Scandal hit the airwaves last week when celebrities and wealthy individuals from several walks of life were arrested for alleged fraud for helping their children get into esteemed colleges.
These people paid money to have documents falsified. In some cases, others were paid to take entry exams to pad the resumes of their children.
The news played out in multiple stories, made the rounds on late-night talk shows and by the week’s end was the punchline of several jokes.
But to act shocked or surprised that the wealthy game the system to provide opportunities their children do not otherwise deserve is laughable.
Our society is set up to help the wealthy succeed, even when money isn’t spent to bribe or cheat the system.
According to the American Psychological Association, children from households or communities with low socioeconomic status “develop academic skills slower than children from higher SES groups.”
Low socioeconomic status in childhood is linked to poor cognitive development, language, memory and socioemotional processing. And it then leads to poor income and health in adulthood, continuing a cycle of children being raised in the same situations.
Children from poorer families are also more likely to drop out of school.
So even without bribery or fraud, children from wealthier families already have a head start in education.
Part of the reason is that children raised in poorer households are not as likely to have parents who encourage “the development of fundamental skills” such as reading, speaking or vocabulary.
“Children’s initial reading competency is correlated with the home literacy environment, number of books owned and parent distress,” according to the APA. “... However, poor households have less access to learning materials and experiences, including books, computers, stimulating toys, skill-building lessons or tutors to create a positive literacy environment.”
Such disadvantages also translate into higher education, where students from lower-income households or areas are less likely to have access to the wealth of informational resources to apply for college as their wealthier counterparts, according to a 2016 study cited by APA.
Wealthier students are more likely to grow up in schools or school districts with more money and resources than low-income students.
Wealthier students are also more likely to grow up in areas with better access to libraries or similar resources.
Early intervention programs can help reduce some of the risk of low-income students dropping out or falling far behind, and there are examples of students from low socioeconomic status environments succeeding. Even so, having to overcome disadvantages still means these students are facing those disadvantages in the first place.
What those arrested did was wrong. Leveraging your wealth to provide children with unfair advantages is wrong.
Crimes were committed and it’s unlikely they’re the only ones, but don’t let the cheating distract from the fact that it was never a fair race.