Inequality, Non-cognitive Skills, and Character Strengths

Thomas Edsall is an opinion columnist for the New York Times who often writes about the intersection of inequality and politics. His articles typically synthesize research findings and the perspectives of experts, whose commentary he frequently quotes. His latest piece, “What Does It Take to Climb Up the Ladder?” discusses the important role of non-cognitive skills and character strengths in social mobility.

Edsall draws on the work on numerous researchers to show the links between income, maternal education, and family stability, on the one hand, and non-cognitive skills on the other. As he concludes,

“The result is a vicious circle: family disruption perpetuates disadvantage by creating barriers to the development of cognitive and noncognitive skills, which in turn sharply reduces access to college. The lack of higher education decreases life chances, including the likelihood of achieving adequate material resources and a stable family structure for the next generation.”

Edsall highlights Paul Tough’s work on the importance of environments in which children feel a sense of belonging and growth and experience relatedness and competence. He challenges policymakers, and Democrats in particular, to find ways to support family stability and “capitalize on the ample supply of character strengths evident among America’s poor.”

New York Times: “What Does It Take to Climb Up the Ladder?

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