How much control do we have?
I often struggle to put my thoughts into words in a setting like this, and struggle even more when the topic is kind of abstract, but I’ve found myself putting a lot of thought into how much control we actually have over our lives, and instead how much our backgrounds define who we become. This is not to say we can’t achieve more than our parents did, but it’s striking to me how often one’s parents’ socio-economic status is the single biggest indicator of how successful they will be. Even when I compare my the relatively small circles of my high school friends with my college friends, the differences in wealth are obvious.
I did a little googling and found out that out of 21 qualifying “developed nations,” the United States ranked 15th in intergenerational mobility. That is, our parent’s income has the 7th strongest effect on our future earnings out of developed countries, ahead of only Peru, Brazil, Argentina, China, Chile, and Italy. Not exactly an inspiring list of countries of which to be ahead.
Here in India, social mobility is even more restricted by the ever-present caste system that even today affects one’s access to education, jobs, and other opportunities. At the Dream School where I’m currently working, there is a massive discrepancy between the performance of the girls at the top of the class and the girls at the bottom. One girl in particular, K., stands out considerably in every single subject, and is essentially fluent in English while the other girls still struggle. For two days she continued to amaze me every time we interacted, but yesterday afternoon she casually mentioned she was a Brahmin. I guess her status shouldn’t take away from her accomplishments, but I felt somewhat disheartened to learn that the star pupil at this school was from India’s top caste. To be fair, I have no idea what this girl has been through, especially considering she’s still enrolled at the Dream School, but I can’t help but wonder if she speaks the best English because she’s a superior student, or if it’s because she’s been exposed to more English outside of school than her peers. I think the same questions can be asked regarding her excellence in other subjects as well.
This is just a single story, and I should remind myself that this isn’t representative of an entire demographic. It’s just frustrating how many prerequisites there can be for success sometimes.