Hitting the Jackpot

Believe it or not, chances are surprisingly good that you'll be rich sometime in your adult life. Maybe not stinking rich, la Bill Gates. And maybe not for long. But over a lifetime, according to a 30-year study conducted by two sociologists, a majority of Americans will have been wealthy for at least one year.

Don't order that Rolls just yet, though, caution Mark Rank of Washington University and Thomas Hirschl of Cornell University. The chances of your being rich at some point in your life are only slightly better than the likelihood that you'll be poor.

The two researchers analyzed data collected for the University of Michigan's ongoing Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which began in 1968 with interviews of roughly 18,000 men, women and children in 4,800 randomly selected households.

Every year since then, these individuals have been reinterviewed, including those who have left the original families to form new households. The study is designed so that the sample, which has grown to include about 9,000 households and 50,000 individuals, accurately reflects the U.S. population.

Rank and Hirschl defined as "affluent" any adult living in a household with a total combined income that was at least nine times greater than the poverty level for that year. Thus in 1997, when the poverty threshold was $16,400 for a family of four, it took a total annual household income of $147,600 to be considered rich.

In this study and an earlier one that used the same data to compute the incidence of poverty, these researchers found out that the American dream--lots of money--and the American nightmare--not enough money--are remarkably commonplace:

* Nearly six in 10 adults--59 percent--will be at or below the poverty line sometime in their adult lives while slightly more--63 percent--will be wealthy.

* About three in 10 Americans will be rich but never poor sometime in their lives, while an equal proportion will only experience poverty.

* A third of all Americans will be rich and poor sometime in their lives--but only one in 10 will never experience either poverty or affluence.

The odds of striking it rich, however, are stacked against you if you are black or undereducated, Rank and Hirschl reported in a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

By age 75, only one in four blacks will ever have been affluent, compared with 65 percent of whites. Similarly, a quarter of all high school dropouts will ever become rich (at least for a year), compared with seven in 10 Americans who have a high school diploma or higher.

Sacre Bleu! The Greatest French Modern Artist Isn't French

David Galenson, our favorite University of Chicago economist-cum-art historian, is back. We recently reported on Galenson's scholarly inquiry into the relationship between a painter's age and artistic production. Now Galenson has taken a more controversial step: He's ranked the very best paintings produced by modern French artists as well as the best 35 painters of the period.

To measure artistic stature, he tallied up the number of times an artist's paintings appeared in the 33 leading modern art books published over the past three decades. To measure the "greatness" of an individual painting, Galenson counted the number of times a specific piece was reproduced in the texts.

The winner, twice: Pablo Picasso. He nearly lapped the field in terms of total paintings mentioned; Henri Matisse and Paul Cezanne finished a distant second and third, respectively. Two of Picasso's works--Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and Guernica--topped the list of most frequently reproduced paintings.

Er, wasn't Picasso a Spaniard? Technically, yes. But since he and seven other non-French modern artists in the study did so much of their best work in France, they're included, Galenson said.

Yeah, and Al Gore is Mr. Charisma

Okay--so maybe we can squint hard and see Picasso as a Frenchified artist. But here's something that even the Unconventional Wiz finds hard to believe: Richard Nixon was a liberal.

Yes, Nixon's the one--the one on the left, argues Mel Small, a history professor at Wayne State University.

Just look at his legacy, Small says in his new book, "The Presidency of Richard Nixon."

Nixon signed bills that, among other things, lowered the voting age to 18, funded the first all-volunteer Army, created the Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Office of Consumer Affairs, created Title IX (which increased financial support for women's athletic programs) and dramatically increased funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities.

"Nixon wasn't liberal in his philosophy," Small allows. "But in terms of the legislation he signed off on, he clearly was the country's last liberal president."

RESEARCH NOTES

DOCTORS' LITTLE WHITE LIES

About half of all doctors and nurses acknowledge that they've exaggerated the severity of a patient's medical condition to get insurance coverage when they felt it was necessary, according to a survey of 1,053 doctors and 768 nurses conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard University School of Public Health.

ALAN WHO?

Wall Street may worship at the feet of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, but he's largely unknown on Main Street. In a recent national survey, only 32 percent of those interviewed could tell poll-takers what Greenspan does for a living.

You can reach The Unconventional Wiz at: morinr@washpost.com