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‘The Accidental Equalizer’ Review: The Luck of the Job


Jessi Streib’s “The Accidental Equalizer: How Luck Determines Pay After College” examines an important segment of the labor market that gets relatively little attention: entry-level positions for midtier jobs. Most of these positions go to graduates of good—but not elite—colleges and universities and form the foundation of the lower- and upper-middle class.

Ms. Streib, who teaches sociology at Duke University, argues that, for those who graduate from midtier undergraduate business schools, college is a great equalizer; a first-generation college student typically earns as much as a multigenerational graduate. But, she says, the first job you get out of college and what you earn from it are pretty much crap shoots. She calls the system a luckocracy, which, like a meritocracy, describes how jobs, income and power are distributed. “In luckocracies,” she writes, “strategy does not matter and neither do resources correlated with class. Those who win are those who guess well, not those who grew up with the most class privileges.” The primary condition for a luckocracy is a lack of information: Graduates apply for jobs not knowing what they will be paid, what the job will entail or what employers are looking for.

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