The myth of inherited inequality

Danny Dorlingpost by DANNY DORLING
Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography, University of Oxford

If most people in affluent nations believed that all human beings were alike – were of the same kind, the same species – then it would be much harder to justify the exclusion of so many people from so many social norms. It is only because the majority of people in many affluent societies have come to be taught that a few are especially able, and others particularly undeserving, that current inequalities can be maintained. It seems inequalities are not being reduced partly because enough people have come – falsely – to understand inequalities to be natural, and a few to even think inequalities are beneficial. The code word used to talk of inequality as natural is to talk of children having differing ‘potentials’. This belief in inherited intelligence – geneticism – is dangerous and remains uncritically challenged at the heart of much policy making in Britain. But recent evidence can help dispel the myth that children from different social backgrounds are born with differing potential. It was only in the course of the last century that theories of inherent differences amongst the whole population became widespread. Before then it was largely believed that the gods ordained only the chosen few to be inherently different and therefore favoured – the monarchs and the priests. Back then mass deprivation was a fact of life, as there simply could not be enough produced to enable the vast majority to live anything other than a life of frequent want. It was only when more widespread inequalities in income and wealth began to grow under nineteenth century industrialisation that theories attempting to justify these new inequalities as natural were widely propagated…

continues at:

Dorling, D. (2010) The Fabian Essay: The myth of inherited inequality, Fabian Review, Vol 122, no. 1, pp.19-21

One thought on “The myth of inherited inequality”

  1. I’m pleased to read what you’ve said here about potential, I agree. I work in widening participation and I’ve always hated the terminology around helping students to reach their full potential, I find it to be actually very limiting and rather insulting – who decides what someone’s “potential” is and what right do they have to do so? I only skim read your article as I’m in a rush, but I shall read it more thoroughly later!

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