Before I started college, I had it in my head that the average student became accustomed to a modest living. I had visited my Dad's alma mater and seen his hole-in-the-wall apartment, and I had heard about the high tuition bills that would come with attending a reputable university. College did not seem a time to make luxury purchases. Imagine my surprise then, when I arrived on campus and saw students with pricy Longchamp bags, designer jeans, and sizable shoe collections. This, I thought, is college? Not that I deny my own love for clothes and shopping, but I had never imagined Prada to be part of the college student's wardrobe.
Yesterday a friend pointed me to an article that explicates what many of us have thought true for a long time: that the American Dream that one can succeed through hard work and ingenuity in this country, no matter how destitute he may be at the beginning of his life, is now mostly a myth. This article spotlights a study of 4,000 children whose parents' income had been monitored first in 1968 and whose own incomes were then examined approximately 30-years later. Furthermore, the likelihood of someone born into a poor family making it into the top 5 percent is much less here than in other countries. For those born into wealth, their chances of getting rich are considerably higher: they are 20 percent more likely to make it into the top 5 percent than their poor counterparts.
How better to cap off this finding than with an article featured in a special pullout section on college education in the New York Times? This article, called "What they're Wearing at..." features several Columbia University students. One woman is shown wearing "vintage boots and a Ferragamo bag found in Paris and a Valentino scarf bought on a deep discount in Lower Manhattan," a man is shown wearing a jacket "bought with an assist from a personal shopper." As he puts it: "My mother told me to go to Bloomingdale's and treat myself." Another fashionably dressed young man "exchanged a gift from his 'well-intentioned' sister for his Prada sunglasses." Columbia's style editor at the campus paper is quoted as saying that the university" is a "place where privilege and experience meet." She's at least right about the former.