Most of us don’t buy the Divine Right of Kings. Sure, its cute that assorted countries from Europe to Asia have inbred-to-the-degree-of-being-funny-looking hereditary monarchs and nobility, but we like to believe that success is largely a factor of our own abilities. In our society, its OK that some people inherit vast sums and others inherit nothing because the societal mythology is that unworthy people who inherit vast sums regularly end up with nothing, and people who inherit nothing regularly end up at the top of the heap.
But… what is the minimum acceptable amount of social mobility for us to conclude we live in a world where who your family is trumps the rules of capitalism? How do we measure that point and assure ourselves we’re past it? And bear in mind – even in a feudal society, social mobility was possible – a peasant who saved the life of a king could become nobility, and a noble who insulted the king could find his family stripped of land and title.
In the study, U.S. researchers randomly assigned 136 young children in Bucharest’s six orphanages to either keep living there or live with foster parents who were specially trained and paid for by the study. Romania had no foster-care system in 2000 when the research began.
The team chose apparently healthy children. Researchers repeatedly tested brain development as those children grew, and tracked those who ultimately were adopted or reunited with family. For comparison, they also tested the cognitive ability of children who never were institutionalized.
By 4½, youngsters in foster care were scoring almost 10 points higher on IQ tests than the children left in orphanages. Children who left the orphanages before 2 saw an almost 15-point increase.
Nelson compared the ages at which children were sent to foster care. For every extra month spent in the orphanage, up to almost age 3, it meant roughly a half-point lower score on those later IQ tests.
Children raised in their biological homes still fared best, with average test scores 10 points to 20 points higher than the foster-care kids.
So… to repeat my questions… what is the minimum acceptable amount of social mobility for us to conclude we live in a world where who your family is trumps the rules of capitalism? How do we measure that point and assure ourselves we’re past it?
Update. Minor changes to phrasing of the first question.