College as the US Class Mobility Stiffler

Higher education is not the class leveler American like to believe it is.

The post-war US built an excellent multi-tiered higher educational system that offered clear pathways for class mobility to the baby boom generation. But this class mobility escalator has stalled, leaving children of working class families still working class, only now they are saddled with crushing higher educational debt.

Graduation Rates

First, class predicts graduation rates.

Chart - College Graduation Gap by Income - NYT - 2018-03-31

Source: NYT 03/26/18.

College Graduate Marriage Rates

Second, marriage rates of college graduates – a prime vehicle for protecting and amplifying class standing — are differentially adverse to working class college graduates of the same elite schools.  Quoting from a Times article:

Marriage rates for young adults just out of college are low across the board. But as people get into their 30s, trends diverge. For example, more than half of Princeton students born into upper-income households in the early 1980s — roughly, the classes of 2002 through 2006 — were married by 2014. They didn’t all marry other Princetonians, of course, but it’s common.

But for Princeton alumni from the lowest-income households — the bottom one-fifth compared with the top one-fifth — the trends are different. Only a third were married by 2014. This pattern holds for other elite colleges and universities. For people born over the five years from 1980 to 1984, the marriage rate for upper-income students who attended Ivy League institutions was 14 percentage points higher than the rate for lower-income students.

Chart - Marriage Rates Select Colleges - NYT - 2018-04-01

See Also

See also this prior blog post on elite education’s stifling of class mobility

Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu referred to education as social capital that can be translated into economic capital.  We see it at work here.

Higher education is not the class leveler that Americans like to believe it is.


Immigration and Crime do not Correlate

“data suggests that either immigration has the effect of reducing average crime, or that there is simply no relationship between the two.” 

A systematic study of the relationship between crime and immigration the “data suggests that either immigration has the effect of reducing average crime, or that there is simply no relationship between the two.”  Crime fell more often than it rose even as immigrant populations increased in areas.

While politicians and other demagogues love blame the “outsiders” and “foreigners” for the problems of our community, the facts don’t support their claims.

On the chart below, note how the pink dots representing small and large cities where crime has increased since 1980 cluster to the left of the chart — the less immigrants side of the chart.

Chart - Immigrants and Crime scatter plot - NYT - 2018-03-31

Source: NYT 3/31/18.

Twitter as “Hand Grenade”

Research … finds humans, not bots, are primarily responsible for spread of misleading information.

I have long thought that cable news/talk was a key contributor to the decline in our nation’s democratic discourse.  Cable channels cater to narrow, targeted demographics and the logic of television programming for the benefit of advertisers takes over. Nielsen share trumps nuance and truth.

We now face a new generational sea change in the sources of media erosion of our democracy — the Internet. Cyber makes up for in speed and virility what it lacks in editorial judgment and attention to facts.

Twitter as Rumor Mill

Recent research from MIT’s Media Lab identified the growing proliferation of false claims on Twitter (see chart below).

False Twitter Posts - NYT - 2018-03-10

Human Sources

Importantly, the sources of the proliferation of false information are…. wait for it …. primarily humans, not bots.

The report had several other findings that are disturbing to those of us enamored of truth.

  • False news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories are
  • It takes true stories about six times as long to reach 1,500 people as it does for false stories to reach the same number of people
  • Regarding Twitter’s “cascades,” or unbroken retweet chains, falsehoods reach a cascade depth of 10 about 20 times faster than facts
  • Falsehoods are retweeted by unique users more broadly than true statements at every depth of cascade


You can read the Science article here.

You can watch a video on the genesis of this study here.


Is the Truth Too Hard to Hear?

Fact checking might even be counterproductive under certain circumstances.

The below excerpt from an MIT Media Lab paper on false news on Twitter, reviewed the research findings on the limits of false news debunking work.  It is dismaying.

Despite the apparent elegance of fact checking, the science supporting its efficacy is, at best, mixed. This may reflect broader tendencies in collective cognition, as well as structural changes in our society. Individuals tend not to question the credibility of information unless it violates their preconceptions or they are incentivized to do so. Otherwise, they may accept information uncritically. People also tend to align their beliefs with the values of their community.

Research also further demonstrates that people prefer information that confirms their preexisting attitudes (selective exposure), view information consistent with their preexisting beliefs as more persuasive than dissonant information (confirmation bias), and are inclined to accept information that pleases them (desirability bias). Prior partisan and ideological beliefs might prevent acceptance of fact checking of a given fake news story.

Fact checking might even be counterproductive under certain circumstances. Research on fluency—the ease of information recall—and familiarity bias in politics shows that people tend to remember information, or how they feel about it, while forgetting the context within which they encountered it. Moreover, they are more likely to accept familiar information as true (10). There is thus a risk that repeating false information, even in a fact-checking context, may increase an individual’s likelihood of accepting it as true. The evidence on the effectiveness of claim repetition in fact checking is mixed (11).

Although experimental and survey research have confirmed that the perception of truth increases when misinformation is repeated, this may not occur if the misinformation is paired with a valid retraction. Some research suggests that repetition of the misinformation before its correction may even be beneficial. Further research is needed to reconcile these contradictions and determine the conditions under which fact-checking interventions are most effective.

Another, longer-run, approach seeks to improve individual evaluation of the quality of information sources through education. There has been a proliferation of efforts to inject training of critical-information skills into primary and secondary schools (12). However, it is uncertain whether such efforts improve assessments of information credibility or if any such effects will persist over time. An emphasis on fake news might also have the unintended consequence of reducing the perceived credibility of real-news outlets.

Quoted from: The science of fake news. Science.  09-March-2018.  By David Lazer, Matthew Baum, et al.


NRA’s power is in mobilizing voters, not their campaign contributions

Far more than any check the N.R.A. could write, it is this mobilization operation that has made the organization such a challenging adversary for Democrats and gun control advocates

Far more than any check the N.R.A. could write, it is this mobilization operation that has made the organization such a challenging adversary for Democrats and gun control advocates

Lobbying and dark money in politics is bad and distorts our democratic system of one person one vote, but eligible voter complacency is the worst distorter of the people’s will.

Chart: Who Votes in Midterms

There are three ways to compel a democratically elected government to act:

  1. A revolution – overthrow them.
  2. Agitation that is strong and so pervasive in the media, and yet sympathetically covered, that the voting majority is influenced by the group’s actions in their voting choices.
  3. Voting.

Chart - Who voted in 2014 midterm - NYT - 2018-02-28

Source: NYT 2/28/18.

Economist, Albert Hirschman described disgruntled citizens’ options: Exit, Voice, or Loyalty.  Voting is voice.