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The Accidental Equalizer: How Luck Determines Pay after College (Hardcover)
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A startling discovery—that job market success after college is largely random—forces a reappraisal of education, opportunity, and the American dream.
As a gateway to economic opportunity, a college degree is viewed by many as America’s great equalizer. And it’s true: wealthier, more connected, and seemingly better-qualified students earn exactly the same pay as their less privileged peers. Yet, the reasons why may have little to do with bootstraps or self-improvement—it might just be dumb luck. That’s what sociologist Jessi Streib proposes in The Accidental Equalizer, a conclusion she reaches after interviewing dozens of hiring agents and job-seeking graduates.
Streib finds that luck shapes the hiring process from start to finish in a way that limits class privilege in the job market. Employers hide information about how to get ahead and force students to guess which jobs pay the most and how best to obtain them. Without clear routes to success, graduates from all class backgrounds face the same odds at high pay. The Accidental Equalizer is a frank appraisal of how this “luckocracy” works and its implications for the future of higher education and the middle class. Although this system is far from eliminating American inequality, Streib shows that it may just be the best opportunity structure we have—for better and for worse.
About the Author
Jessi Streib is associate professor of sociology at Duke University. She is the author of two books, including Privilege Lost: Who Leaves the Upper-Middle-Class and How They Fall.
"Based on hundreds of interviews with business school graduates and the employers that subsequently hired them, Streib’s book ultimately argues that college is not, in itself, the great equalizer; the impossible-to-navigate job market is."
— Inside Higher Education
“That working-class students from state universities do just as well in the job market as better-off students is a remarkable outcome. Even more surprising is that the equalization is actually driven by hiring practices that are so opaque that the graduates are basically flipping coins trying to get hired. Streib’s findings are enormously important for the 80% of all college students who attend those universities and the rocky start it gives their career.”
— Peter Cappelli, author of 'Will College Pay Off?: A Guide to the Most Important Financial Decision You’ll Ever Make'
“Do children born into rich families always make more money than their less privileged counterparts? No! Streib shows that the market for college graduates is a booming-buzzing confusion of idiosyncratic standards, misinformation, and rushed decision-making—all of which undermine the iron law that ‘class matters.’ A striking demonstration that illicit advantage can be countered, provided that one’s willing to infuse the market with lots of noise, luck, and chaos.”
— David B. Grusky, coeditor of 'Inequality in the 21st Century: A Reader'
“We now know that a college education can limit inequalities related to class origin, but very few scholars have tried to explain why. Streib’s engaging, provocative account seeks to answer this question. Rare is the book that challenges well-established beliefs shared by academics and policymakers. This one delivers.”
— Jake Rosenfeld, author of 'You’re Paid What You’re Worth: And Other Myths of the Modern Economy'