The Lottery by Jeremy Brooks is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Liz Murray is a brilliant woman who went from being homeless in the Bronx to graduating from Harvard University. Her parents had a drug problem, and she was neglected as a child, so she had to steal food to survive. At school, other students bullied her. As a result, she began skipping classes and eventually dropped out of school. When she was 15, she learned that her mother was HIV-positive and had AIDS. She lost her mother shortly after. Then she became homeless when her father failed to pay the rent on their flat. She had to sleep on subway trains and park benches.

Against all odds, she made the decision to turn her life around when she was 17. She went back to school and completed four years of high school in two. Thanks to her hard work, she seized an opportunity to visit Harvard as a top 10 student in high school. Inspired by the beautiful buildings and students there, she decided that it was within her reach to attend. After winning a New York Times scholarship, she got into Harvard.

This story is inspiring and uplifting, but I’m NOT going to talk about her exceptional brilliance.

These American Dream stories distort the reality of being successful. It’s the fiction that, “Successful people are successful because they worked hard,” and, “People are not successful because they didn’t work hard enough.”

This is false. Even though there is no evidence that hard work leads to success, people emphasize hard work to the exclusion of other factors. The truth is, successful people are successful because of luck and privilege, not hard work.

Here is why. It’s safe to say that academic achievement and economic wealth are defined as success in our society. Let’s look at the correlation between this success and privilege.

In the U.S., a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research illustrates that parents’ income largely affect the college attendance rate of a child.

parents’ income and the college attendance rate of a child

Moreover, child’s income is largely determined by the income of its parents.

child’s income and the income of its parents

This is true in Japan as well. According to the study of Tokyo University, the average annual revenue of parents who have a student in Tokyo University is more than 10 million yen, which is 3 million yen higher than the average household(with more than one child) income in Japan[1].

This study shows that there is a correlation between the income of parents and academic achievement of their child. The other study [2]shows that there is a correlation between academic achievement and the child’s income. This means that a child’s income is largely determined by the income of its parents. This phenomena may be true in other countries.

Most rich people are rich for the simple reason that they were born into a rich family, whereas, most poor people will remain poor throughout their lives simply because they were born into a poor family, and they are not responsible for their condition. This is not my opinion. This is the FACT.

Place of birth is like a lottery. Birth lottery. It’s unfair and uncontrollable. But still, to make things worse, it largely influences our odds of success.

I’m saying, I’m fed up with stories that prevail in our society, as if hard work is the primary reason for success. Most of the time it’s NOT[3]. There is no evidence for that.

It’s important that we understand this truth. What happens when someone with this belief become successful? It’s not hard to imagine. The belief in hard work makes successful people feel like they deserve it and those who didn’t make it don’t deserve it. They will ignore the poor because they forget about what they are given and look at only how much effort they have made.

The truth is, successful people are successful because of their privilege, but not hard work unless they have experienced something like what Liz Murray has gone through.


[1] 年収ガイド. 世帯の年収・所得状況. Available at
[2] The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training. (2015). ユースフル労働統計 Available at p284 図 21-1 生涯賃金 (60歳まで注、退職金を含めない、2013 年)
[3] However, I want to emphasize that I don’t want to discourage people without privilege from this fact because it is still possible to succeed like Liz Murray.


Noah Harari, Yuval. (2015). Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Harper.
H. Frank,Robert. (2016). Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy. Princeton University Press.