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A Wharton Business School professor says her students think the average American makes six figures, and one thought $800,000 was an average salary

January 21, 2022, 7:07 PM UTC

A simple question from a university professor caused a social media firestorm and led to a major discussion about the U.S. wealth gap this week. 

Nina Strohminger, a legal studies and business law professor at Wharton, the number two ranked business school in the U.S., wrote on Twitter that one quarter of her students thought the average American salary was over six figures, and one even thought it was $800,000 a year.

“I asked Wharton students what they thought the average American worker makes per year and 25% of them thought it was over six figures,” Strohminger tweeted on Wednesday. “One of them thought it was $800k. Really not sure what to make of this (The real number is $45k).” 

Strohminger’s tweet quickly went viral, and social media users slammed the offending students for high-income guesses that were so far removed from reality. 

Strohminger did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

The average annual wage in the U.S. 2021 was $53,383, according to the Social Security Administration. That’s nearly $30,000 less than the annual tuition at Wharton which is $80,432 per year. 

“It tells me that these Wharton students grew up in privilege and never experienced an eviction notice,” Twitter user Sandra Bucciero replied to Strominger’s tweets. 

“I don’t understand how graduate business students can be this disconnected from the price of labor. A $800k answer indicates someone who has literally never seen a salary sheet,” responded Twitter user Chris Subagio

Strohminger followed up her initial tweet by pointing out that her student’s wrong guesses were not unique and that she polled business students specifically to determine “if they were as biased as everyone else.” 

Many Americans, for instance, think the Black-white wealth gap is 40 to 80% smaller than it actually is, according to The Institute for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University. And wealthy Americans in particular have skewed ideas about wealth distribution—they overestimate the average wealth of the wider U.S. population, according to the Journal of Psychological Science. Studies on the correlation between money and moral behaviors have also found that wealthy people are less likely than low-income people to relate to the suffering of others, as compared to poor participants in a lab setting, and score worse in demonstrations of compassion

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