Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



The Inheritance of Economic Status - by John A. Brittain

In the- mid-1960's and in the early 1970's, research results appeared that challenged conventional liberal beliefs about the causes and consequences of poverty. In 1966 the federal government published Equality of Educational Opportunity, a report prepared by James Coleman and his associates.' The data used in the report contained the startling result that, with some exceptions, within regions, the provision of educational resources was substantially uniform across racial and socioeconomic groups. Moreover, the data showed that what measurable differences existed between the schools attended by disadvantaged and advantaged students did not account for the academic gap between the groups. Six years later, Frederick Mosteller and Daniel P. Moynihan published an exhaustive reanalysis of the Coleman data by several researchers that did little to amend the original report's principal conclusions. The net effect of these reports was to call into question the government's strategy to enhance the life chances of poor children by altering their educational environments.