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.
"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
From the Trade Paperback edition.