The “American Dream”—the idea that through hard work and perseverance, anyone can individually improve their situation in life. Core tenants to the Dream are upward mobility and financial independence.
The trouble with this is that, while the idea is your hard work will pay off, you are reliant on others to give you the money that makes upward mobility and financial independence possible. Hard work is generally rewarded, but we’ve all had a slacker colleague getting paid as much or more than you do.
Because you are reliant on others, you have to be the person they want to hire. And you have to do the work they want you to do. Also, if you’re very good at a job that a lot of others are willing to do, they will pay you less than if you are just OK at a job that not a lot of others would be willing or able to do.
All of this to say—there’s a lot more to a person’s economic situation than hard work. And yet this idea of the American Dream is generally completely reliant on an individual’s effort.
You’re … given a score out of 100, with scores starting at 45 to reflect a baseline of individual effort. “We realized if we did not have that floor some might feel as if their own efforts were being discounted,” McKinnon says. If you score less than 53, that means you have all factors working in your favor and have less to overcome; 54-65, the majority of factors have been on your side; 66-79, you’ve had more working against than for you; 80 and above, you’ve been dealt a tough hand.
By getting people to think more holistically about the factors that contribute to success, McKinnon wants to break down what he sees as the two most harmful fallouts of the self-made-person mythology that still persists in America. “On the one hand, you have this idea of the American Dream, and that’s important to have in a way because it gives people hope,” McKinnon says. “But then I started wondering: Is it actually limiting?” Take a school that’s clearly underperforming, McKinnon says. “Instead of fixing the school, people can point to the two kids that made it out and say: Why doesn’t everyone work as hard as they do?”
My score was a 67:
While hard work contributes to success, each of us have encountered different people, experiences, systems, and services that have helped or hindered our efforts.
Factors that help me include:
- Able to tap into a strong social network
- Had a pretty good childhood
- Worked pretty hard
- Access to a good education
- Blessed by some good fortune
- Benefited from public goods and services
- Your race may have resulted in more opportunities
Factors that I work to overcome include:
- The economy wasn’t as strong when you entered the job market
- Needed to develop strong character traits to cope
- Your parents may have struggled to give you all you needed
- Grew up in a place that it was hard for people to move up
- Experienced some health issues
- You were more likely to be discriminated against based on gender
For comparison, I redid the test three times—once as a white male, once as a black male, and once as a black female. Other than the demographic changes, all answers were the same.
- If I were a white male, my score would be 63.
- If I were a black male, my score would be 67 (same as white female with same context)
- If I were a black female, my score would be 70.
I really appreciate this tool, as it takes so many differing contexts into account. While clearly race and gender play a role, the scores were actually a bit closer than I had anticipated.
Take the assessment. What’s your score? Did it surprise you?
The Score is funded by GALEWiLL and the Ford Foundation.
Image Source: Mike Keefe, intoon.com