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The Pecking Order: A Bold New Look at How Family and Society Determine Who We Become Paperback – April 12, 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (April 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375713816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375713811
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #461,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In recent years, people have begun to examine family dynamics for clues to individual success. Birth order, in particular, has been a favored explanation for the differences between siblings in everything from leadership skills to romantic conquests. Now Dalton Conley, a sociology professor at NYU, reveals that indeed our siblings may affect how our lives turn out, but not in the ways we might think. Conley made an effort not to simplify the very complex familial data collected by both the United States Census, a long-term study conducted by the University of Michigan, and the University of Chicago's General Social Survey. What he found was that the differences between siblings outweigh almost every other kind of difference between any two individuals in the United States. Every family has a pecking order independent of birth order, and the differences between siblings are magnified by poverty and disenfranchisement. In these situations, families invest in the sibling most likely to succeed, leading to stark divides, even class differences between family members. Oddly, the choice of successful sibling is made independent of birth order, parental attention, or innate talents, and becomes a tacit agreement among family members. Conley uses a plethora of examples, including Bill and Roger Clinton, to illustrate his findings, and readers will nod knowingly at many of the ubiquitous family behaviors that set siblings up for differing life paths. Ultimately, what The Pecking Order reveals is that there is no single factor that can predict one's success or failure in life, but that complex, multilayered familial dynamics play the biggest part in determining our fate. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Might not that have something to do with it?
Marsha Wood Wirtel
There are very few actual conclusions made by the author despite the numerous anecdotes used to (supposedly) present his arguments.
John Forman
I had high hopes for this book, but it was a terrible disappointment.
Lisa Jones

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Marsha Wood Wirtel on April 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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.
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42 of 53 people found the following review helpful By JK on March 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful By ra2sky on July 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By J. Allen on October 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth on July 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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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