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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.
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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
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