The Pecking Order: Which Siblings Succeed and Why Hardcover – Mar 2 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
The surprising fact that sibling differences account for three-quarters of all differences between individuals in explaining American economic inequality acts as a challenge for NYU sociology professor Conley. Drawing on economic studies conducted by the U.S. Census, University of Michigan and University of Chicago, and interviewing hundreds of subjects, Conley illuminates provocative findings. Counter to the belief that birth order predicts a child's success and role within a family, he argues that what really matters is family size, parental time and attention, and how much of the family's financial resources are available for the child. Conley concludes from his findings that parents can more easily affect their children's development by their choices of family size and spacing of births than by attempts to move up the economic ladder. He is candid about the limitations of current surveys and discusses the complexities of studying an institution whose modern workings are contingent on slippery factors (e.g., gender, race, class). Despite all he's learned, the staggering number of factors affecting the workings of a family frustrates Conley's desire to come up with hard and fast rules. Yet from what he has found thus far, he can proclaim, "the family is not a haven in a harsh world. It is part and parcel of that world, rat race and all. Inequality, after all, starts at home." Although Conley's academic prose may challenge general readers , graduate students looking for thesis topics will be well served: he has tons of ideas where research could go to get more answers.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Conley challenges conventional wisdom and preconceived explanations about individual success by examining divergent success rates within nuclear families, specifically between siblings. Rather than comparing two successful but nonrelated people, he concentrates on comparisons between brothers and sisters who have experienced vastly different rates of achievement. Arguing convincingly that "inequality starts at home" among siblings who share the same parents, the same socioeconomic status, and the same environment, he analyzes the different ways in which social mores and societal pressures affect various members of the same family, predetermining who will have the greater chance for personal and professional fulfillment. All but abandoning the birth-order theories that have dominated sibling studies and the personality-based explanations for success and failure, he offers a revolutionary new theory--grounded in facts and statistics--detailing the complexities of both the familial and the societal sorting processes. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Unfortunately the book just didn't amount to much. The author gives lots of anecdotes and statistics, but never manages to draw any conclusions more interesting than (1) only children and oldest children have the greatest chance for success (2) youngest children have the next greatest chance for success. Now, this is reasonably intriguing, but it only takes Conley a couple chapters to make this point. Beyond that, all the chapters are totally inconclusive. He deliberately includes an anecdote to show "a", followed by another anecdote showing "not a." After while this is pretty tiresome to read. I suppose if the reader had bought into every pop theory out there, Conley's book might serve as a good counterpoint, but otherwise it is disappointing.
Although his theories are interesting, the book does not do them justice. It is repetitive and, while there are many interesting profiles of siblings to illustrate Conley's premise, he does not seem to make use of all the text to give a solid foundation to his ideas. For example we learn of sisters with ineffectual parents who ended up supporting each other, financial and emotionally. After college, one went on to become a success while the other stuggled in many ways. After a page or two of reading their case we learn that one of the sisters suffered terrible injuries in an automobile accident and required two years to physically recover and more years to emotionally recover. When Conley states that it's impossible to speculate why one sister has done better the reader is incredulous - didn't he just say that one sister had catastrophic injuries? Might not that have something to do with it? It's an interesting story, but one that takes up space and is seemling unrelated to the thesis. The book is riddled with such time wasters added perhaps to flesh out meager content or study results.
Still, the book is intermittently interesting and if the reader is patient to work through the superfluous content, it could be an enjoyable and informative read. Those looking to cut to the chase about inter-familial class or economic differences would do well to look elsewhere.
While I appreciated the liveliness of the many examples used to illustrate the author's points, the luridness of some made it hard to take the evidence as anything but purely anecdotal. At times, it seemed like the author was rather too-eager explain how he arrived at his conclusions. There is nothing wrong with that necessarily, but I think most readers of psych books written for a general audience are willing to take more on faith than the author expected.
The most original point for me was the author's declaration that birth order didn't always mean that a child would go on to be a leader, a follower, a failure or whatever. Birth order does not necessarily predict a child's personality either. Instead, divorce, death, remarriage, economic background, helps determine how many resources a parent has to divide amongst his/her children. In fact, economic difference is often wider between adult siblings than it is between children from different families.
This book will probably hold your attention, but some readers may be left wanting more hard evidence and less anecdotes.
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