Next week’s national spelling bee is the biggest contest ever—because more than half the spellers paid to compete instead of having to win their way in.

Shapiro Shankar:

It’s not just spelling bees where youthful competition has ramped up its intensity.Scripps gives its rationale for the program as making the competition more fair and inclusive, not less. Some areas of the country lack regional sponsors to pay winners’ way to the national event, and some have more crowded regional competitions than others, so spellers face geographic inequities. “Through RSVBee we are proud to open a door that had closed, often for matters beyond the participants’ control,” said Paige Kimble, the Bee’s executive director, in an email. Asked about creating economic inequities, she added, “It’s our aim to keep the price…as low as possible” and noted that families often can get local donors to help.It’s not just spelling bees where youthful competition has ramped up its intensity. What kids now call a “spelling career” is analogous to their peers’ approach to chess meets, dance competitions, gourmet cooking or other passions that their predecessors cultivated somewhat later in life. Parents of this generation—Generation Z, born from 1997 to 2012—have become versed in ferrying their children to high-stakes contests of all kinds, many of them expensive to sustain.The RSVBee program epitomizes how human capital development is permeating childhood. In previous generations, those with means poured time and money into preparing their offspring for college and the job market. Writing about Millennials, born in the 1980s and ’90s, journalist Malcolm Harris identified high school and college internships as the primary resume-builders. What is distinct about Gen Z is how early this process is beginning.