As a child, I always used to see those stereotypical American movies on TV of the middle and upper class families living out in suburbia, going to cool schools, where you didn’t have to wear uniforms, and hanging out with your neighbours, and playing basketball with your friends. It always looked like these kids were living the good life. I wanted that American dream, just preferably at home in Australia because is the best country in the world (obviously). Upon reflection my childhood really wasn’t that different, it was just the Aussie version. I did indeed grow up in suburban Brisbane, Queensland, in a nice neighbourhood, not far from the city. My siblings and I attended religious private schools for all of our schooling years.
I didn’t realise just how much this Australian dream childhood advantaged me in the long run. How being white, in a predominantly white neighbourhood, with two working parents really gave me a kick start in life. I would say that my family belongs in the upper-middle class of the Australian wealth distribution scale. This economic status
The United States is internationally regarded as an economic powerhouse, however under closer scrutiny, we see that the wealth gap within the nation economy is constantly expanding due to both the capitalistic nature of the economy, and the Trump administration. This wealth gap expansion is seen in Australia too. The increasing concentration of upper class wealth both in Australia and the US consequently affects people of colour disproportionately due to the nature of wealth accumulation. In 2015, the US “had the highest wealth inequality among industrialised nations”, Australia is not much better. The top 20% of the Australian population owns 2/3 of total national wealth. Compared to the bottom 20% of the population (1% of national wealth). While this is no as significant as the United States wealth concentration, it still still quite significant.
On average in Australia, indigenous households fall into the lower percentiles of wealth, as many households have little asset wealth, due the natures of Australia colonisation – many indigenous families do not have wealth that is passed down through generations. Additionally, on average indigenous families have lower weekly income, and lower levels of employment. These factors also greatly affect families ability to move up in socioeconomic status, and typically they stay at the level in which they were introduced through their family.
Research suggests that there long-term benefits to being raised with wealth. “Wealth operates over time as a source of opportunities and a safety net for families, while a lack of it holds families back.” Economic segregation in a huge contributor to the stagnant nature of the wealth distribution scale. what neighbourhood someone lives is extremely influential on their economic potential, for example, living in a wealthy suburb you will find resources for quality education and individual growth are more readily available. Unfortunately, poorer suburbs are often overlooked, making it difficult for individuals to expand their wealth and economic potential. In Australia on average, Middle and lower-class citizens essentially have sole responsibility for their own financial situation. This makes it extremely difficult for any fluid movement between classes.
As a child of a middle-income family, who attended a private Catholic high school, I was put at an advantage to fellow students attending public schools of the same calibre. According to a study of 9th Grade results in 2019, 7 of the top 10 school is Brisbane Queensland, are religiously affiliated private schools (including my own – All Hallows’ School), and 9 of the 10 are private. That leaves only 1 in the top 10 schools public.
Children from lower income families, typically attend public high schools, thus they are less likely to receive these high-ranking educations. However, a recent study by the University of Queensland determined that there was no educational benefit in receiving a public vs. private school education in Australia, when accounting for other factors such as household income and parental education (both tightly linked to wealth). Generally speaking, when comparing results from NAPLAN tests (standardised testing compulsory in all schools nationwide in 5th, 7th and 9th grades) private schools tested better than public schools. Unfortunately, when the control factors of household income, etc. are incorporated, it greatly skews these results, indicating those with higher income and higher parent education are at a greater advantage.
A 2006 American study provides an interesting comparison, we see that in 8th grade standardised testing, private schools test 18.1 points higher on average than private schools in reading, and 12.3 point higher in math. Attending a private school in the US would statistically advantage a child, however not all families can afford this.
Children of wealthy families have the facilities to achieve higher levels of education, resulting in greater opportunity post-graduation. When I look at the statistics about the relationship between education and wealth and think about the opportunities I gained by attending a private school, I can see I was at an advantage. Without attending a school that pushed for the highest results, and provided me with connections to outside resources to assist me with my education, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to combine my academics and athletics and attend college here in the US at Davidson.
The socioeconomic influence on education links back to the cycle of wealth, particularly how wealth builds wealth. People of colour in both Australia and the United States are typically in lower socioeconomic families. While in Australia, they aren’t necessarily burdened by the standard of education, they are burdened by their financial situations, which ends up affecting their school indirectly. In the United States this is a different situation, private education, typically found in wealthy neighbourhoods, is better in quality, thus by not living in a wealthy neighbourhood you are automatically put at a disadvantage.
Economic segregation and wealth advantage has long lasting effects on one’s life trajectory, and the minimisation of the wealth gap in both Australia and the United States would ensure that these resources available to the wealthy are available to the rest of society, allowing for equal opportunity to all, despite their heritage.
Gerardo Martí says
The glimpse into economic differences and education is so important, especially your discussion of indigenous families in Australia. Great pictures and illustrations included.