Where Ivy Matters: The Educational Backgrounds of U.S. Cultural Elites

"Status transmission theory argues that leading educational institutions prepare individuals from privileged backgrounds for positions of prestige and power in their societies. We examine the educational backgrounds of more than 2,900 members of the U.S. cultural elite and compare these backgrounds to a sample of nearly 4,000 business and political leaders. We find that the leading U.S. educational institutions are substantially more important for preparing future members of the cultural elite than they are for preparing future members of the business or political elite. In addition, members of the cultural elite who are recognized for outstanding achievements by peers and experts are much more likely to have obtained degrees from the leading educational institutions than are those who achieve acclaim from popular audiences. By focusing on the extent to which industries and cultural domains depend on quickness and facility in the absorption and manipulation of complex and sophisticated symbolic media, our analysis leads to an important specification of the role of highly selective colleges and universities in elite formation."