3 October 2013
The Role of Class Position in Economic Success and Failure In his book, Outliers, sociologist Malcolm Gladwell debunks the commonly held view that success is determined solely upon an individual’s talent and ability. Through his research, he discovers that success is rather “a cumulative advantage” and “a product of the world in which they [people] grew up” (67). He develops his argument that class position plays a major role in yielding one’s success or failure by examining the lives of outliers, people who do things out of the ordinary (17). One of the outliers Gladwell studies is Bill Gates, a billionaire entrepreneur and co-founder of the world’s largest personal-computer software company called Microsoft. Despite the evident genius and talent Gates possesses, Gladwell argues that it is a mistake to assume Gates rose to success based solely on his meritocracy. The most crucial factor to his success is his wealthy background and class position that come with numerous opportunities and resources he took advantage of. Both of Gates’ parents came from an upper class family background; his father was a wealth lawyer and his mother the daughter of a well-off banker (51). Thus, they were highly capable of sending their son to study at Lakeside, an elite private school in Seattle and one of the very few schools to have a computer club and the funds to afford expensive high tech timesharing computers for their students to use (51). Bill Gates therefore acquired the resources to advance his skill in computer programming since he was an eighth grader at Lakeside. Not only did Gates’ wealthy class position help him have access to state-of-the-art technology at Lakeside, but it also gave him access to a network of his fellow upper-class neighbors. A mother of a son at Lakeside offered Gates the opportunity to test out her company’s software programs in exchange for free programming time on the weekends (52). Ultimately, these opportunities Gates merely inherited from his class position lead him to become the outlier he is today.
Gladwell alludes to a study by sociologist Annette Lareau, explaining how class position creates a distinction among parenting “philosophies” which then affects the child’s performance in the “real world” (102). Lareau discovered that children of upper-middle and middle-class families learn a sense of