The Inequality Machine

The Inequality Machine

How universities are creating a more unequal world - and what to do about it


'Indelible and extraordinary, a powerful reckoning with just how far we've allowed reality to drift from our ideals.' Tara Westover, New York Times Book Review

We're told that universities are our greatest driver of social mobility. But it's a lie.

The Inequality Machine is a damning exposé of how the university system ingrains injustice at every level of American society.

Paul Tough, bestselling author of How Children Succeed, exposes a world where small-town colleges go bust, while the most prestigious raise billions every year; where overstretched admissions officers are forced to pick rich candidates over smart ones; where black and working-class students are left to sink or swim on uncaring campuses. Along the way, he uncovers cutting-edge research from the academics leading the way to a new kind of university - one where students succeed not because of their background, but because of the quality of their minds.

The result is a call-to-arms for universities that work for everyone, and a manual for how we can make it happen.

'Humanizes the process of higher education . . . Fascinating stories about efforts to remediate class disparities in higher education' New Yorker


  • A readable kiss-and-tell study . . . Tough finds that higher education, which has the potential to increase upward mobility, has become an obstacle that perpetuates social rigidity. The poor remain poor and the rich get richer . . . this study is laced with deep anger.
    Times Higher Education

About the author

Paul Tough

Paul Tough’s previous book, How Children Succeed, spent more than a year on the New York Times hardcover and paperback bestseller lists and was translated into 27 lan­guages. He is a contributing writ­er to the New York Times Magazine and a reg­ular contributor to the public-radio programme This American Life. You can learn more about his work at and follow him on Twitter: @paultough.
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