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The Pecking Order: A Bold New Look at How Family and Society Determin Who we Become

Conley, Dalton

ISBN 10: 0375421742 / ISBN 13: 9780375421747
Published by Pantheon Books, New York, NY, 2004
Condition: Good Hardcover
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1st Printing, highlighting in text, has stickers on back cover, and marking from some on binding, minor shelf and corner wear Quantity Available: 1. ISBN: 0375421742. ISBN/EAN: 9780375421747. Pictures of this item not already displayed here available upon request. Inventory No: 1560794596. Bookseller Inventory # 1560794596

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Pecking Order: A Bold New Look at How ...

Publisher: Pantheon Books, New York, NY

Publication Date: 2004

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:Good

Dust Jacket Condition: No Jacket

Edition: 1st Edition.

About this title


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.


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

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