Cultural capital, kabuli chana and college admissions

In his monthly column connecting food and economics, Abhijit Banerjee, co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, reflects on the influence of cultural capital on student college admissions, and how wide-ranging discussion and debate of ideas around his own family's dinner table while growing up likely informed his own sense of 'cultural capital', and potentially his career success.

In response to the recent judgment by the United States Supreme Court, which undermines affirmative action in college admissions, Abhijit examines the argument for a 'merit-based' college admissions system in both the United States and his birth country, India. He resists the idea, noting that there is no single, agreed-upon measure of merit or a simple answer as to what 'merit' means.

'Even if we accept that merit is the potential for making the most of educational opportunities in purely academic terms', he writes, 'why would we ignore what it takes to do well in difficult circumstances? Why shouldn’t the ability to excel without generations of cultural capital behind them and the hand-up from parents who are able and willing to devote their lives to their children’s advancement not count as a sign of greater talent and future promise?'

The Times of India