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The Pecking Order: Which Siblings Succeed and Why [Anglais] [Relié]

Dalton Conley

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Description de l'ouvrage

mars 2004
The family is our haven, the place where we all start off on equal footing — or so we like to think. But if that’s 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 family’s 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.
--Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

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An Introduction to the Pecking Order

Let me start with a story.

Once upon a time a future president was born. William Jefferson Blythe IV entered the world one month premature but at a healthy six pounds and eight ounces. At twenty-three, his mother, Virginia, was young by today's standards, but perhaps a touch old for Arkansas in the 1940s. She was a widow, so times were tight during Bill's early years. In fact, times would be tough during all of Bill's childhood. Nonetheless, he seemed destined for great things. According to family lore, in second grade Bill's teacher "predicted that he would be President someday."[1]

His mother eventually married Roger Clinton, but that didn't make life any easier for Bill. Roger was a bitterly jealous alcoholic who often became physically abusive to his wife. Bill cites the day that he stood up to his stepfather as the most important marker in his transition to adulthood and perhaps in his entire life. In 1962, when Bill was sixteen, Virginia finally divorced Roger, but by then there was another Roger Clinton in the family, Bill's younger half brother.

Though Bill despised his stepfather, he still went to the Garland County courthouse and changed his last name to Clinton after his mother's divorce from the man--not for the old man's sake, but so that he would have the same last name as the younger brother he cherished. Though they were separated by ten years, were only half siblings, and ran in very different circles, the brothers were close. The younger Roger probably hated his father more than Bill did, but he nonetheless started to manifest many of the same traits as he came of age. He was a fabulous salesman: at age thirteen, he sold twice as many magazines as any of his classmates for a school project, winning a Polaroid camera and a turkey for his superior effort. He also had an affinity for substance abuse: by eighteen, he was heavily into marijuana. During Bill's first (unsuccessful) congressional campaign in 1974, Roger spent much of his time stenciling signs while smoking joints in the basement of campaign headquarters.

As Bill's political fortunes rose, Roger's prospects first stagnated and then sank. He tried his hand at a musical career, worked odd jobs, and eventually got into dealing drugs. And it was not just pot; in 1984, then-governor Bill Clinton was informed that his brother was a cocaine dealer under investigation by the Arkansas state police. The governor did not stand in the way of a sting operation, and Roger was caught on tape boasting how untouchable he was as the brother of the state's chief executive. Then the axe fell. After his arrest, Roger was beside himself in tears, threatening suicide for the shame he had brought upon his family--in particular, his famous brother. Upon hearing this threat Bill shook Roger violently. (He, in truth, felt responsible for his brother's slide.)

The next January, Roger was sentenced to a two-year prison term in a federal corrections facility in Fort Worth, Texas. Bill describes the whole ordeal as the most difficult episode of his life. David Maraniss--the author of First in His Class, the most comprehensive biography of Clinton to date--summarizes the family situation as follows:

How could two brothers be so different: the governor and the coke dealer, the Rhodes scholar and the college dropout, one who tried to read three hundred books in three months and another who at his most addicted snorted cocaine sixteen times a day, one who could spend hours explaining economic theories and another whose economic interests centered on getting a new Porsche? In the case of the Clinton brothers, the contrasts become more understandable when considered within the context of their family history and environment. They grew up in a town of contrast and hypocrisy, in a family of duality and conflict. Bill and Roger were not so much opposites as two sides of the same coin.[2]

If asked to explain why Bill succeeded where Roger failed, most people will immediately point to genetic differences. After all, they were only half siblings to begin with. Others will pin it on birth order, claiming that firstborns are more driven and successful. But both of these accounts rely on individual explanations--ones particular to the unique biology or psychology of Bill and Roger--and both are incomplete. Was Bill more favored and more driven because he was a firstborn? My research shows that in families with two kids, birth order does not really matter that much. In fact, just under one-fourth of U.S. presidents were firstborns--about what we would expect from chance. The fact is that birth position only comes into play in larger families. But what about genes: was Bill simply luckier in the family gene pool? That may be so, but it still does not explain why sibling disparities are much more common in poor families and broken homes than they are in rich, intact families. In fact, when families have limited resources, the success of one sibling often generates a negative backlash among the others.

Sure, if one kid is born a mathematical genius and the other with no talents whatsoever, their respective dice may be cast at birth. But for most of us, how genes matter depends on the social circumstances around us. A child in one family may be born with innate athletic talent that is never nurtured because the parents in that family value reading ability over all else. Yet in another family, the fit between the individual talents of a particular child--say spatial reasoning--and the values of the parents may be perfect, and those abilities are realized. Finally, what kind of rewards talent brings depends entirely on the socioeconomic structure of the time. Fifty years ago, musical talent might have led to a decent living. Today--in an economy that rewards the most popular musicians handsomely at the expense of everyone else--innate musical ability is more often a route to financial struggle.

In Bill Clinton's case, he obviously had good genes--which contributed to his sharp mind, quick wit, tall stature, and verbal charisma--but there was not much advantage to being the firstborn. What really made a difference in his life was the good fit between his particular talents, the aspirations of those around him, and the political opportunities in a small state like Arkansas. This good fit combined with his family's lack of economic resources to generate an enormous sibling difference in success. However, had Virginia had money, she might not have had to put all her eggs--all her hopes and dreams--in Bill's basket. She might have been able to actively compensate for Bill's success by giving Roger extra financial and nonfinancial support--sending him, for example, to an elite private school when he started to veer off track. Instead, Bill's success seemed to come at the expense of Roger's--particularly when it led Roger to a false sense of invincibility.

On the surface, it may seem that the case of the Clintons is atypical. And, of course, a pair of brothers who are, respectively, the president and an ex-con is a bit extreme. But the basic phenomenon of sibling differences in success that the Clintons represent is not all that unusual. In fact, in explaining economic inequality in America, sibling differences represent about three-quarters of all the differences between individuals. Put another way, only one-quarter of all income inequality is between families. The remaining 75 percent is within families.[3] Sibling differences in accumulated wealth (i.e., net worth) are even greater, reaching 90-plus percent.[4] What this means is that if we lined everyone in America up in rank order of how much money they have--from the poorest homeless person to Bill Gates himself--and tried to predict where any particular individual might fall on that long line, then knowing about what family they came from would narrow down our uncertainty by about 25 percent (in the case of income). In other words, the dice are weighted by which family you come from, but you and your siblings still have to roll them. For example, if you come from a family that ranks in the bottom 5 percent of the income hierarchy, then you have a 40 percent chance of finding yourself in the lowest 10 percent, a 21 percent chance of making it to somewhere between the 30th and 70th percentile, and only a one in a thousand chance of making it to the top 10 percent. If you come from the richest 5 percent of families in America, then your odds are flipped. And if you start at the dead middle of the American income ladder, then you are about 63 percent likely to end up somewhere in that 30th- to 70th-percentile range, with a 4 percent chance of ending up either in the top or the bottom 10 percent.[5] A similar pattern holds for educational differences. For example, if you attended college there is almost a 50 percent chance that one of your siblings did not (and vice versa).[6]

What do sibling disparities as large as these indicate? They imply an American landscape where class identity is ever changing and not necessarily shared between brothers and sisters. Taken as a whole, the above statistics present a starkly darker portrait of American family life than we are used to. We want to think that the home is a haven in a heartless world. The truth is that inequality starts at home. These statistics also pose problems for those concerned with what seems to be a marked erosion of the idealized nuclear family. In fact, they hint at a trade-off between economic opportunity and stable, cohesive families.

While it may be surprising to realize how common sibling inequality is on the whole, my analysis of national data shows that Americans are quite aware of sibling disparities within their own families. For instance, when given a choice of fourteen categories of kin ranging from parents to grandparents to spouses to uncles, a whopping 34 percent of respondents claimed that a sibling was their most economically successful relative. When the question is flipped, 46 percent of respondents report a sibling being thei... --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Revue de presse

“Lucid and provocative. . . . It will make you think twice about how you became what you are.” —The Washington Post Book World

"Don't get too attached to tidy assumptions, such as ‘firstborns succeed’ and ‘elite colleges make the difference.’ The Pecking Order is bound to shatter them.” —Detroit Free Press

“Conley turns conventional wisdom on its head. . . . Astonishing.” —The New York Times

“A profound, controversial and blessedly easy-to-read book that ought to be required reading for armchair experts about families--their own families, and others about whom they gossip.” —The Oregonian

"Intriguing and provocative." —Howard Gardner, The Boston Globe

"[Conley] offers a revolutionary new theory -- grounded in facts and statistics -- detailing the complexities of both the familial and the societal sorting process." —Booklist

“Families can be tough. Now there’s statistical proof.” —O Magazine

“Fascinating…The Pecking Order provides a revealing and well-researched insight into modern American society.” —Tulsa World

“Authoritative yet lively... [Conley] chooses stories that get complicated, but he does not compromise the nuances of the statistical research. He keeps his prose simple…The Pecking Order brings an important but technical branch of social science to a new readership.” —Michael Hout, Contexts

“An interesting and eminently readable combination of overall trends and individual family histories.” —The Providence Journal-Bulletin

“From the first page, this book is engaging because you cannot help but think of your own family predicament.” —The Seattle Times

“A fun read with a serious intent…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.” —Stanley Aronowitz, The Nation

The Pecking Order is not a conventional parenting book, but it stands as a daunting reminder of the significant roles both parents and sibling play in determining a child’s success in the world.” —National Post (Canada)

"Reveals a much more fascinatingly shaded world than that of those who choose either nature or nurture." -Kirkus Reviews --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 3.2 étoiles sur 5  13 commentaires
40 internautes sur 42 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Interesting Premise Weakly Presented 15 avril 2004
Par Marsha Wood Wirtel - Publié sur
Dalton Conley presents a very interesting idea - that is, one's level of success relative to one's siblings is less the result of birth order or genetics (as is popularly believed) and more the result how much family resources (time, money, love) one receives while growing up. Along the way, he rescues the theory that parental influence is a factor, an idea that has recently been discounted.
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.
41 internautes sur 52 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Common Sense Approach to Siblings' Success 12 mars 2004
Par JK - Publié sur
You and your siblings probably grew up together in the same areas, attending relatively the same schools, with the same set of parents/step-parents/step-siblings, etc., and you both were set in probably a similar socioeconomic background for most of your lives before the age of 18. Yet you are very different people, with very different careers, experiences, higher education backgrounds, and families.
Why. Some researchers claim that birth order makes all the difference- others like to throw gender into the equation. Even others say that the ever mystifying gene pool is responsible for every difference between siblings.
In "The Pecking Order", Dalton Conley proposes a new idea; Not so much that one variable is responsible for all differences, but that many variables factor into siblings' different experiences growing up and make them the adults they grow to be. You say, this is common sense! Yes it is, and it's hard to believe it's taken this long for a researcher to propose that idea.
The extensive research of Conley and his team is manifested in this book. Conley explains the many different variables in detail and how they affect siblings- the gene pool, birth order, family size, gender, death, desertion, divorce, immigration, family migration, socioeconomic change, and random acts of kindness/cruelty performed by those not within the family circle.
The book not only contains the factual research of Conley's team but also the interviews and stories of sets of siblings from every background imaginable, and how their different experiences affected their outcome as an adult. The interviews add a level of the personal to the book, and they validate the authenticity of the research findings.
The information is impressive in and of itself, but Conley's writing style makes for a casual, one-on-one teacher to student type reading environment. He also includes an expansive, 100+ page assortment of his appendix, notes, sources, and index. These are very helpful if you'd like to dive more into the subject.
Conley also reminds us that how siblings turn out is truly subjective- to all of the reasons he lists as well as how people turn out in general.
Very well-written, very informative, and by the end you are examining yours and your siblings' childhood experiences in a new light.
13 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Interesting but Incomplete 4 octobre 2004
Par J. Allen - Publié sur
This book was a very interesting read with a disappointing conclusion. Conley presents convincing evidence for which siblings succeed and why, but lacks an effective ending making the book feel incomplete. It is as if the author is afraid to make a solid statement about what his findings mean. Still, there is a lot of good information here and I would recommend it to anyone interested in this topic with the understanding that it isn't particularly well written.
22 internautes sur 28 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Disappointing 2 juillet 2004
Par ra2sky - Publié sur
I loved the blurb on the cover and looked forward to reading this book. When Conley described how he wanted his book to be different from every other "birth order" book out there, and would use lots of statistical studies to back up his points, I was totally hooked!
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.
18 internautes sur 23 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Highly Recommended! Great Food for Thought 6 juillet 2004
Par Elizabeth - Publié sur
I was inspired to read this book after a couple of friends of mine bought it and loved it. I wasn't sure what to expect, because I've always been a bit suspicious about the whole pop-psych birth-order thing. However, this book not only validated my suspicions about putting too much stock into that (Conley doesn't believe in birth-order theories, either), it also did a great job of addressing the myriad of factors that can (and do) affect sibling outcomes and family relationships. What I like best about the book is that it approaches such a complex topic without oversimplifying or dumbing things down. It does a great job of integrating sociological insights into real world phenomena (something that academic disciplines don't always do, unfortunately). Besides that, it's written engagingly-- Conley really knows how to hold his audience, and he strikes exactly the right balance between academic-speak and common sense. This book will make you think in new ways about why you and your siblings have turned out differently. Forget those simplistic, personality-based reasons you've been holding on to; there's way more to it than that!
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