The Conversation

Wealth Versus Success

This Week's Panel:

This Week's Topic of Discussion:

Is wealth correlated with success? How can success be defined?

Low income hinders college attendance for even the highest achieving students

  • Only 29% of high-achieving kids belonging to the lowest socioeconomic standing obtained a bachelor’s degree.
  • 74% of high-achieving kids in the highest socioeconomic standing obtained a bachelor's degree.
  • The success rate for poor, but high-achieving, students (29%) is less than the success rate for students with lower potential and better socioeconomic standing.
  • 30% of these well-off, yet lower potential, students completed a bachelor’s degree even though they had scored in the lowest quartile in 8th grade math.
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SAT Scores

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  • There’s a very strong positive correlation between income and test scores
  • On every test section, moving up an income category was associated with an average score boost of over 12 points.
  • Students in higher income households are able to afford more SAT courses, text books and SAT practice. They are often able to go to better schools as well as they typically live in wealthier and more educated areas.

Raising Cain


  • Ruben travels 2 hours a day to go to a single sex school
  • In this school, he is much more successful than in his coed school


1. How much money do you need to put into an education in order to be successful?

2. Does gender play a role in success as well?

3. Why do you believe Ruben is far more successful in his new school?


Barbara Ehrenreich

  • Born in Butte, Montana, in 1941
  • Father was a miner, and the other men in my family were either miners or railroad workers
  • Her family achieved middle class status and she was able to go to her second choice college as her first, Radcliffe, was too expensive
  • Got her PhD in cell biology
  • Enjoyed working for a nonprofit organization in NYC
  • Lived the life of the poor: In Key West, Ehrenreich works at two different restaurants and as a house keeper in a hotel. She lives in an efficiency and then in a trailer park. She learns that there are hidden costs to being poor and notes that if you cannot afford the security deposit for an apartment, you are forced to live in a hotel--which is (ultimately) more costly. Next, Ehrenreich moves to Maine because of the virtually all-white low-wage workforce and she lives in a cottage. She works for a cleaning service during the week and for a nursing home on the weekends. She finds that there is little assistance for the working poor. Ehrenreich then works at a Wal-Mart in Minnesota, where she has difficulty finding housing.

Jersey Shore's "Snooki"


  • Born in Chile
  • Adopted at 6 months by an auto salvage manager and volunteer fire fighter
  • Graduated high school
  • Went to a community college
  • Launching her own line of hair care products, her own book, and receiving a $10,000 appearance fee
  • Achieved her lifelong dream to be on TV and is now rich


Is Snooki successful? Is this success better or worse than another type of success?