Brad DeLong discovers Cultural Capital

by Kieran Healy on October 16, 2004

Brad DeLong notices a relationship between the PSAT tests and the magazines lying around his home:

Dubbed… declaimed… reflexive… inquisitive… sustenance… enumerated… demeaned…harangue… munificent… straitened… divestment… sinecure… corollary… culmination… manifestation… constellation… amalgam… embodies… sanguine… impudent… reiterating… carapace… antennae…

[I]t’s hard to avoid noticing something about the vocabulary that they are testing. It’s not, by and large, science or engineering vocabulary. It’s not financial or commercial vocabulary. It’s not political or quantitative vocabulary. What they are testing is the high humanistic vocabulary of the Sunday New York Times Arts and Leisure section, of the New Yorker, of the New York Review of Books.

Now we get all three of these publications. And my children thus get an extra edge through this testing process. But is this really what we want to allocate resources based on—whether people’s parents have the NYRoB lying around and whether their children pick it up and read it?

Cultural capital is indeed a vital factor governing resource allocation in contemporary societies. For more information on what might happen to his fourteen-year-old in the near future, Brad should consider reading an oldie-but-goodie article from Paul DiMaggio, 1982, “Cultural Capital and School Success: The Impact of Status Culture Participation on the Grades of U.S. High School Students” (American Sociological Review, 47: 189-201). And for longer-term prospects, there’s Paul DiMaggio and John Mohr, 1985, “Cultural Capital, Educational Attainment, and Marital Selection” (American Journal of Sociology 90: 1231-61).

{ 29 comments }

1

Delicious Pundit 10.16.04 at 5:16 am

Tried the DiMag links, but “can’t get into JSTOR from my current location.” That’s some Stephen Potter-level linkmanship, dude.

2

jet 10.16.04 at 5:19 am

Game. Set. Match. Kieran.

3

paul anderson 10.16.04 at 5:57 am

Brad does make a good point. His question is sensible, and you meaninglessly picked holes in it because . . . .?

He never said that vocabulary is unimportant. He just asked whether this should be the basis for resource-allocation. I think he’s right, and if you thought about it you would realize that you agree with him too – “let’s be sensible about standards and measures when it comes to allocating limited resources”.

I have come to expect better of CT than this.

4

paul anderson 10.16.04 at 5:58 am

Brad does make a good point. His question is sensible, and you meaninglessly picked holes in it because . . . .?

He never said that vocabulary is unimportant. He just asked whether this should be the basis for resource-allocation. I think he’s right, and if you thought about it you would realize that you agree with him too – “let’s be sensible about standards and measures when it comes to allocating limited resources”.

I have come to expect better of CT than this.

5

ogged 10.16.04 at 6:18 am

Paul, I don’t even see where Kieran is disagreeing with Brad, let alone nitpicking.

6

Kieran Healy 10.16.04 at 6:19 am

Brad does make a good point. His question is sensible, and you meaninglessly picked holes in it because . . . .?

WTF are you talking about? I pointed readers to two articles, well-known in the sociological literature but perhaps not familiar to an economist or general CT reader, that _back up_ Brad’s insight that the PSAT favors people with particular kinds of cultural competence, and that empirically confirm that this kind of thing has important consequences for the life-chances of high-school kids. In other words, Brad is right, sociologists have studied this phenomenon, and it has a name. So what the hell is the problem here?

7

The Eradicator! 10.16.04 at 6:40 am

WTF are you talking about?

Well, clearly, you were implying that one of Dick Cheney’s daughter may be a lesbian. And that’s just out of bounds.

Or something like that.

8

seth edenbaum 10.16.04 at 6:48 am

What’s knowledge without purpose?
Pleasure.
Why pursue pleasure for it’s own sake?

Jon Stewart’s audience has been shown to have a more detailed knowledge of the issues than the US audience for actual news shows. Does his audience get their news from him? No. Then why would they want to waste their time watching his show? Why would someone who fictionalizes the news have a more educated audience than the shows that are supposed to explain it?

People who have a subtle sense of pleasure have a sophisticated sense of politics.

DeLong doesn’t take culture very seriously. He’s afraid if he did he’s end up defending organized religion or some other form of illogic.

DeLong asks: Why teach the subtleties of language?

Your reference to cultural capital is not enough of a response I think.

9

jdw 10.16.04 at 6:49 am

_WTF are you talking about? … So what the hell is the problem here?_

Look, if you want people to click the links, you gotta link to porn from time to time. It’s the weekend — we gotta read sociology to make sure we’re in the right before we can get indignant?

10

joel turnipseed 10.16.04 at 6:51 am

… or “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Hate the Blogs.”

Interesting post (that ties in nicely to discussions around other recent education posts) and it immediately decends to idiotic points-scoring.

WTF, indeed.

On a more serious note, wouldn’t it be refreshing if we had a national policy debate that took distinctions of wealth/class/race seriously, specifically how free allocations of cultural/financial capital networks in a “meritocratic” society can create an all-but-inflexible aristocracy (one comprised of the able and rich)? It’s here–and no one seems much willing to talk about it (even as two Skull and Bones men compete against each other for President).

11

se 10.16.04 at 7:02 am

Since I was blocked from the jstor links and the one comment I read took you to task for arguing against BDL, I was a little confused.
I thought there was a disagreement, but I wasn’t sure about what.
Now I’m sure I have the same argument with both of you.

12

The Eradicator! 10.16.04 at 7:15 am

On a more serious note, wouldn’t it be refreshing if we had a national policy debate that took distinctions of wealth/class/race seriously, specifically how free allocations of cultural/financial capital networks in a “meritocratic” society can create an all-but-inflexible aristocracy (one comprised of the able and rich)?

You mean, while people are getting shot at, or can’t afford heating oil?

Yes, that would be interesting.

13

oneangryslav 10.16.04 at 7:24 am

Mr. Turnipseed writes: “On a more serious note, wouldn’t it be refreshing if we had a national policy debate that took distinctions of wealth/class/race seriously, specifically how free allocations of cultural/financial capital networks in a “meritocratic” society can create an all-but-inflexible aristocracy (one comprised of the able and rich)?”

To which the eridicator replies: “You mean, while people are getting shot at, or can’t afford heating oil? Yes, that would be interesting.”

Maybe if we had already had Joel’s national policy debate, people wouldn’t be gettin’ shot at, and we may be heating our homes with something other than heatin’ oil. Just sayin’.

14

the eradicator! 10.16.04 at 7:29 am

Maybe if we had already had Joel’s national policy debate, people wouldn’t be gettin’ shot at, and we may be heating our homes with something other than heatin’ oil. Just sayin’.

And maybe if I could make pancakes from mudpuddles, I could open a Denny’s in my backyard.

15

bad Jim 10.16.04 at 9:46 am

DeLong’s kids are very bright, by his account, and dinner table conversation in his household might be worth videotaping and selling to a select audience.

I nearly aced my SAT’s without the benefit of the NYT, NYR or the New Yorker, but we had the Saturday Review, Life and the Saturday Evening Post, as well as two brilliant parents and a thousand some books on our shelves.

The tests are used to predict which applicants will succeed in the bookish enterprise we call college. If we’re unhappy with the results we need to make changes to the process as well as the tests, though we’d probably do better by focussing on primary and secondary schooling, at least in the U.S.

We really ought to make a second language mandatory in first grade or kindergarten.

16

Nicholas Weininger 10.16.04 at 2:50 pm

One is reminded of the study Thomas Sowell quoted in several of his works, from 1969 (!), showing that the black-white income gap mostly disappeared if you controlled not only for education but also for parental subscription to newspapers and magazines and holding of library cards.

If anybody cares to look it up, the source (according to my copy of The Vision of the Anointed) is Richard B. Freeman, Black Elite (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1976), Chapter 4.

17

jet 10.16.04 at 3:21 pm

My wife has one of her master’s in education and said that cultural capital wasn’t something focused on in her program. I’ve said this before here, but this seems like a good place to bring it up again. “Fixing” school systems seems more about parental education and involvement and less about if the student to computer ratio or teacher salary. Anyone know why parents aren’t the target of most of the eduation reforms? Are they the “third rail” of education?

18

dsquared 10.16.04 at 3:23 pm

Tsk, tsk, everyone knows that SAT tests measure “g”, a single uniform measure of human intelligence that is passed on genetically and determines who will go on to be a university professor and who will be a hewer of wood and drawer of water. Anyone who even implies otherwise is a sociologist, a “blank slate” anti-scientist, and probably believes in God.

Unless, I suppose, it is at least possible that subscribing to the New York Review of Books alters your DNA, or that there is a gene-complex which codes for the Arts & Leisure section. In that case (and only in that case) would this view be acceptable.

19

jet 10.16.04 at 3:37 pm

dsquared,

Wow, who would have thought. The key to human intelligence is hidden the depths the female reproductive system.

20

wd 10.16.04 at 3:39 pm

LITMUS TEST!

21

Robin Green 10.16.04 at 5:11 pm

That’s a very good point, jet. It’s probably because there are more teachers than parents, and therefore criticising teachers loses you less votes that criticising parenting. Cynical, I know.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that the way to proceed is to rail against bad parents in the way that some politicians rail against bad teachers. Rather, parent education – and for that matter, relationship education in general – would seem to be a necessary first step. Why do (try to) we teach our children how to do algebra but not how to be a good parent?? Surely the latter is more important than the former, for most people!

22

atrain 10.16.04 at 5:11 pm

Couldn’t get those links to work. Could you post the articles please?

23

Tom T. 10.16.04 at 5:42 pm

The notion of cultural capital certainly sounds reasonable, but Brad’s suggestion that big words are the province of New Yorkers who read left-leaning publications is perhaps a bit too anecdotal to be useful. After all, each of those “high humanistic” words (except “straitened,” admittedly) also generates hits in the NY Post. Many were from the last month, a few were from the Sports section, and one was even from an article about XBox. Similar searches of other publications might find these words in use outside NYC as well.

24

jake 10.16.04 at 6:51 pm

I recently was rejected from Harvard Law. I’ve taken several IQ tests and received very high scores. My LSAT and grades are good but not exceptional. The rejection is bullshit, IQ scores tell it all. Not only are they sufficient substitution for any conceivable measure of achievment, society should be reformed arounded IQ scores to obtain a more optimal distribution of the labor market.

25

wood turtle 10.16.04 at 7:15 pm

Around here, you have to be careful not to be a fish. Especially a hungry fish.

26

Scott Martens 10.16.04 at 7:28 pm

I didn’t have the Times either as a kid – the magazines around our house were Road and Track, Hot Rod, Popular Mechanics, and Dad’s smut collection, which he thought he had hidden but which I could find unerringly from about age 9 onwards. Playboy‘s pretty good for vocabulary knowledge if you actually read the articles. Penthouse less so. Hustler, no.

However, some salesman did sucker Dad into shelling out for a Britannica when I was about 2, and it’s the first thing I remember reading. I always figured that made a difference. That, and a private prep school. But yes, the point still holds – there is a remarkable overlap between the questions on the SAT, the literature read by the people who do the best on it, and the class most likely to send their kids to a prep school – far too remarkable to be a coincidence.

27

brkily 10.16.04 at 10:05 pm

trying to work through the above links I found this, the theoretical background is rich, “…while variations in educational qualifications may be closely related to variations in cultural competence, the relationship between educational qualifications and cultural practices cannot be explained solely by the operation of the educational system…” my 16 year-old just took a PSAT this morning, and i found this whole conversation to be a hoot! both intellectually fascinating and a huge relief from the whole nauseating politcal situation.

28

theogon 10.17.04 at 3:05 am

I wonder what the effect of the internet is on all of this – after all, anyone with a connection theoretically has access to the highest of the highbrow. Not only that, but the most obscure reference or word can be accessed with equal ease. There’s still that “digital divide,” but I surmise the number of households with internet connections far surpasses those with print subscriptions to any of the above-mentioned rags.

29

Kimmitt 10.17.04 at 8:50 pm

There really is a big difference between it being out there and it being lying around the house. After all, public libraries generally have excellent stores of fine highbrow fiction and nonfiction, and they are quite accessible. But if you don’t have it around on a day-to-day basis, it’s tough to come to like it.

Comments on this entry are closed.