THE PECKING ORDER by Dalton Conley


Which Siblings Succeed and Why
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The roles of nature, nurture, and birth order as they relate to socioeconomic success.

“The family is not a haven in a harsh world,” writes Conley (Sociology/NYU; Honky, 2000). “It is part and parcel of that world, rat race and all. Inequality, after all, starts at home.” Or not, for the author finds that with adequate resources—time, money, connections—parents can compensate for natural disabilities and provide opportunities that those with attenuated resources could never deliver. Notions of nurturing and the tracking of genes simply do not explain socioeconomic success in and of themselves, declares Conley, supporting his thesis with as many anecdotal examples and study results as anyone could muster in hopes of vouching one position or another. Life is just too messy and complicated for a single explanation, and if there is a pecking order within the family unit, Conley suggests it will be “conditioned by the swirling winds of society that envelop the family,” including gender expectations, the cost of schooling, the divorce rate, geographical mobility, religious and sexual orientations, not to mention plain luck either good (stumbling across mentors) or bad (lousy personal health), and—not to forget—nature, nurture, and birth order. Conley also figures degrees of trauma—death, incapacitation of a parent, desertion of a parent, divorce—and how they play upon the birth order if, for example, the oldest sibling has moved out before the trauma. He also investigates such issues as how younger members of the family understand the sacrifices of the older sibling when they have to toss all to help lend financial support. When no factor holds any definitive edge in explaining different levels of sibling achievement, asks Conley, why accept anything less than more variables to the equation? Why indeed?

Reveals a much more fascinatingly shaded world than that of those who choose either nature or nurture.

Pub Date: March 2nd, 2004
ISBN: 0-375-42174-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2004


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