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The Accidental Equalizer

How Luck Determines Pay after College

A startling discovery—that job market success after college is largely random—forces a reappraisal of education, opportunity, and the American dream.

As a gateway to economic opportunity, a college degree is viewed by many as America’s great equalizer. And it’s true: wealthier, more connected, and seemingly better-qualified students earn exactly the same pay as their less privileged peers. Yet, the reasons why may have little to do with bootstraps or self-improvement—it might just be dumb luck. That’s what sociologist Jessi Streib proposes in The Accidental Equalizer, a conclusion she reaches after interviewing dozens of hiring agents and job-seeking graduates.

Streib finds that luck shapes the hiring process from start to finish in a way that limits class privilege in the job market. Employers hide information about how to get ahead and force students to guess which jobs pay the most and how best to obtain them. Without clear routes to success, graduates from all class backgrounds face the same odds at high pay. The Accidental Equalizer is a frank appraisal of how this “luckocracy” works and its implications for the future of higher education and the middle class. Although this system is far from eliminating American inequality, Streib shows that it may just be the best opportunity structure we have—for better and for worse.

Table of Contents

One: Introducing the Luckocracy

Part I: Forming the Luckocracy
Two: Hidden Information on Jobs and Pay
Three: Hidden Information on Class-Neutral Hiring Criteria

Part II: Playing the Game
Four: Preparing for the Luckocracy
Five: Searching for Jobs

Part III: The Consequences and Continuation of the Luckocracy
Six: The Consequences of the Luckocracy
Seven: The Luckocracy, Redux
Eight: Should We Keep America’s Best Equalizing System?

Appendix A: Theoretical Contribution
Appendix B: Data and Methods
Appendix C: Interview Guides and Questionnaires

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