This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

A "New" View of What it Takes to Get Ahead

One of the themes of the recent World Economic Forum in Davos was income inequality, and it is anticipated that President Obama's State of the Union Address tomorrow will also have that as a theme. Into this discussion has come a new book titled "Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America." Although the book will not technically be out for a week or so, it is featured in this week's TIME and the authors have an article in yesterday's New York Times Sunday Review. The authors have bona fides as successful people. Amy Chua and her husband Jed Rubenfeld both graduated from Harvard Law School and both hold named chairs at Yale Law School. First, though, is the critical view from Suketu Mehta in TIME:
Her new book, co-authored with her husband, widens its aim [from her previous book on being a "Tiger Mom"], purporting to explain why not just Asians (like Chua) but also seven other groups--Cubans, Jews (like Rubenfeld), Indians (like me), Nigerians, Mormons, Iranians and Lebanese--are superior when it comes to succeeding in America.
The book claims that these groups thrive because of three traits: a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control. The ones lacking the "Triple Package" are African Americans, Appalachians, Wasps and pretty much everybody else.
Now, the authors themselves:
MOST fundamentally, groups rise and fall over time. The fortunes of WASP elites have been declining for decades. In 1960, second-generation Greek-Americans reportedly had the second-highest income of any census-tracked group. Group success in America often tends to dissipate after two generations. Thus while Asian-American kids overall had SAT scores 143 points above average in 2012 — including a 63-point edge over whites — a 2005 study of over 20,000 adolescents found that third-generation Asian-American students performed no better academically than white students.
The authors are lawyers, not social scientists, but their scholarship did nonetheless lead them to my good friend, Rubén Rumbaut, at the University of California, Irvine:
A central finding in a study of more than 5,000 immigrants’ children led by the sociologist Rubén G. Rumbaut was how frequently the kids felt “motivated to achieve” because of an acute sense of obligation to redeem their parents’ sacrifices. Numerous studies, including in-depth field work conducted by the Harvard sociologist Vivian S. Louie, reveal Chinese immigrant parents frequently imposing exorbitant academic expectations on their children (“Why only a 99?”), making them feel that “family honor” depends on their success.
My own view--based on a WASP heritage, from both sides, of immigrants from England and Wales in the 19th century--is that there is only one element at work, and that is self-discipline. Children might learn this on their own, but mainly they are going to learn it from their parents. Immigrant parents are self-selected in this regard and so we can expect a higher fraction of them than the general populace to be tuned in to this. But it transcends culture in the abstract, and gets us down to the culture in the home. That's a big for another day.

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