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In modern meritocratic societies success still depends on individual effort but social mobility is slow and genetics appear to play a strong role.

A study into the success, over many generations, of those with high-status, or rare, surnames rather than the most common surnames in the population, has led the author to estimate that 50 to 60 percent of variation in an individual’s overall status is determined by his or her lineage.

Researchers who looked at 181 rare surnames held by the wealthiest 15 per cent of English and Welsh people in the mid-19th Century, for example, found that people with these surnames who died between 1999 and 2012 were more than three times as wealthy as the average person.

Blueprint brief – 27th February 2014
Source: Your Ancestors, Your Fate by Gregory Clark, New York Times, 23 February 2014.