It looks like the American Dream – which promises that if you work hard and use your brain, you can find success – is alive and well. After a 25 year study that followed over 2,000 Americans, researchers have demonstrated that it isn’t your connections that determine your professional trajectory, it’s your intelligence.
In a world where famous people’s kids seem to be taking over the acting industry, there seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence to the contrary. Apparently, even though the box office seems populated by progeny like Lily Collins, it’s the Jennifer Lawrence‘s of the world who we need to remember. In a fashion industry filled with Nicole Richie, Stella McCartney and Ivanka Trump; Alexander Wang is the rule, not the exception.
The researchers found that while a well-connected and socio-economically stable family could help young professionals score a high-paying entry-level position, it couldn’t help them move through the ranks of their company. In other words, that fancy pedigree could only move a person so far.
Once working, brainpower was the true indicator of a person’s advancement. Those who scored highest on standard Army intelligence tests were promoted quicker and reached higher pay levels in the end. Their abilities helped them to leave even their well-bred peers in the dust.
I’ve worked for a family company, so I understand the frustration behind nepotism. I know the feeling that the deck is stacked against you. And I’ve sat back and watched as family members were given twice my salary for doing a job I had held before. Even if you like your seemingly-lucky co-workers, it’s a difficult pill to swallow.
I don’t think this study is claiming that those things never happen. Obviously they do. I’ve seen them. I’ve smiled through them. But it does give us hope that your family doesn’t always determine your success. It tells us that in the end, intelligence outweighs pedigree. And I think that’s an important thing to keep in the back our minds.
So the next time someone tells you, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” make sure to correct them. Make them aware that family connections will only get you so far.