Yale, Women, & the Tournament of Meritocracy

If you can get into Yale or the University of Kentucky, which should you go to? It depends

Economists have now found, again using excellent methods widely accepted by researchers on the left and right, that, for a male student admitted at a highly selective school like Yale, it doesn’t matter where he goes. If he goes to Yale, he’ll do fine surrounded by brilliant peers. If he goes to the University of Kentucky, he’ll do fine as a big fish on campus.

But for women, attending a highly selective school has massive effects. A young woman admitted to both UK and Yale faces a resounding choice about her future life. If she chooses Yale, odds are that her annual income when she is 40 will be about 40-70 percent more. However, her odds of ever getting married are about 25 percentage points, or about one third, lower. Crucially, her odds of having a higher income rise only if she gets married! {…}

In other words, Yale doesn’t make women better off: it makes women who win the meritocracy tournament better off, and leaves the rest no better off, but with plenty of debt and no spouse. Crucially, the study authors can’t say exactly why this is happening, but a substantial driver seems to be about spousal characteristics. Going to Yale seems to make women marry much higher-earning men than going to UK does, even for women of similar family backgrounds and SAT scores. Either Yale women find these men, get married, and end up as a wealthy power couple, or they hold out for the perfect guy… forever.

This is the best sort of fascinating: The kind where it’s difficult to draw conclusions from. For women choosing between Kentucky or Yale it does sound like a lot of other choices for people (generally) in the upper middle class: High risk/reward meritocracy vs comparative safety with a lower ceiling.

Lyman Stone goes on in a tweet thread:

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2 thoughts on “Yale, Women, & the Tournament of Meritocracy

  1. If she chooses Yale, odds are that her annual income when she is 40 will be about 40-70 percent more

    Based on the abstract, it looks like this should say earnings rather than income. “Income” often refers to household income, whereas earnings only refers to personal earnings. So this isn’t driven simply by marrying higher-earning men.


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