What Makes Kids Successful in the Future Life?
A study explains why some kids are more likely to climb the career ladder as adults.
I was born in the '90s. I spent my entire childhood playing outside with kids from the nearest neighborhoods. We knew each other well since most of us ended up studying at the same school.
When I reached the 5th grade, my mom decided to transfer me to another educational institution with a better ranking. Back then, I didn’t understand why I had to leave my friends and move to a private school. I had difficulties getting along with new classmates.
Despite the emotional shock, I’ve successfully graduated and received a college scholarship. These days, I’m working abroad as a marketing manager at a UX agency.
Once I asked my mom about my childhood friends. I was curious how they were doing. Her answers were quite surprising.
Some of my friends got married and already had kids. Besides, they had a regular 9–5 job while their parents looked after their babies. Nothing special.
Others got addicted to alcohol, dropped from college, and seemed to have no plans for the future.
Even if we met again, we would have nothing to talk about. Everyone’s life has changed drastically.
I wondered why some people succeed in building a bright future while others could not even graduate from school? After all, we’ve all grown up in the same neighborhood.
I’m sure you can also recall a similar situation when someone you know climbed a career ladder faster than others.
I was confused many times and asked my parents, “Why did it happen this way?” However, the answers were rather odd:
“Their parents did not take care of them well enough. They might have spent too much time outside with strangers or they were not lucky.”
These statements sounded like excuses, not the actual reasons why some people are more successful than others.
I wasn’t the only one who raised this question. Apparently, extensive research studies were conducted to find the answers. Here’s one of them with quite interesting implications.
Childhood Environment Affects the Economic Success of an Adult
An average American child born in 1945 had a 90% chance of outperforming their parents’ success in adulthood. Forty years later, this number drastically drops to 50%, according to the study conducted by Stanford University Economics Professor Raj Chetty.
The chart doesn’t show the current stats, but I don’t think they changed much.
Here’s how Raj Chetty explains the effect of the childhood environment on the future success of an adult:
If you look at kids who move to better areas, lower-poverty neighborhoods with better schools when they are young, you see that they do dramatically better when they become adults.
They’re more likely to go to college. They have higher levels of earnings. They’re less likely to have teenage pregnancies.
So in a variety of dimensions, childhood environment — the quality of schools but also the neighborhood you’re living in, resources — really is central in understanding what drives mobility.
In his project “Equality of Opportunity,” Raj Chetty admits it’s difficult to conclude why kids who grew up in one place became more successful than the others. However, his research managed to define five factors that explain why some kids do better than others.
Mixed communities with different income levels tend to provide a diverse environment for kids' upbringing. Children grow and see other kids from different social layers. According to the study, it helps to increase social mobility.
Social mobility is a change in the social hierarchy that occurs when someone moves up the income ladder.
Locations with a larger middle class and less income inequality tend to provide more opportunities for children and, thus, have a higher level of upward mobility.
According to the research study, stable family relationships and two-parent families contribute to higher social mobility levels.
Children tend to mimic other people’s behavior before they develop their personalities. Hence, places with higher social capital tend to help children move up the career and social ladder faster.
Social capital refers to shared norms, values, behavior, a higher level of cooperation, and trust within a community. For example, someone opens a door in front of you, returns a lost item, or helps others without asking anything in return.
According to the study, children who grew up in a supportive environment are more likely to develop empathy and reach a higher social level.
The last differentiating factor is education. Better schools and colleges help people be part of a diverse community, leading to a higher social level.
These reasons do not seem new. People tend to blame the environment, family relationships, and education when they judge others. However, this research study provides empirical evidence and guidance about what’s needed to increase the likelihood of becoming a successful adult.
Raj Chetty himself was born in India, and then his parents moved to the US, searching for an “American dream.” He admits:
“I wouldn’t have the opportunities I had today had I not been able to come to the U.S.”
It’s not a surprise why he started researching the topic of social inequality. He has experienced his share of ups and downs in life. In his research project, he tries to figure out how to give kids more opportunities to succeed.
You Create Your Future Despite the Past
Even though all kids are born equal, the childhood environment, schools, colleges, and close connections impact life. When the “self” is not formed yet, kids can be easily influenced by others.
I remember being out of the most popular student groups since I refused to follow their rules. Social exclusion might be emotionally challenging for young people. However, I always say:
“Think about yourself first. Others’ opinions always come second.”
This rule helped me better take care of myself, disregard critics, and make myself who I am now.
Your childhood environment is just the beginning of your long and happy life. It affects your personality to some extent, but it should not determine your future.
Build the right habits, surround yourself with ambitious people, read inspirational books, dream, and make your dreams come true.
Remember, you create your future despite the past!
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