay, even if not HYPS. Paying huge prop tax for top school district, okay. Driving a luxury car, not okay. High priced deli meat, okay. A 20 oz prime steak, not okay.

  127. “parents wanting their children to do better than they did was somehow universal. That attitude is actually somewhat rare.”

    My experience through the years has been that parents DO want their kids to do better. OTOH, around me reverting to the mean seems to be occurring among my peers. We strived* and made it, but our kids had it handed to them and they don’t seem to have the same drive.

    * Comes up as incorrect, but apparently either strived or strove is acceptable. What is the more appropriate form for the elite crowd? ;)

  128. My experience through the years has been that parents DO want their kids to do better.

    Do meaning what? As in a first generation Asian immigrant parent? Or do as in the abstract sense that it would be nice but not all that much of a priority?

  129. “We strived* and made it, but our kids had it handed to them and they don’t seem to have the same drive.”

    Out of curiosity, what are they doing?

  130. “Do” as in trying to get a better education for their kids and better paying jobs, even though the parents may not know how the system works so they don’t always know how to make it happen.

  131. “Out of curiosity, what are they doing?”

    You mean the kids? They don’t focus as much on jobs that pay all that well, and they’re more lackadaisical about doing well in college. Now, these kids are mostly still in their twenties so things may change as they realize their choices will not provide them the lifestyles they grew up with. But also, back to a point made earlier, in some ways it’s easier to go from working class to UMC than from UMC to upper UMC.

  132. I think most parents want their children to do well. However, in some groups success means live nearby, don’t abandon the values of the family, and all the better if you can make enough money to support a bunch of parents, grandparents and cousins or buy/manage real estate so that everybody has a place to live and an income stream. The values of the family may include procreation in one’s twenties, whether married or not. They may include not getting above one’s cultural station. With a number of kids, one can leave home to make money, or do foreign missions/take a religious vow, or join the military, but some need to be around locally and the others often come home at some point.

    In other groups doing well means a fancy education and a respected profession or worthy poorly remunerated activity. It means that the parents have an obligation to have plenty of money to pay for their own late life care, for as much education as the kid wants, and to help financially with grandkids or leave a good inheritance, and the kids have an obligation to succeed on those terms and not fall below their cultural station (financial fall is okay, see above and my previous post).

    For both groups of parents, chronic drug addiction and lifelong mental health issues are an unsuccessful outcome. Lifelong financial insecurity or poor financial judgment is not success, but it may just be an acceptable corollary if the person ticks all of the other family/cultural boxes.

  133. We strived* and made it, but our kids had it handed to them and they don’t seem to have the same drive.

    My family resembles this comment.

  134. Meme – that sounds exhausting to figure out.

    I don’t care if my kids are more successful. There are definite downsides and what is the point of husband working so hard if the kids can’t have things a little easier (this is how I see it; he genuinely likes working like he does).

  135. Birdie – Divorce is always awful, but there was an upside to this one in losing the need to deal with the in laws for several decades. I don’t have to figure it out anymore, just live my life and help my kids to deflect their occasional unreasonable demands (not all that difficult since they are in their 90s and it is a matter of courtesy, not control).

  136. Mémé, it’s so odd that my mother was one of your in-laws.

  137. I have had a very tough time trying to convince my DS that neither his parents nor society requires that he do better than we did, in terms of both salary and education level. He simply refuses to believe that this standard/expectation is not in place for him. (And he’s certain that because of this, his current detour away from college is a huge disappointment for us, despite our telling him many, many times that this is not the case).

    He didn’t get this idea from me or DH, and I can’t imagine my ex and/or his wife would have ever stated or implied that this expectation exists.* I asked DS to consider taking the non-existence of this expectation on faith for a while until he figures out I am right about it. I suppose even if he eventually realizes we don’t have this expectation of him, he may always carry it for himself. I hope that won’t be the case.

    *My ex and his brothers have all done wildly better than their parents. I’m not sure my siblings and I have done even as well as, let alone better than, our parents. It may seem to DS that we have, but no way would he think it was exponential. Still, maybe this is why he concocted the idea–and maybe he’s going by what his dad did because he’s a boy. Who knows where kids come up with their theories.

  138. “But also, back to a point made earlier, in some ways it’s easier to go from working class to UMC than from UMC to upper UMC.”

    For kids who are smart (or at least school-smart), this is true IME. At least, it was certainly true BITD. My grandmother was a domestic servant, my mom was a secretary, I was a lawyer. It would be much harder for one of my kids to become a hedge fund manager than it was for me to go to law school.

  139. My husband and his sibs all managed to migrate from the working class to UMC, without going to fancy colleges or majoring in anything remotely lucrative (except for husband, but he ended up in a different field anyway). I think it was just easy back then.

  140. It would be much harder for one of my kids to become a hedge fund manager than it was for me to go to law school.

    That’s like 10 levels up. If your peak earnings were 180k how hard would it be for them to hit an inflation adjusted 280k?

  141. But I do see, in the white UMC, a studied indifference to the financial ramifications of kids career choices. Parents in that set are very proud when junior majors in aquatic policy or medieval Chinese art. I don’t see that attitude in the Asian UMC families though, at least the ones I know.

  142. “But I do see, in the white UMC, a studied indifference to the financial ramifications of kids career choices. ”

    Best line.

  143. “Rhode, what kind of morning show was this? Most of the shows I listen to are too polite, but there is a lot of stupid junk like that on the morning sports call in shows that my husband listens to.

    In truth, though, if you listen to a morning show down South, you will hear the same stuff directed at Northeastern politicans – a fair amount of making fun of Italian-American and New York accents, and so on. Remember, we aren’t supposed to be PC any more. All in good fun, right?”

    MM – it was a top 40 morning show… equivalent to Todd and Jayde In the Morning on PLJ. And I understand exactly your point – that this happens everywhere. I learned to drop my Jersey accent while living in FL because I was constantly made fun of and told I didn’t belong. A friend’s father referred to me as “that damn Yankee”. It was loving, but I got the point – I’d never belong. Hell, I barely belong in RI because I haven’t been here since the Mayflower crash-landed on a damn rock. I get the sub-text from the generations-long dynasties that exist.

    We talk about how the UMC can’t change the world – but we can. Maybe not be political ways, but in little ways. Instead of lamenting people’s inability to cross the sub-culture divide, maybe make the journey slightly easier. Had just one person outside of my college bubble extended an olive branch, I may have stayed. That happened here in RI – a few folks outside of my little bubble made it that much easier for me to live here.

    Bisque, quiche, quinoa, gnocchi – words that don’t sound the way they are spelled are the death of me. Like July, I had a moment in a restaurant in San Diego where I asked for the quinoa burger, but I said “kwin-no-ah”… a friend took pity on me, told me how to say it properly. My response – well why don’t they spell it that way!

  144. My Dad’s family was one that did not care about the financial ramifications of kid’s choices. They were rather as Meme describes with fancy educations but with no jobs let alone jobs that paid poorly. My Dad was the only one who was financially successful.
    I think probably a lot of that is due to my mother who couldn’t understand how people could think the money would last forever and not work at all.

  145. “But I do see, in the white UMC, a studied indifference to the financial ramifications of kids career choices. ”

    Among the middle class, working class and poor there is also the issue of not understanding how the world works. I’m sure we’d all agree that on average, an accounting grad from Bentley or Babson is going to have an easier time finding a well paying job in their field than someone with a master in creative writing from Brown. A lot of kids and their parents don’t really understand that.

  146. Risley – it probably stems from a comparison to what his friends and peers are doing. Even if he has determined that a certain path is not right for him, till he finds a different group, that type of feeling will continue.

  147. I think it does work a bit different for boys, Risley. My FIL has a PhD in physics – went to Harvard on the GI Bill after WWII (his father did not attend college and went into business with his own successful immigrant father, lost it all in the Depression), and he was not a huge success at being a professor, but eventually went to work for UNESCO in Paris. My ex has only the one Harvard degree, and is a software engineer when he works. Not surpassing Dad, lower on the family pride scale and he has dealt with that all his life. My sons have state college (not flagship) degrees, do computers, not surpassing Dad but their issues with him have more to do with his emotional remoteness. They don’t particularly value HSS but I think they harbor resentment vis a vis their sisters on having to go to public secondary school since they weren’t up to earning a scholarship to private. (the sisters resented for years that the boys didn’t end up doing as many chores). Equal opportunity parental resentment. My Mom had a good job as federal court reporter. Her mom was married in the old country at 16 and had 10 kids. You know my story, surpassing Mom in education and professional status, surpassing financially on an income basis but with a larger family and a late start more or less breaking even on that measure. My girls on average equalled me in education, one chose a career more like grandmom’s and one has surpassed financially at a young age but with a mid life correction who knows where she ends up on that measure. Cultural capital intact for all. The girls don’t seem to have issues.

  148. MM,
    My experience with the white UMC parent cohort is that they have a very tender interest in financial payoff from the expensive college degrees. I can’t tell you how often I was asked “and what is he going to do with THAT?” when other parents earned that one DS was a history major. Comparative dance or 17th century poetry would have been quite beyond the pale. Remember, most UMC parents aren’t paying for expensive colleges out of their current income — it takes a financial sacrifice of savings and loans.

  149. My experience with the white UMC parent cohort is that they have a very tender interest in financial payoff from the expensive college degrees.

    I don’t know about that. The more HS the school the less they worry. In my experience, they should worry.

  150. “99.5 percentile is $450k. 95th is $150k. I’d say $450k is doable for most kids of median Totebag aptitude, if they had the desire.”

    This comment makes me wonder if Rhett is delusional or if I am somehow disconnected from reality. I think it is FAR from “doable” for most median Totebag kids to make $450K and takes more than just “desire”. And when in their careers? At 30?? No way. Only a sliver will make that, no matter how many AP classes they take or ass-kissing of blue bloods they do. It is 0.5% for a reason – it is a tiny subset of people that make that much money.

  151. That’s like 10 levels up. If your peak earnings were 180k how hard would it be for them to hit an inflation adjusted 280k?

    Pretty hard, or a lot more people would be doing it. I’m with Ivy on Rhett being delusional (I say that with love) with his comments about how easy it is to make a lot of money.

  152. Ivy, ITA.
    A kid with brains and soft skills and willingness to jump through the requisite hoops MIGHT be nudged towards a partnership in Biglaw, but the road is narrow and there are few who find it. Luck is a huge factor.

  153. no matter how many AP classes they take

    There’s your problem. There are so many other paths that are a lot easier than AP/Big Law. I think many of you have a very narrow field of view when it comes to career paths, how much they pay, the barriers to entry, etc.

  154. Rhett, of course there are other paths, but the Biglaw or consulting or medical specialst paths are clearly marked even if narrow and steep. Other paths, such as perhaps the one that led to your current position, tend to be discovered rather than followed.

  155. Other paths, such as perhaps the one that led to your current position, tend to be discovered rather than followed.

    True but you need to be open to them. If you’re not even open to their existence it’s going to be hard to discover them. The totebag ethos seems to be that there is just one arduous grind and maybe that’s not entirely accurate.

  156. ” Other paths, such as perhaps the one that led to your current position, tend to be discovered rather than followed.”

    Yes, and there still aren’t that many of them. That salary is statistically rare. Period.

    The payrolls at the places that I have worked – filled with professionals, sales douches, consultants, engineers, and all kinds of fields – have had a whole lot of people making $100-250K, but very, very, very few making over $450K. And never people making $450K at 30. I’ve never worked at a hedge fund though.

  157. The payrolls at the places that I have worked – filled with professionals, sales douches, consultants, engineers, and all kinds of fields

    I was watching Island Hunters the other night and they had to white trash idiots with $4 million to spend on a island. What business was the family in? Marinas. I can’t imagine too many totebaggers (other than maybe Milo) telling their kids to reject the offer from E&Y and take the job with a marina developer.

  158. For those who have high income as a goal, you have to have a spouse who shares that goal and thinks the trade-offs are worthwhile. Not all individuals (or families) are suited to the requirements of a demanding job. I am discussing this article with a friend (dual PhD couple, no kids) whose husband entered patent law in middle age.

  159. There are also far fewer opportunities for a Totebag parent to help her kids find those other paths, beyond the counsel to be “open” to them.

  160. white trash idiots with $4 million to spend on a island. What business was the family in? Marinas.

    But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to make lots of money in marinas. They may come off as uncultured, even stupid, but I’ll bet whoever is actually running that marina business has a good instinct for the business. IME business sense does not correlate (either positively or negatively) to cultural capital / academic intelligence. And people with high IQs are not immune to the Dunning-Krueger effect.

    It reminds me of a particular client of my old firm. The guy did indeed come off as an idiot, but boy was he successful in running his businesses. One time when he was in town he called his handler at our firm to ask about a message his hotel had left for him, “I got a message telling me to call the con-see-urge. What’s that? Am I in trouble?” Of course, the hotel was actually wanting to make sure it provided white-glove service to this high flyer.

    So who’s the idiot, the guy with the Midas touch who’s never heard of a concierge (or Midas), or the highly educated lawyers working 12 hour days and scrambling for his business?

  161. “I was watching Island Hunters the other night and they had to white trash idiots with $4 million to spend on a island. What business was the family in? Marinas.”

    LOL. I agree with Scarlett and Ivy, but this is funny. And I think what you’re getting at are the Millionaire Next Door opportunities.

    I didn’t see that episode, but I’m guessing that this couple has probably spent 20 years pumping gas, ringing up beer and bait, and changing oil on outboards, AND they had a bit of luck for it all to compound to that level in their 50s. That’s 20 years of working almost every weekend, NOT being the ones necessarily enjoying the boats, and probably not engaging in all the Totebaggy Saturday activities like travel soccer. There are huge tradeoffs to that path. It’s not like they just happened upon a really lucrative marina for sale that came with an instant income of $450k.

  162. Rhett – The marina owner who sold me my boat was a recovering chemical engineer who wanted a change of pace.

  163. the highly educated lawyers working 12 hour days and scrambling for his business?

    But he was NMF! That’s certainly better than dirtying your hands with anything remotely entrepreneurial.

  164. but I’m guessing that this couple has probably spent 20 years pumping gas, ringing up beer and bait, and changing oil on outboards,

    They were in their 20s one sporting a neck tattoo. I assume they are the kids of those couples. They said both sets of parents owned marinas.

  165. I used an online calculator and 450K was 99.5%Ile for individual income. On that point i disagree with Rhett but 450K was 99.2%ile for household income, and there i do agree with him when we make the Tote bag assumption that we are talking about married couples. I have a great deal of respect for all of our posters, and I say that for 95 per cent, at age 48 each one could make 225K in a former or current job/profession working full time, and only a few have a life path that is outside that possibility. Now we have plenty of part timers or at homes or retirees and one can use a bit of a regional mulipliers or haircut, but not having gross income in that ball park is a choice, not a default state of affairs.

  166. “at age 48 each one could make 225K in a former or current job/profession working full time”

    I don’t think so. There are engineers, academics, researchers, non-physician health care providers who do not have realistic options to earn $225k.

  167. There are engineers, academics, researchers, non-physician health care providers who do not have realistic options to earn $225k.

    I think Meme is saying due to a series of decisions they made that it wasn’t important. If it had been important at 25 then it would have happened by 48.

  168. I was going by the “in a former or current job profession”

    I’m sure there was a path where you could have parlayed your security clearance and some IT skills you acquired into a $225k Booze Allen gig, for example.

  169. “there was a path”

    Sure, and there still is, in exchange for a lot of tradeoffs. I guess I was thinking of someone working strictly as an electrical engineer, or a professor, what is the likelihood, without a job change, of reaching $225k?

  170. Busy work day and just catching up. Wanting to get all incensed about the disdain for AP Psych and AP Art. Are those ridiculous because all Psych and Art classes are ridiculous? Because (unlike econ or literature or whatever) there are no objective standards for these topics? Because they don’t lead to a $225k Booz Allen gig? (see, I’m bringing it back around).

  171. Not the easiest website to navigate, but AP Studio Art has standards! And Examples!!

    It’s almost like Studio Art classes that colleges offer. For credit!!

  172. in exchange for a lot of tradeoffs

    Two points:

    1. For totebag kids. In my experience one way to increase your career progression and income is to take on more risk. Job A is secure but with limited opportunity while Job B is riskier but with a lot more upside. If you have a IRA that’s been fully funded since you were 14 and parents who can spot you a few mortgage payments then there really isn’t that much risk. That’s one way a kid with an entrepreneurial bent could leverage their background to get ahead.

    2. In terms of tradeoffs you seem wedded to the idea that you can only work harder to get ahead. But, working smarter is also an option. It’s not in anyway a given that more money has to come with more work or less flexibility.

  173. $225k each at age 48…
    Employer risk/opportunity is an important factor. For me, if life age 45-50 had been what it had been age 40-45 in terms of career/compensation progression, it still would have been a stretch but possible if the annual bonuses were somewhat better than target. But, employer risk. And that set me back quite a bit. And, if it were all about the amount on the paycheck (vs deciding to stay here let’s say), I had a couple of opportunities in faster-growing and somewhat higher cost areas that may have put me more solidly on the $225k by 48 path. May have. One of the places went belly-up about 4 years after I got the offer. DW, OTOH, had she decided she wanted to be the successor CEO in her family-owned (as in her family’s) firm and stepped up the effort…piece of cake. But she didn’t want that, including not wanting to move to that area. (our world view is that we’ve really enjoyed having extended family at a distance, for the most part). Hell, if she’d taken that path she might now be making all the money in the family and I’d be happily retired or pursuing a hobby as business. Many, many people make the decision that e.g. top 10% is plenty good enough and it lets us do other interesting things.

  174. I did say 95 percent of our posters. That was meant to allow for the academics who don’t have side gigs as expert witnesses or patent holders, and teacher DH who sometimes posts, so maybe it should be 90 percent. Whatev. And current or former was meant for those who made a career change or chose government over private. In house counsel at 48 is making that kind of money. Rhett frequently points out that we have a lot more alternatives than we acknowledge, at any age.

  175. I don’t think so. There are engineers, academics, researchers, non-physician health care providers who do not have realistic options to earn $225k.

    I could have. My former boss is making well over that in her current non-profit executive director job in Chicago. There are a lot of semi-competent bozos making a ton of money as ED’s in non-profits, and I’m nothing if not a semi-competent bozo. You have to be willing to move a fair amount, and you have to be willing to kiss the collective (and individual) ass(es) of the Boards of Trustees, and you have to have a certain set of soft skills that I have but usually don’t use.

    $450K is more challenging. Now you’re talking about pretty big non-profits, and you’re probably going to need to be a white guy (I’m just looking around at the reality), and you’re going to need some soft skills that start to go beyond what I’ve got. You’re going to have to be able to look all starry-eyed and lovestruck at some oily, gross, super-rich donors who make racist comments (true incident from my past) and just generally behave in a way that I can’t do, or can’t easily do, or won’t do.

    But the option is there.

  176. Rhett – You’re not wrong, but the after-tax difference wouldn’t be all that significant, and we’d likely have to move, which comes with a whole other set of calculations. I think that we figured out an optimal balance for us in terms of compensation and time and costs. There is no way that DW would have kept working a few years ago if I had chosen that path, and then where would we be?

    The way it’s turning out, sustaining two more-modest incomes over the long haul means we’ll come out ahead. The tax structure favors this path.

  177. Milo,

    That’s perfectly fine. I was thinking more advice you’d give to a college or high school student. We all have different life experiences. Mine has taught me that working smarter not harder has a lot going for it. You seem to think there is a 1:1 (or less) relationship between working harder and making more. The world is far more complex than that.

  178. “You seem to think there is a 1:1 (or less) relationship between working harder and making more.”

    Not generally, but more to my specific situation.

  179. “In my experience one way to increase your career progression and income is to take on more risk.”

    I guess, but I think I’m the only one here who scrambles for health insurance and a paycheck on an annual basis, so I can speak to this. Risk = stress and instability. I’m fairly risk tolerant, but the conversations DH and I have might give many Totebaggers ulcers. How many people know how much cash their company has in the bank, because cash = getting paid? How many people accrue their income for months at a time, because their employer does not have the cash to cover their pay? Not knowing if they will ever get that money or not…

  180. Houston, I personally know more millionaire-next-door types than people who have ever had W-2’s with high numbers, partly because of where I live and have lived. In most cases, one spouse has the steady job with medical insurance and the other spouse worked hard at the business. They usually lived on one income for years at a time to invest in the business.

    In short, your example resonates with my experience.

  181. Risk = stress and instability.

    Would that be true for your son at 28? Worst case if Acme Widget goes bust you can pay his rent/mortgage and health insurance until he gets on his feet. Sort of like that article we read where the pediatric GI resident’s mom wired her $5k to take the edge off.

  182. Rhett: You’re absolutely right. However, I hope I’m not grooming DS to be an entrepreneur. I hope he becomes a corporate drone at Exxon, where he will get a pension, steady work, and an insane paycheck.

    WCE: We generally live on one income because we have to. When DH gets his income, it comes in chunks and usually gets saved. However, since we don’t know when/if he will get paid, it causes stress. We have no idea what we will make in 6 months. It has always been this way.

    Good news: My job has been extended for another year. Yay, health insurance!

  183. My spouse is very, very risk tolerant. Because of this, he has been able to make a bundle when most of his professional school classmates are UMC. What allowed him to take on this risk is that he did it without a big financial cushion before we had kids, had a good family backstop and has an optimism and belief in his own skills that is far beyond the average person’s.

  184. I hope he becomes a corporate drone at Exxon, where he will get a pension, steady work, and an insane paycheck.

    Maybe that insane paycheck at Exxon requires a stint as a wildcatter? And what’s your objection to the risk if there really isn’t any risk? If he said, “I can drone along for another 10 years and maybe make VP, or I can get a job at Acme Wildcatting and move up much faster.” Would you say, “Totally go with Acme Wilcatting, worst case we can float you until you get back on your feet?”

  185. Interesting discussion about going for the higher salaries. IME many of my peers who have achieved the 99.5%iile are survivors who have weathered the high risks and business failures that come with the territory of seeking tippy top money. There are many who did not survive and in some cases took a substantial hit to their lifetime incomes. It sounds as if Houston knows this world.

  186. There are many who did not survive and in some cases took a substantial hit to their lifetime incomes.

    The same could be said for many corporate drones who end up laid of in their late 40s early 50s.

  187. I agree 100% Rhett. DS has a summer internship that jives well with your description.

  188. but not having gross income in that ball park is a choice, not a default state of affairs.

    It’s also not nearly as easy to get there as Rhett makes it out to be. Even if you work smarter instead of harder, you still have to either have unique skills that will get you that highly compensated, or have the interpersonal/soft skills to get the connections to get into a position that pays that much. There’s a reason less than 1% of people earn that much – it’s not that simple.

  189. My Dad had his own business and did pretty well but my Mom’s job was the insurance. She did well in her job but because it was in the government not private sector it didn’t pay as much as her title would suggest. She got a pension and a medical allowance. She also got loans at a discounted rate. We never had to deal with my Dad’s business going bust fortunately.
    We were well aware of the tradeoffs, parents who worked a ton of hours outside the house not common at that time and place. My mother’s role and hours were even more uncommon.

  190. Meme – I agree with you, but I think making $225K at age 48 is a completely different ballpark from making $450K at any age.

    There are also lots of small businesses barely getting by – so even the House Hunters, neck-tattoo marina owners are an outlier in the context of all marina owners.

    “It’s also not nearly as easy to get there as Rhett makes it out to be. Even if you work smarter instead of harder, you still have to either have unique skills that will get you that highly compensated, or have the interpersonal/soft skills to get the connections to get into a position that pays that much. There’s a reason less than 1% of people earn that much – it’s not that simple.”

    Yes, I totally agree with this too. And luck. There’s a right place/right time aspect to getting promoted or recruited into a higher-level position, even if you have the network, the soft/hard skills, etc. And from a sales perspective – same thing. To get above a certain level, you need to have the right client list, product offering, etc – and that is partially luck as well. Same thing with being an entrepreneur.

    ” It’s not in anyway a given that more money has to come with more work or less flexibility.”

    This doesn’t align with my experience at all. I know plenty of people who make $100-150K and don’t work that hard, but I don’t know/haven’t ever worked with anyone who makes $450K and doesn’t work 24/7 and need to be “on” ALL the time, including Christmas, 2am, and the day of their dad’s funeral. That’s a BIG jump in salary and responsibility, regardless of the field.

  191. “Grade inflation is rampant, as 47% of high school graduates have an A average (while SAT scores decline):”

    My guess is that a big reason GPAs are going up is the increasing prevalence of weighting grades, e.g., for AP and honors classes.

    “It’s also most pronounced in wealthy, white schools, and particularly in private schools (although I wonder if the SAT scores in those specific subcategories might justify the As)”

    Exactly the sort of schools that would have a lot of AP and honors classes.

  192. “And luck. There’s a right place/right time aspect to getting promoted or recruited into a higher-level position, even if you have the network, the soft/hard skills, etc. ”

    I totally agree. Luck is a huge factor.

  193. Ivy,

    1. There could be a regional component. To be in the 1% in MA you need to make $539k in a place like VA it’s 306k.

    2. Meme may be closer to the truth with the HH income.

    3. I still think there is a Totebag blind spot for the lucrative but less prestigious or academically focused career paths. The marketing VP of a pontoon boat manufacturer vs. a former McKinsey guy working in startups in NYC.

  194. “The marketing VP of a pontoon boat manufacturer vs. a former McKinsey guy working in startups in NYC.”

    Yeah, I’m thinking if the exterminator company owner can pay his employees $70k ~ $80K, how much must he be making? Or Bob Duncan supporting all those kids and having that huge house and an intermittently employed wife as the owner of an exterminating company with one employee?

  195. I can’t readily find data, but one key point about “top one percent in income” is how many people are there only once, or very intermittently. Think about business people who make a high income every few years or only when selling their business or attorneys who have a large settlement in a particular year.

    The more interesting question is what occupations are consistently in the top 1% of income for, say, over half of one’s working life or for the years that one desires it, like Mr WCE’s uncle, who returned from environmental consulting at ~50 and now manages his investments, including his ranch.

  196. “Think about business people who make a high income every few years or only when selling their business or attorneys who have a large settlement in a particular year. ”

    Or:

    Someone who cashes in a bunch of options, or sells a bunch of stock, e.g., to facilitate buying a house.

    Someone who takes a severance package for, say, half a year of salary, plus getting paid for accumulated vacation time and sick leave and getting all options immediately vested but having to exercise them right away, then jumping to another job.

    Someone who sells a house and realizes a large capital gain.

    BTW, I just realized that one occupation that doesn’t necessarily require really high intelligence, or even a college degree, that has the potential to pay very well, is real estate agent. Find both buyer and seller for a single median value house around here, and gross commission is about $48k.

  197. “consistently in the top 1% of income for, say, over half of one’s working life or for the years that one desires it, like Mr WCE’s uncle”

    Or PTM’s buddy.

  198. Quite a few UMC families assume a level of risk when they decide that one person should shoot for the higher level job that would put them above say the $450k mark. Others may decide that it is better for two people to work at a less intense pace but together pull in a similar amount.
    The only case, I saw that didn’t work was in the recession when an executive I knew who was on an upward trajectory lost his job. Even though his peers all landed on their feet, he didn’t. His wife entered the work force because they still had young kids. He eventually got a job but didn’t enjoy a similar level of pre recession success or prospects.

  199. “He eventually got a job but didn’t enjoy a similar level of pre recession success or prospects.”

    this is where I channel MMM. At that point, it shouldn’t matter. If he had been making $450k, then they should have been saving an annual $150k-200k all along.

  200. My observation is that being in the top 5% over many years of your working lifetime correlates with more “traditional” totebaggy careers and is easier to attain than being in the top .4% over any length of time.  No doubt I’d love a big multi-million dollar payout just one time but that’s a much riskier goal and unattainable for most who attempt.

    I can’t readily find data, but one key point about “top one percent in income” is how many people are there only once, or very intermittently. 

    A couple of posts from economist Mark Perry expand on this, with data on the 1%.

    Tracking the same US taxpayers over time shows significant income mobility from 1996 to 2005

    The bottom chart above displays data for the top three highest income categories for US taxpayers: the top 10%, top 5% and top 1%. For the top 1% of US taxpayers in 1996, more than half (58.5%) had dropped to a lower income group by 2005, although most (87.8%) remained in the top income quintile in 2005.

    This statistic illustrates that the top income groups as measured by a single year of income often include a large share of individuals or households whose income is only temporarily high. Put differently, more than half of the households in the top 1 percent in 2005 were not there nine years earlier. Thus, while the share of income of the top 1 percent is higher than in prior years, it is not a fixed group of households receiving this larger share of income every year.

    Evidence shows significant income mobility in the US – 73% of Americans were in the ‘top 20%’ for at least a year

  201. A more relevant metric would look at the total earnings over a 30-year period, then take the average of the 30 years, adjusting each for inflation.

    For individual earners, I would guess that it would be something like $80k to enter top 5%, and $125k minimum for top 1%.

  202. At that point, it shouldn’t matter. If he had been making $450k, then they should have been saving an annual $150k-200k all along.

    If he’s 35, having $750k saved isn’t going to make not making $450k not matter.

  203. Yes it would. Because the key at that point is that they’d have a lifestyle that only cost $100k to $150k, rather than one that cost $300k.

    And if they’d already paid off the house, that’s one less large bill to meet every month.

  204. “port-a-potties”

    A hiking friend and I were talking about this the other day and it seems that this business could be ripe (!) for growth in non-industrial applications — cities and parks, for example. Maybe it’s already a thing and I’m unaware. Also, yesterday in chatting with the power washer contractor I gained more insight into another non-totebaggy 1-percenter. Just based on his recent trips he seems to be doing all right.

  205. Because the key at that point is that they’d have a lifestyle that only cost $100k to $150k, rather than one that cost $300k.

    And their retirement dreams have been dashed as their retirement date or lifestyle will be dramatically reduced.

  206. Most people who make $450k aren’t saving $150k-200k/year. After taxes/401(k)/other deductions, they probably take home ~$275k. Maybe if they live in a LCOL area they are only spending $75k/year. But not around me.

  207. Birdie – 401(k) deductions count as savings.

    I agree that most don’t. But they should. They don’t have to live around you.

  208. Very few people who live around my parents make $450k. Tons of people near me do. So whether they should or not, I am not so sure. We could never save that much on $450k.

  209. The people near you who do could keep their jobs and move to different areas, or move into a townhouse or condo.

    “We could never save that much on $450k.”

    Why not?

  210. But they should.

    A lot of that would hinge on the career path. My friend the CIO was out of work way longer than expected because the higher you go the harder it is so find a new job. Many places don’t want to put a CIO in a director role. Also, once you go into management you start to loose your technical skills so you can’t even go back to that. On the other hand, if you’re a network security consultant making that much, it’s probably not something you need to worry too much about.

  211. The cheapest 3 bedroom that doesn’t have crazy condo fees in my zip is ~$700k. With that and property taxes, I don’t see how we make it work in a reasonable manner with 3 kids.

    I guess we could move out 15 miles and add an hour to my husband’s commute, but that sounds really dumb. Better to put the extra money in the house and live closer since the kids will eventually get that $ anyway.

  212. cities and parks, for example.

    There are huge fights about this in some areas. Some people argue that it’s best for the homeless to have someplace to “go”, and others say it will just encourage more homeless people to hang around.

  213. We had a porta-potty outside the house for the workers when the basement was being remodeled (it was all arranged by the construction company). Every single night someone knocked it over. I think the porta-potty business might not be as easy as it seems.

  214. I think we should have a post about all the non Totebag ways of earning a good income.

  215. “I guess we could move out 15 miles and add an hour to my husband’s commute, but that sounds really dumb.”

    Then there’s a hell of a lot of people who are pretty dumb.

    Obviously, you can comfortably afford what you’ve got, and it sounds like it’s pretty stable. But for the high earners who are not in such stable employment circumstances, my advice stands about living on half until investment income makes up the difference.

  216. Rhett – The only consumption we’re talking about here is expensive real estate. Paying $1.5M or $2M, rather than $500k or $750k, for a single house doesn’t do much to stimulate the economy.

  217. Milo $750k is only $3750/month. That doesn’t get you anywhere near your savings goal.

  218. “Then there’s a hell of a lot of people who are pretty dumb.”

    I don’t think so. Doubt there are many people making $450k+ who are choosing to commute 1.5 hours each way every day so they can save $200k a year. They pay up for the more expensive house near me. If they lose the high paying job and cannot find a suitable replacement, they move then.

  219. The extra $3750 a month is $45,000 per year. Add the extra taxes and insurance, and you’re close to $60k per year. That’s a huge chunk of my savings goal.

    How much do you assume they’re typically saving already?

  220. That’s a huge chunk of my savings goal.

    It’s 30%. The other 70% would make your and MMM lifestyle impossible.

  221. “The other 70% would make your and MMM lifestyle impossible.”

    Going back to Birdie’s hypothetical $275k take home after 401(k) and all other taxes/deductions, and let’s say $120,000 to PITI on a $1.5M house with no down payment, where’s the remaining $155,000 going?

    That’s almost $13k a month, after housing is paid for! What the hell are they spending it on?

  222. What the hell are they spending it on?

    The goods and services sold by the component companies of your index funds?

  223. Obviously, but $13k a month worth?

    They could save a lot more if they wanted to.

  224. They could save a lot more if they wanted to.

    Obviously, but if people did that your and MMM lifestyle would be impossible.

  225. 1) We’re not in any danger of that happening on a significant scale.

    2) It’s only a temporary measure until investment income catches up.

    3) It’s one economic theory. And it treats “savings” as putting it under a mattress, whereas what we’re actually talking about is investing in the sort of capital expenditures that expand productivity and economic growth.

  226. we’re actually talking about is investing in the sort of capital expenditures that expand productivity and economic growth.

    We have all the investment capital we need, hence the low interest rates. There are few productive investments that can’t get funding. The last time we had a dramatic increase in global capital accumulation it caused the financial crisis.

  227. We also have all the college graduates we need, hence the degreed baristas.

    That doesn’t mean attending college is bad advice.

  228. That doesn’t mean attending college is bad advice.

    It means everyone attending college is bad advice. It’s interesting that you and MMM react the same way to the paradox of thrift.

  229. Or, to put it another way, it’s in your profound best interest that no one follows your advice.

  230. Nah. You’re still ignoring the parts that, on the individual level, it’s entirely temporary. That’s where I break with MMM.

    Whether we buy a ton more crap from the mall now, or a small yacht in 10 years, shouldn’t make much difference.

  231. it’s entirely temporary

    But the yacht in 10 years requires the index components do well for the next 10 years. You’re not getting the yacht with the S&P at 845.

  232. oh good grief. there is no way that every single American is suddenly going to cut spending by 50%.

  233. there is no way that every single American is suddenly going to cut spending by 50%.

    You better hope not or you’ll be working till you drop.

  234. “A more relevant metric would look at the total earnings over a 30-year period, then take the average of the 30 years, adjusting each for inflation.”

    Perhaps a better metric would be something like a rolling average of the previous 5 or 10 years.

  235. “That’s almost $13k a month, after housing is paid for! What the hell are they spending it on?”

    I bet people save about $5k of that. Spend $8k on everything else. Groceries of $1500, utilities/internet/phone of $1000, clothing of $1000, kid stuff of $1000, $1000 on entertainment/babysitters, $2500 on misc stuff – gifts, furniture, vacations, car stuff, housekeeper, lawn guy, pool membership. Who knows. Stuff adds up pretty fast. You would probably die if you looked at our monthly expenditures. It surprises me every month.

  236. “That’s almost $13k a month, after housing is paid for! What the hell are they spending it on?”

    Someone here was considering spending about half of that on tuition for two kids.

  237. ” utilities/internet/phone of $1000″

    Holy crap that is a lot for utilities/internet/phone. A/C is expensive for a big house in swampland, eh? ;) But yeah – I agree. It’s not hard to spend $8K/month, especially including fixed bills and food.

  238. Gas & Electic $175/mo
    Water $25/mo
    Cable/Internet $210/mo
    Landline $56/mo
    Cell (5 people) $310/mo
    Trash Collection $35/mo
    Total $820 for us. Clearly there are some easy economies available.

  239. “Clearly there are some easy economies available.”

    Well, the landline seems effectively redundant, assuming $200 cable/internet includes VOIP. And you can cut cell phone down to two people, and let the kids figure out their own plans.

  240. The $56 landline jumped out at me too. Is that a typical cost? We pay about half that for ours, but I’m thinking I should ask our cable company what the marginal cost would be to bundle that with our cable/internet.

    I’m also thinking the cell phone bill could be cut. I’ve been seeing a bunch of ads for Boost Mobile offering $100/4 lines of unlimited data.

  241. BTW, my sister was asked why she still has a landline, since she always tells us to call her cell.

    Her answer: “so I can find my cellphone.”

  242. Ivy – it hit 98 here today. I took my kids to my parents a few weeks ago. It was so pleasant. Low to mid 80s in the day. Can turn off the air at night. This area is pretty miserable in the summer. My air conditioner runs nonstop.

  243. I’m also thinking the cell phone bill could be cut. I’ve been seeing a bunch of ads for Boost Mobile offering $100/4 lines of unlimited data.

    Sprint still has the free year deal going until the end of the month if you have or can get compatible devices.

    We still have a landline, but we only pay about $15 a month for it. Our alarm system still runs through it.

    People here have posted about having heating bills over $600 a month.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s