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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 61/July 1902/A Study of Twentieth Century Success

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 61‎ | July 1902

A STUDY OF TWENTIETH CENTURY SUCCESS.
By Professor EDWIN GRANT DEXTER,

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS.

SOMEONE has said, with more or less philosophical insight, that all questions resolve themselves into three classes: those of the 'What,' the 'How,' and the 'Why.' In this paper it is primarily a question of the 'How' that is considered. How have the men and women, who in the opening year of this twentieth century are prominently in the public eye, achieved the success in their various vocations which has placed them there? What have been the stepping-stones to that success? How can we follow in their footsteps? The biographies of great men have done much to answer this question, still they leave much unsaid. The tow-path and the flat-boat do not furnish nowadays the shortest route to the eminence upon which the ambitious youth has fixed his eye, and he wants more guide posts by the way.

In an attempt to discover the general route to that goal, I have studied a few facts from the lives of many, rather than many facts from the lives of a few. The basis of the study is 'Who's Who in America' for 1900. This book, of which the edition of 1900 was the first, is for America what the English volume of the same name has been for England for more than half a century, namely, an address book of living celebrities—if we give this term considerable extension—containing a brief biographical sketch of each. This includes in most cases date of birth, particulars as to schooling, present profession and address, together with any unusual accomplishment or public service. The edition of 1900 contains 8,602 names and in my study of them the first three biographical facts mentioned were considered. I shall say nothing in defense of the criterion of success which I am here taking: that is, mention in 'Who's Who.' On what constitutes real success in life probably no two of us could agree. It would, however, be acceded by all who are familiar with the book, that although it fails to mention many who are as worthy a place in its pages as are some who appear there, it is nevertheless true that each whom it has mentioned has attained a degree of eminence which warrants the assertion that, at least before the public, success has crowned his efforts to a degree not achieved by the ordinary run of mankind.

Whatever success may mean, it would be safe to say that it depends upon two things: nature and nurture. On the nature side of the problem, we find no help in 'Who's Who' since ancestry is not included. On the nurture side, which would mean education in its broadest sense, we find facts descriptive of certain phases only, namely those of the schools. How important a place they take in the education of the individual can never be determined with any degree of exactness, but even with a full recognition of the force of the home, the church, the state and the vocation, it must be conceded that their influence as an organized educational machine is very great. Facts bearing upon this influence are the ones principally furnished by 'Who's Who' and, together with those of age, the only ones considered here.

PSM V61 D248 Graphical example of success with or without college education.pngFig. 1. A mention of 8,602 names in the volume in question means, if we assume that every inhabitant of the United States above the age of twenty-one was eligible to such mention, that one in each six hundred was so honored. This then, would be our ratio of success for all degrees of education—good, bad and indifferent. We find, however, that of the whole number mentioned, 3,237 had received the bachelor's degree in arts, literature, science or philosophy at some college or university. But a study of the alumni lists of such institutions shows us that after the commencement season of 1899 there were 334,000 living graduates. A comparison of the number mentioned in the book (3,237) with this whole number alive shows us that one college graduate in each one hundred and six found a place. Here then we have the ratio of success for college graduates. But to carry our process of comparison one step farther: taking 1:600 as the ratio of success (the 'Who's Who' kind) for the adult American, and 1:106 as that for the college graduate, we find that the probability of success is increased more than 5.6 times by a college education. This relation is shown graphically in Fig. 1. This tremendous advantage can probably not be attributed entirely to the direct educational effect of such a training, but, to a considerable extent, to the selective influence of the course. Of the whole number of pupils who enter the elementary schools, but a very small percentage continues to the completion of the college course. This comparatively small number of persisters does not fairly represent what our educational machinery could have done with the entire number who started at the bottom, but what that machinery can do with the kind nature had endowed with sufficient energy, determination and persistence to enable them to withstand the temptations to drop out one by one by the way and take a seemingly short cut to some ignus fatuus of success, but who continue to the end. There is here shown undoubtedly with considerable force the potency of the law of the survival of the fittest, if we take as our criterion of fitness mention in 'Who's Who.' This, however, does not invalidate the fact that the college course, either because of its educational or selective influence, increases largely, perhaps to the extent we have shown, the probability that the graduate will gain a favorable place in the public eye.

A classification of the names in the book which forms the basis of our study, in terms of the various professions and vocations, gives us the following numbers for the twenty-four which seem to form the most natural divisions. Actor: male 54, female 40. Artist, including illustrators: male 260, female 21. Author, including writer, historian, novelist and poet: male 528, female 272. Business, including the various mercantile pursuits: male 200. Clergyman, including bishop, rabbi, missionary, priest, salvation army and monk: male 655, female 7. College professor, including president, dean and chancellor: male 1,090, female 11. Congressman (both senate and house): 446. Editor, including journalist, critic, correspondent and reporter: male 509, female 13. Educator, including superintendent, teacher, philanthropist and reformer: male 188, female 30. Engineer, including architect and miner: male 284. Financier, including capitalist and banker: male 215. Inventor: male 26. Lawyer, including justice, judge and jurist: male 857, female 4. Lecturer: male 21, female 6. Librarian: male 362, female 9. Musician, including singer: male 111, female 21. Physician: male 540, female 7. Railroad official: male 102. Sailor: 103. Scientist, including naturalist: male 416, female 7. Soldier: 205. Statesman, including governor, diplomat, politician and mayor: 202. U. S. official: male, 98, female 1. Miscellaneous, running all the way from farmer to insurance president: male 53, female 2. The sum of these figures does not quite equal 8,602, the number which, as has already been stated, the book mentions, since a comparatively small number who failed to give the year of birth were not included in the study.

One question, among others, which the young person about to choose a profession is apt to consider is this: How long will it take to get a foothold? How many years of hard sledding before the smooth road is reached? Both ambition and pocket are interested in the answer and without doubt many a young man has been influenced in his choice of profession by his conclusion on this matter. The data at my command throw light only indirectly on this question, but more directly on another. How long must I wait for eminence, if it ever comes, and in what profession may I expect it earliest? If there be any fixed relation between a foothold and success, then the former question may be answered by inference. A tabulation of the ages of each of the eight thousand and more individuals of both sexes for the vocations mentioned above (with the exception of a few less frequently chosen) is shown graphically in Figs. 2 and 3. The former is for males and the latter for females, though the gentler sex was a competitor of sufficient strength to warrant consideration in seven only. In each of the figures the vocations are indicated at the bottom. Of the two heavy vertical lines (ordinates) above each vocation, the one at the left indicates by its height the percentage of the whole number

PSM V61 D250 Graph of age related male vocational success.png

Fig. 2.

mentioned who were below forty years of age; in other words, the percentage of young men and women who had achieved eminence in it, if we may assume that a person is young until he is forty. The ordinate at the right of each pair shows in a similar manner by its height the average age in years of all those mentioned for the vocation indicated below. In each case the ordinates are to be read by means of the scales at the left and right of the figure: the youth ordinate in percentages and that for age in years, although the figure is so drawn that the same scales apply to both. These figures show then, as fully as an inductive study based upon a limited number of data will permit, (1) the relative probability of achieving early distinction in the various professions, (2) the average ages of persons of distinction in those professions, (3) a basis of comparison for the two sexes.

An inspection of Fig. 2 from the standpoint of the first of these possibilities (noting only the left of each pair of ordinates) shows at a glance that the musician distances all competitors in the race for distinction. This is not hard to understand when we recall the infant prodigies who frequently figure on our bill boards, or consider that nature has in most cases contributed more largely to his success than has nurture. Of those callings which presuppose a professional or at least an extended preparation, that of scientist seems from our figure to promise the earliest recognition. This is perhaps due to the fact that for him the actual work of life is entered with a completer intellectual equipment than by most of the others, and that the period of preparation offers opportunities for research and original investigation which may bring renown even before life work is begun. This would also apply to the college professor with perhaps fully as much force and in a lesser degree to the librarian and the educator. These four then might be included in a class in which the period of preparation is extended, but for which work of a high order might be expected immediately on its completion and positions of some prominence aspired to from the start. Next in the race for renown come the actor and the author, almost neck and neck. If we concluded that nature had most to do with the musician's success and nurture with the educator's we should be forced to place the author and the actor in a class in which those two forces divide the honors more evenly. No doubt one must be born an actor or an author to rise to a high rank, but after all, the making process is not to be despised as a factor, and this takes time. Except for the soldier and the sailor, whose ability to rise to prominence, at least in time of peace, is determined by the rapidity with which those above him are retired from service, and the congressman and the statesman, whose minimum limit is prescribed by law, the rest of the vocations shown upon the chart fall, it seems to me, into a class for which the schools, as organized means of education, provide no adequate preparation and for which that preparation must come, to a great extent, from the vocation itself. As an illustration of what I mean: the scientist, or even the college professor, who has devoted thirty years of life to study, can enter his profession from the top, while the business man and financier, for whom the accumulation of wealth is a desideratum, or the lawyer and the doctor, who must command a practice, or the minister, who needs a congregation, must, with the same period of intellectual infancy, enter it from the bottom and devote a few more years to the climbing process. In so far as the physician is an investigator the conditions of the scientist apply to him and no doubt the considerable number who are such accounts for the fact that his recognition comes earlier than that of his competitors in law and the pulpit. The surprising thing of the figure is perhaps the slowness with which the inventor gains a foothold on the ladder to fame. Not one of those mentioned was below the age of forty, though not enough names were included to give this fact great weight.

A study of Fig. 2 from the standpoint of average ages of those mentioned (note only the right ordinate of each pair) discloses little which would not have been expected from the facts already stated. It will be seen that where recognition was early, the average age is comparatively small, while for those vocations in which the climb was a tedious one, the age is much greater. Certainly one whose ambition was early renown would not, from the showing of our figures, choose business or finance. Since, however, these professions are seldom entered for glory, we need not fear a lack of aspirants for the rewards which they bring. When nature has done most for the man as in the case of the actor, author and musician the laurel crown comes earliest. If one must depend upon nurture as most of us must, the scientist, the college professor, the editor, the educator and the clergyman may hope to wear it longest and in the order given.

PSM V61 D252 Graph of age related female vocational success.pngFig. 3. As has been stated, Fig. 3 shows for women the conditions which have just been discussed for men, for those callings in which they have been to any extent competitors. It shows that upon the stage and in musical circles recognition is much earlier for them, while in the other callings it is slower than for their brothers. In other words, nature works quicker with her and nurture slower, if our figures are to be accepted. It is perhaps worthy of mention too, that the two professions in which she outstrips him are the only ones in which attractiveness of person would be at a premium; perhaps at so much of a premium as to make up for some other defects. When, however, this is outlived with youth the struggle seems to be a hard if not a losing one.

We have now to consider the educational preparation of the persons whose names are included under the several vocations. This so far as it has to do with the schools—the only data at our disposal—is shown by the somewhat complicated-looking Figs. 4 and 5, the former for the men and the latter for the women. Upon each of them the vocations are indicated at the bottom as in those just explained. Of the variously constructed ordinates above each name, that part which is wholly black shows by its height the percentage of those named for that vocation who mentioned no schooling above the elementary or secondary grade. This would probably mean in most cases that the educational preparation was carried no farther. That portion of the ordinate which has heavy black lines at the sides shows in the same manner the percentage of those mentioned who had received the baccalaureate degree at some college or university; that portion having a heavy line in the center, the percentage who had completed a professional course; that portion which has the heavy lines both at the side and in the middle, the percentage who had pursued both the college and professional course; the portion between the top of the ordinate and the horizontal line at the top of the figure, the percentage educated entirely abroad, and the little line extending out from some of the ordinates, by its distance from the base line, the percentage who had taken some postgraduate degree. Honorary degrees are not included. In every case, the percentages

PSM V61 D253 Graph of male college education and vocational success.png

Fig. 4.

are to be read by means of the scale at the right and left of the figure. As an illustration of the interpretation of one of the ordinates ] will take that for clergymen: 24 per cent, are shown to have no education above the high school (black portion), 52 per cent, have a college education (heavy side lines 76—24 52), 35 per cent, have a professional education, presumably, the divinity school (heavy middle line 91—56 35), 20 per cent, have both (heavy side and middle lines 76—56 20), 9 per cent, were educated entirely abroad and were presumably largely foreigners (distance between top of ordinate and top of figure, 100—91 9), 28 per cent, had taken a postgraduate degree (distance between base line and small mark at right of ordinate). The ordinates for each of the other professions may be interpreted in the same manner. The data in my possession make possible the study of various other combinations of educational courses, as well as comparisons of them for persons of different ages showing the educational trend, but lack of space prevents a discussion of these facts in the present paper. I will say, however, that the figures do not show combinations of training abroad with that in our home institutions. The spaces on the figures which have to do with training abroad refer only to those persons who failed to make any use whatever of home institutions, at least above high school.

PSM V61 D254 Graph of female college education and vocational success.pngFig. 5. Figures 4 and 5 then show (1) the educational preparation of persons of both sexes for the various professions and (2) a basis of comparison between the two. They answer, too, a very important question: "What kind of preparation has proved most essential to that kind of success which mention in 'Who's Who' means?" They have nothing to do with the question, 'What kind of preparation must the doctor, or the lawyer, or the minister have to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a minister,' but what kind is most likely to put him in the class of doctors, and lawyers, and ministers who achieve eminence. In other words, we are studying selected persons in each profession, but since every man and woman of proper ambition who enters a profession hopes to be one of those selected, the problem has a wide bearing.

In the discussion of the figures which follows I shall, for the sake of directness and with full recognition of the fact that the two are not synonymous, speak of those under each profession whose education stopped with the high school (black portion of the ordinates) as un-educated. Of this class the actor shows by far the greatest number—so large that we could hardly advise the young person with histrionic ambition to go to college merely as an aid to public recognition in his art. There may be other inducements for him, but seemingly not that. Business seems to offer the next largest inducement to the uneducated; 84 per cent, of its devotees belong to that class. Twelve per cent, had, however, completed the college course, and this in my opinion is enough to invalidate the arguments of C. P. Huntington and others against such training for business men. We have no means of knowing just how many of our business men throughout the country have taken the college course, but computed roughly, one man in about 300 of all grades and stations in life has been so educated. Since this includes mill operatives and other classes in which such training is practically unknown, we must assume that the ratio would be much larger for the business man. Yet it seems to me that even a most generous estimate could not bring it up to one in eight—that of our business men of eminence—and we should be forced to conclude that the college course has even for him, remote as the connection seems to be, been a contributor to his success. This argument would also apply to the financier, who comes next with his 18 per cent, of college graduates. Our statesmen, the next class, and the congressmen, who differ but little, are hardly to be congratulated on their showing. Thus one may say that with our whole male citizenship eligible to those positions of honor—the boast of our republic—whose ratio of college training is one to 300, while that for the eminent man of these two classes is about one to five as shown by our figure, the probability of gaining such honorable mention is increased about sixty-fold for these our law-makers and diplomats by the college course, an increase which is not to be despised by those who aim at these high places at popular disposal. This too for college conditions in which departments of finance and special facilities for diplomatic training have not played so important a part as they are likely to in the future. Although artists and musicians seem to be uneducated classes we must not neglect the fact shown by the figure that large numbers (43 per cent, and 33 per cent, respectively) were educated abroad, where undoubtedly they were spending their time to better advantage than could have been done in any college at home. Next after the sailor and the soldier, whose heavy black lines upon the figure bear testimony to the efficiency of our national academies for the training of officers on land and sea, comes, in our descending scale of learnedness, the lawyer. His educational showing, when compared with that of the sister professions of medicine and theology, is not a favorable one. With 40 per cent, of the shining lights of our legal fraternity innocent either of professional training or of academic instruction beyond the high school, we wonder what the education of the lesser lights may be and whether really much education is essential to success. The records of the bar examination in the various states are so kept, or rather so not kept, as to make it impossible to ascertain the previous training of those admitted, so I am unable to show these facts for the rank and file of the profession. The reports of the TJ. S. Commissioner of Education, however, show that for the last twenty years 27 per cent. of the students registered in the law schools of our country had already taken the bachelor's degree in some academic institution. This may then be taken as the percentage of lawyers throughout the country who have had the liberal training of the college course. But of our eminent lawyers the percentage so trained is forty-six, implying that the college educated lawyer's chances of being counted among the immortals of 'Who's Who' are nearly doubled. This relationship is more exactly shown in Fig. 6. Without discussing the engineer, the librarian, the scientist or the educator, whose educational conditions are shown and for whom no further comparisons can be made, the clergyman comes in for his share in the analysis. In his case we find about one fourth are uneducated, one half with college education and one third, that of

PSM V61 D256 Three vocations with or without collage education.png

Fig. 6.

the professional school. For him too we have only the figures of the U. S. Commissioner as a basis of comparison. Of the divinity school students of our land we there find that 24.7 per cent, have taken a college degree. But of the 'Who's Who' clergy, 53.3 per cent, had been so rewarded. The premium which a comparison of these two puts upon the college bred minister is also shown in Fig. 6 and is one not to be disregarded by the aspirant for pulpit honor. On the score of postgraduate attainments the clergyman is shown to be an industrious worker.

The banner professions, so far as educational accomplishments are concerned, are seen to be those of college instruction and medicine, with the showing slightly in favor of the latter if we disregard postgraduate honor, in which the college men easily outrank all others. These, too, have made more extensive use of opportunities for study abroad in connection with the home training, though this fact is not shown in the figure, nor is another fact of interest, namely, that they have made the most rapid improvements in their intellectual equipment as shown by a study by decades for the last sixty years. We have, however, no data upon which to base a comparison of the 'rank' with the 'file.'

For the physicians we can only rely once more upon the Commissioner of Education. He states that 7.5 per cent, of the medical students of the country have taken the academic degree. Yet we find—mirabilé dictu—that 42 per cent, of the 'Who's Who' physicians have been recipients of that degree. Nearly six times as many of the 'rank' as of the 'file' (see Fig. 6). It seems hardly probable that the college training can be at such a premium in the actual practice of the medical man, so it seems to me we must conclude that it is as a scientist and a producer that such a training counts for most. The scientific societies of the physician undoubtedly stimulate more of their members to original research and investigation, and consequently to a greater productiveness, than do similar organizations among clergymen and lawyers, and it is here that the broader training would count for most. We must, in any event, from the facts disclosed by our study, conclude that of the three generally recognized learned professions, the medical leads in the breadth and perfection of its educational preparation.

A study of the education of women, based upon Fig. 5, is disappointing, and from it we are forced to one of two conclusions: either (1) that women can attain an eminence equal to that of men, with less dependence upon educational machinery, or (2) that the compilers of the book upon which our study is based have made use of a different and lower criterion in judging them. In the case of no one of the vocations shown upon the figure was her training so complete as was that of her male competitor for honors, and the same w r as true for the limited number of doctors, lawyers and ministers mentioned for the sex. In no one of the vocations, except that of the stage, was the difference so slight as to leave any doubt on the question. The most discouraging thing about it too, as disclosed by a study by decades but not shown upon any of the figures, is that for recent years, when institutions of nearly all classes have been as freely open to woman as to man, there seems to be no change for the better. Her educational inertia, due very naturally to centuries lacking in opportunity, is not easily thrown off, and, until it is—a time which seems not yet to have arrived—she can not take her place with man in the professional world, even should she consider it as properly her sphere.