Reposted from the Economist:
Compared to those of days past, today’s elite are by and large more talented, better schooled, harder working (and more fabulously remunerated) and more diligent in its parental duties. It is not a place where one easily gets by on birth or connections alone. At the same time it is widely seen as increasingly hard to get into. Some self-perpetuation by elites is unavoidable; the children of America’s top dogs benefit from nepotism just as those in all other societies do. But something else is now afoot. More than ever before, America’s elite is producing children who not only get ahead, but deserve to do so: they meet the standards of meritocracy better than their peers, and are thus worthy of the status they inherit.
Part of the change is due to the increased opportunities for education and employment won by American women in the twentieth century. A larger pool of women enjoying academic and professional success, or at least showing early signs of doing so, has made it easier for pairs of young adults who will both excel to get together. Between 1960 and 2005 the share of men with university degrees who married women with university degrees nearly doubled, from 25% to 48%, and the change shows no sign of going into reverse. Assortative mating of this sort seems likely, on average, to reinforce the traits that bring the couple together. Though genes play a role in the variation of intelligence from person to person, this is not a crude genetic determinism. People tend to encourage in their children what they value in themselves and their partners. Thus people bought together by their education and status will typically deem such things important and do more to bring them out in their children, both deliberately and by lived example—processes in which nature and nurture are more than likely to work hand in hand.
Not only do graduate couples tend to value education; they also tend to have money to spend on it. And though the best predictor of an American child’s success in school has long been the parents’ educational level—a factor which graduates are already ahead on, by defintition—money is an increasingly important factor. According to Sean Reardon of Stanford the past decades have seen a growing correlation between parental income and children’s test scores. Sort the students who took the SAT, a test for college applicants, in 2014 by parental income and the results get steadily better the further up the ladder you climb.