Demonstrate Equal Opportunity Parenting

Physician's Money DigestSeptember15 2004
Volume 11
Issue 17

You love all your children equally,but will they all do equally wellin life? According to DaltonConley, PhD, professor of sociology andpublic policy at New York University anddirector of the Center for AdvancedSocial Science Research, it's not likely.


Pecking Order: Which Siblings

Succeed and Why

Family portrait:

Dr. Conley's latest book, (Pantheon;2004), opens with a profile ofthe Clinton brothers, Bill andRoger. Bill wasvoted president of the UnitedStates. Roger was sentenced toa 2-year prison term for drug dealing.While this is an extreme example, is suchdisparity among siblings common? Dr.Conley says it is and that this inequalityoften starts in the home.

Sibling Dissimilarities

The book draws on more than 5years of research, three major nationalsurveys, and hundreds of in-depth interviews.The result? Dr. Conley found thatwhile parents like to think all siblingsare given an equal shot at attainingsocial status, wealth, and education, it'snot actually true. Consider the followingstatistics Dr. Conley providesin his book:

• Only one quarter of allincome inequality is betweenfamilies; the remaining 75% iswithin families. Sibling differencesin accumulated wealth areeven greater, reaching 90%.

• If you attended college, there'salmost a 50% chance that one of your siblingsdidn't (and vice versa).

• Research shows that in families withtwo kids, birth order doesn't really matterthat much. In fact, just under one fourthof US presidents were firstborns.

Instead of pointing a finger at birthorder, personality differences, or parentingdiscrepancies, Dr. Conley points a fingerat society. "[It's the] swirling winds ofsociety, which envelop the family," hewrites. In other words, one needs to lookat all the factors that affect a family, suchas gender expectations, education costs,divorce, geographic mobility, religious orientation,and sexual orientation. For parentswith more resources, Dr. Conleyadmits, the effects are lessened. However,for families with fewer resources, the differencescan be dramatic.

Parenting Pointers

Robb Report Worth

So, what can physician-parents do tohelp all their children succeed? In the July2004 , Dr. Conleyoffers a few pointers to parents. Here's asummary of what he had to say:

• Try to create equal conditions for allchildren even if the family's socioeconomicstatus changes throughout the years.

• Don't rely on the eldest child to takeon an adult-like role after a divorce ordeath (Dr. Conley refers to this as the"Cinderella effect").

• Provide girls with a variety offemale role models who have careersespecially if Mom doesn't work.

• Make sure the middle child receivesindividual attention—while birth orderdoesn't affect development per se, familysize does matter.

The Pecking Order

In , Dr. Conley seesthe family as a key to truly understandingwealth and status in America. "Thefamily is, in short, no shelter from thecold winds of capitalism; rather, it is partand parcel of that system," he eloquentlywrites.

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