I Wonder if This Is Related?

Megan McArdle had a stat the other day that was pretty depressing, related to the number of kids of middle class African-Americans that appear to fall back into poverty:

A chapter of the report released last fall found startling evidence
that a majority of black children born to middle-class parents grew up
to have lower incomes and that nearly half of middle-class black
children fell into the bottom fifth in adulthood, compared with 16
percent of middle-class white children

That is not good, though I am always suspicious of income statistics (for example, income statistics show me as close to or below the poverty line over the last few years, a function of an entrepreneurial startup).

Then I saw all the silly to-do about Michelle Obama's senior thesis at Princeton (I can't say I honestly even know what my wife's thesis was about).  But what got me to thinking was the fact that as an African-American Ivy League student, she felt compelled to study and write her thesis about race.  I started to remember a disproportionate number (but by no means all) of my middle-class African-American Ivy League acquaintances studied and wrote on the same thing - race.  This means that while I was studying engineering, which had obvious value in the workplace, many blacks are studying a topic that has no marketplace value except to get a very low paying job in a non-profit somewhere.  Which is all fine and good if that is what people want to do, but if blacks are worried their kids are not financially successful, they should consider whether its smart that, while other kids are studying subjects that will get them ahead, their kids are studying a subject that seems to focus mainly on explaining to them why they will never get ahead.

Update:  I want to be careful not to call race / gender / group identity majors "worthless."  Worthless is in the eye of the beholder, and if a student values such a course of study, then it has worth.  However, by the same token, the student should be prepared for the fact that most of the world, particularly the subset called "hiring managers", does not value degrees in majors that have little practical application outside of academia and which have a reputation in general for having low academic standards.  The student does not have to accept the rest of the world's judgement of her degree, but in turn the student can't demand that the rest of the world adopt hers.

In fact, when I made these comments, I didn't know Ms. Obama's choice of course of study.  Knowing that now, it is even more amazing to me that she sees her student debt experience as an average data point indicating a structural flaw in the economy instead of the fact that she chose perhaps the most expensive college in the country and then chose to dedicate four years of study to a major that is nearly impossible to monetize in the job market.

  • Larry Sheldon

    I guess I have been reading Steven Milloy too much lately.

    I'd like to see an analysis of the study by a statistician I trust. (Which would not be me, by the way.)

  • Bob Smith

    If you study a subject that says you'll never get ahead, is it any surprise if you never take any steps to get ahead?

  • JoshK

    I think a lot of that goes for many of the degrees that lefties take in general. There was a good article recently in the times or the WSJ about how various humanities majors were disappointed by the lack of available employment that would allow them to pursue their agendas for a good salary. I think productive skills in science and engineering are almost disdained.

  • http://alfin2100.blogspot.com Al Fin

    Josh is right. Fortunately leftists can go into academia, where competence is not important. Unfortunately, there are not enough tenured positions in gender studies, ethnic studies, postmodernist critical studies, etc. for all the leftists who want tenure.

    A good thing that Senator Obama promises to make the world safe for psychologically neotenous incompetents, there being so many these days.

  • lkoen1

    If Barrack is a public servant with a poor father and Michelle studied a major with reduced likelihood of financial gain, why is their reported yearly income over $1,000,000?

  • Bob Smith


    There was a good article recently in the times or the WSJ about how various humanities majors were disappointed by the lack of available employment that would allow them to pursue their agendas for a good salary.

    That's why so many flock to DC in order to join one of the many worthless (pretty much all of them in my opinion) government-funded NGOs and lobbying groups.


    I think productive skills in science and engineering are almost disdained.

    What good leftist would work in a morally suspect (which all for-profit companies are by definition) profit-making enterprise?

  • TC

    Proof positive that graduating at the top of class in AAS, probably means very little.

    Also rather amazing that it's stated as a "majority of blacks, and 16% of whites" those two comparative figures makes me scratch my head.

  • Bob Smith

    I'm not sure if the "worthless" update was directed at me, but notice that I didn't call the majors worthless, I called the NGOs worthless.

  • Zorkmid

    Well, Michelle Obama née Robinson went on to Harvard Law School after Princeton and got a much more marketable degree than her bachelor's. If she planned all that in advance, then we should admire her cleverness in choosing an undergraduate major which would help her get into HLS (for political reasons).

    The curious thing is that she almost immediately gave up the BIGLAW career to which her HLS degree and politically- desirable race entitled her. So far as I can decipher the story, it was a matter of self-esteem. She decided she would prefer a job where she would generally be one of the smartest people in the room rather than one of the slowest.

    Of course, I agree that leftist-propaganda (oops, meant to type "liberal-arts") and ethnic-foolishness majors generally (who have no hope of getting into Harvard Law School) demonstrate economic idiocy. After they graduate they all-too-often add unjustified resentment to their idiocy, making them willing footsoldiers for leftist politicians, who they (justifiably) hope will reward supporters with appropriate sinecures at public expense.

  • Tribal elder

    As I told my sons, "If you graduate with a degree in art history, the silver lining for me is that I will have a groundskeeper for life."

  • morganovich

    this has an interesting parallel in saudi arabia where a large proportion of men graduate from college with degrees in "islamic studies". i believe the number is something like 40%. this results in a country where despite 25% unemployment, workers need to be imported from all over the world and endemic shortages of skilled workers (particularly technicians) persists.

  • MC-YT

    The thesis was definitely not worthless. The race card is more than just a card, its an ATM machine!

    But we really don't need a good explanation for Megan's stat. other than intelligence. The mean IQ of an African American is 85, a full standard deviation lower than the average. If the distribution is assumed to be normal the average AA is in the 20th percentile of the national average...and half fall below the average.

    Or maybe I'm just "beez ray-cis an' sheet"

  • DKH

    As a student at the University of Arizona, I took an African-American studies (AFAS) class ("The Africana Experience") last semester. A course like this is a requirement for graduation. That is, a student has to take a course on a non-Western culture, or a gender studies course, or a course on class differences as part of a "diversity emphasis." Interestingly, Colonial Latin America and History of Rock and Roll are both classes that qualify as "non-Western." I have no idea what courses the University offers on class differences.

    These courses offer virtually no value to the student. Every year, a debate is generated in the school newspaper regarding the quality and worth of these courses; yet, in four years, I have seen no effort to modify them. The only "value" they have is the fact that they are required if one is to graduate with a bachelor's degree. The concepts in my AFAS class would have been familiar to anyone with a decent grasp of American history and the role of African-Americans in it.

    So, the entire value produced by the professor has nothing to do with the knowledge I gained, but rather the arbitrary desire of the administration to "educate" me about diversity before I get my slip of paper. Granted, the professor also does historical research, but I cannot imagine how I would use the training I received in that class to generate value for anyone.