Last updated: June 30. 2014 11:46AM - 1650 Views

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A frequent question I get from folks is “So, you must enjoy three months of not doing work.” Oh, if only that was true. I’ve worked every summer since I turned 12. Most of it involves teaching summer classes online.

There are papers and exams to grade, discussion posts to read (to make sure the students are keeping up with the readings) and chat rooms to monitor and referee, on some occasions. But my favorite part, I must confess, comes from the laboratory experiments we do, instead of just taking whatever the readings say as gospel truth.

Some of our American Experience readings center on the Horatio Alger stories, and ask whether these dime store short stories are the exception or the rule for America, then and now. We read critiques of these stories, claiming they don’t account for race and gender (I would look at age, since we sometimes see some employment discrimination against the elderly), and others that look at the average earnings of Americans. We even read the modern of a real life rags-to-riches millionaire who loses his earnings then bounces back. He’s a class favorite, though I’ve noted that I believe he is in some hot water thanks to one of his many divorces, as well as investigations for fraud.

Last summer, my students and I did our first ever social science lab experiment, where we looked at the richest Americans and whether they earned their money or got it via inheritance or marriage. Folks seemed pretty interested in the outcome of that test, but suggested I compare the United States to other countries for a common reference point.

So here are our class findings.

We looked at the top 54 wealthiest people in the world, according to Forbes Magazine. Of these, we found that 37 of those on the list earned their money, while the rest inherited their good fortune, or married someone with it. Nearly half (25) of those in the survey were Americans.

Statistics showed that the wealthiest Americans are no more likely to earn their fortunes than those of other countries (17 versus 20). The USA and the rest of the world split the inheritance cases and (for those who like running Chi-Square models like I do) the results were not statistically significant.

But I did a little additional research, and found something. Of the 14 individuals not from a first world country (as measured by OECD membership), all of them earned their money. They were from Russia, China, Nigeria, India and Mexico. All of those who inherited their money came from a wealthy country, like the USA, France, Sweden, Germany, or Japan. It’s a simple summer study, of course, but those results were significant.

Thanks go out to LaGrange College undergraduates Rebecca Washington, Alison Walls, David Teske, Mary Beth Talley, Shelby Stephen, Will Scruggs, LaToya Scott, Samantha Murrah, Jason Motycka, Ana Marsh, Caitlyn Kious, Nathan Hoxsie, Dave Hensley, Sydney Hagley, Taylor Flippen, Scott Chewning and Courtney Campbell for their research and data entry for this project.

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