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Does Hard Work Beat Talent? The (Unequal) Interplay between Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills

Dates:
  • Tue 26 May 2020 13.30 - 15.00
  Add to Calendar 2020-05-26 13:30 2020-05-26 15:00 Europe/Paris Does Hard Work Beat Talent? The (Unequal) Interplay between Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills

A presentation within the Inequality Working Group

Post-industrial societies are characterized by a zero-sum game of stagnant downward mobility from the upper-echelons and scarce chances of climbing up the ladder. I explore whether and how advantaged kids tend to avoid downward mobility from early in life. According to compensatory theories, inequalities by socioeconomic-status (SES) in educational transitions are disproportionally found among low-performing students due to status maintenance drives. However, little is known on mechanisms accounting for this pattern. It has long been argued that non-cognitive traits such as perseverance and motivation might outplay cognitive ability in explaining status-attainment. As cognitive and non-cognitive skills may be complements or substitutes in predicting educational outcomes, I test whether high-SES students compensate for low cognitive skills by high non-cognitive skills in the transition to (academic) secondary education. I further contribute by exploring mechanisms such as teachers’ bias and parental aspirations. I draw from the National Educational Panel Study to study a cohort of German students from grade 1 to 4 of elementary education, when early tracking is enforced to channel students between vocational tracks or the prestigious Gymnasium leading to college. Teachers are supposed to objectively grade and recommend tracks as a function of students’ ability and behaviour. Thus, high-SES parents may have less room to compensate if their kids are low performers at the first important educational transition for social mobility. To minimize selective attrition bias and confounding, I apply inverse probability weights and school fixed-effects. I report four findings: (1) High-SES students at the same level of skills than low-SES classmates are more likely to opt for the academic track; (2) these inequalities are largest among low-skilled students; (3) high-SES students are better able to compensate for low cognitive skills by high non-cognitive skills; (4) teachers’ bias in grading and track recommendations, along with (over)ambitious aspirations of high-SES families, partially account for results. Inspiring popular culture clichés and serious empirical findings claiming that hard work beats talent only seem to work for privileged students. The general findings on compensatory advantage for low cognitive ability, skill substitution, and teachers’ bias pose a serious challenge to liberal normative theories of equal opportunity that evaluate merit as the sum of ability plus effort. Likewise, findings put into question the legitimation of the German system of early tracking based upon selection on meritocratic criteria, which in turn seems to function as a bottleneck that hinders upward mobility.

VIA ZOOM - DD/MM/YYYY
  VIA ZOOM -

A presentation within the Inequality Working Group

Post-industrial societies are characterized by a zero-sum game of stagnant downward mobility from the upper-echelons and scarce chances of climbing up the ladder. I explore whether and how advantaged kids tend to avoid downward mobility from early in life. According to compensatory theories, inequalities by socioeconomic-status (SES) in educational transitions are disproportionally found among low-performing students due to status maintenance drives. However, little is known on mechanisms accounting for this pattern. It has long been argued that non-cognitive traits such as perseverance and motivation might outplay cognitive ability in explaining status-attainment. As cognitive and non-cognitive skills may be complements or substitutes in predicting educational outcomes, I test whether high-SES students compensate for low cognitive skills by high non-cognitive skills in the transition to (academic) secondary education. I further contribute by exploring mechanisms such as teachers’ bias and parental aspirations. I draw from the National Educational Panel Study to study a cohort of German students from grade 1 to 4 of elementary education, when early tracking is enforced to channel students between vocational tracks or the prestigious Gymnasium leading to college. Teachers are supposed to objectively grade and recommend tracks as a function of students’ ability and behaviour. Thus, high-SES parents may have less room to compensate if their kids are low performers at the first important educational transition for social mobility. To minimize selective attrition bias and confounding, I apply inverse probability weights and school fixed-effects. I report four findings: (1) High-SES students at the same level of skills than low-SES classmates are more likely to opt for the academic track; (2) these inequalities are largest among low-skilled students; (3) high-SES students are better able to compensate for low cognitive skills by high non-cognitive skills; (4) teachers’ bias in grading and track recommendations, along with (over)ambitious aspirations of high-SES families, partially account for results. Inspiring popular culture clichés and serious empirical findings claiming that hard work beats talent only seem to work for privileged students. The general findings on compensatory advantage for low cognitive ability, skill substitution, and teachers’ bias pose a serious challenge to liberal normative theories of equal opportunity that evaluate merit as the sum of ability plus effort. Likewise, findings put into question the legitimation of the German system of early tracking based upon selection on meritocratic criteria, which in turn seems to function as a bottleneck that hinders upward mobility.


Location:
VIA ZOOM -

Affiliation:
Department of Political and Social Sciences

Type:
Working group

Contact:
Monika Rzemieniecka (EUI - Department of Political and Social Sciences) - Send a mail

Organiser:
Prof. Fabrizio Bernardi
Prof. Juho Härkönen

Speaker:
Carlos Gil Hernandez (European University Institute)

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