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The Pecking Order: A Bold New Look at How Family and Society Determine Who We Becomeby Dalton Conley
Synopses & Reviews
We want to think of the family as a haven, a sheltered port from the maelstrom of social forces that rip through our lives. Within the family, we like to think, everyone starts out on equal footing. And yet we see around us evidence that siblings all too often diverge widely in social status, wealth, and education. We think these are aberrant cases — the president and the drug addict, the professor and the convict. Surely in most families, in our families, all children will succeed equally, and when they don't, we turn to one-dimensional answers to explain the discrepancy — birth order, for instance, or gender.
In this groundbreaking book, Dalton Conley shows us that inequality in families is not the exception but the norm. More than half of all income inequality in this country occurs not between families but within families. Children who grow up in the same house can — and frequently do — wind up on opposite sides of the class divide. In fact, the family itself is where much inequality is fostered and developed. In each family, there exists a pecking order among siblings, a status hierarchy. This pecking order is not necessarily determined by the natural abilities of each individual, and not even by the intentions or will of the parents. It is determined by the larger social forces that envelop the family: gender expectations, the economic cost of education, divorce, early loss of a parent, geographic mobility, religious and sexual orientation, trauma, and even arbitrary factors such as luck and accidents. Conley explores each of these topics, giving us a richly nuanced understanding that transforms the way we should look at the family as an institution of care, support, and comfort.
Drawing from the U.S. Census, from the General Social Survey conducted by the University of Chicago over the last thirty years, and from a landmark study that was launched in 1968 by the University of Michigan and that has been following five thousand families, Conley has irrefutable empirical evidence backing up his assertions. Enriched by countless anecdotes and stories garnered through years of interviews, this is a book that will forever alter our idea of family.
"Reveals a much more fascinatingly shaded world than that of those who choose either nature or nurture." Kirkus Reviews
"Readable, fascinating, and more accessible than former studies on sibling success." Library Journal
"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." Publishers Weekly
"The Pecking Order is a fun read with a serious intent — both a study of the family and a symptom of our fascination with it. Conley...satisfies our thirst for knowing the private lives of the rich and famous while also shedding light on the family lives of anonymous Americans." Nation
The family is our haven, the place where we all start off on equal footing — or so we like to think. But if thats the case, why do so many siblings often diverge widely in social status, wealth, and education? In this groundbreaking and meticulously researched book, acclaimed sociologist Dalton Conley shatters our notions of how our childhoods affect us, and why we become who we are. Economic and social inequality among adult siblings is not the exception, Conley asserts, but the norm: over half of all inequality is within families, not between them. And it is each familys own “pecking order” that helps to foster such disparities. Moving beyond traditionally accepted theories such as birth order or genetics to explain family dynamics, Conley instead draws upon three major studies to explore the impact of larger social forces that shape each family and the individuals within it.
From Bill and Roger Clinton to the stories of hundreds of average Americans, here we are introduced to an America where class identity is ever changing and where siblings cannot necessarily follow the same paths. This is a book that will forever alter our idea of family.
Inequality begins at home, according to this exploration of the "pecking order" in American families.
About the Author
Dalton Conley is director of the Center for Advanced Social Science Research and professor of sociology and public policy at New York University. He is also adjunct professor of community medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His essays have appeared in the ew York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Salon, among other publications. His previous books include Honky and Being Black, Living in the Red: Race, Wealth, and Social Policy in America. Conley lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
1. Inequality Starts at Home:
An Introduction to The Pecking Order
2. Butterflies in Bialystok, Meteors in Manila:
The Nature-Nurture Red Herring
3. Love Is a Pie:
Birth Order and Number of Siblings
4. Death, Desertion, Divorce:
When Bad Things Happen to Good Families
5. Movin On Up, Movin On Out:
Mobility and Sibling Differences
6. Legacies and role Models, Fat and skin:
Gender Dynamics in the Family
7. Random Acts of Kindness (and Cruelty):
Outside Influences on Sibling Success
8. From Tribes to Markets:
Conclusions, Implications, and Insinuations
About The Pecking Order:
A Technical Appendix
What Our Readers Are Saying
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