A mob of protesters. A little girl holds up a sign that reads, "Think about my future."

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Americans love to believe that success is determined by one’s personal ability. But that’s not what research shows.

A new study found that money—not talent—is the biggest predictor of success. Using a genome-based measure, researchers concluded that hereditary gifts are distributed almost equally among poor children and rich children.

“It goes against the narrative that there are substantial genetic differences between people who are born into wealthy households and those born into poverty,” said Kevin Thom, an economics professor at New York University.

Civics Lesson: Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street protesters march down the street carrying a banner that reads "occupy."On September 17, 2011, activists camped in Zuccotti Park, located in New York City’s financial district, to protest economic inequality. The movement, known as Occupy Wall Street, lasted for nearly two months.

Photo credit: Daryl L / Shutterstock

And yet, there’s still a huge success disparity. Researchers found that the least-gifted children from wealthy families graduate from college at higher rates than the most-gifted children from poor families. Experts attribute this to the fact that children who grow up in high-income households have access to more resources than children who grow up in low-income households.

“If you don’t have the family resources, even the bright kids—the kids who are naturally gifted—are going to have to face uphill battles,” Thom explained.

This scientific analysis implies that America is less of a meritocracy and more of a plutocracy—a country governed by the wealthy. As a result, bright but poor children are frequently not able to reach their full potential while wealthy but ultimately less gifted individuals hold the majority of the power.

“Their potential is being wasted. And that’s not good for them, but that’s also not good for the economy,” said economist Nicholas Papageorge of Johns Hopkins University. “All those people who didn’t go to college who had those high genetic scores, could they have cured cancer?”

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