11 May 2011

Painting the family portrait

As you research further back in your family history the picture of your ancestors fades. All you have left is the begats, who was born where and when, married who where and when, had children where and when, and died where and when. 

Odds are those distant lives were ones of challenge and triumph, but you don't have the option of learning about them from an interview or heart to heart conversation. What you can do is build on what you already know; squeeze more out of the information you already have by looking at it from different perspectives.

That comes across in reading The Pecking Order: which siblings succeed and why by Dalton Conley who is now Dean for Social Sciences at NYU.

Conley is quick to point out that many factors influence how a person develops. Knowing basic family facts doesn't mean we can confidently predict in any particular case. Seemingly random events can have significant ripples across time. Particular talents may trump other factors. But there are some tendencies which when put together with other scraps of evidence may sketch a family portrait.

Here are some of the key points:
  • In a conventional family the children are genetically close and share a family environment, the two biggest factors determining development. 
  • A wealthy family with a bigger resource pie to share can provide more opportunity for the children, including living in more desirable communities with better facilities. 
  • Children of a poor family, or one with many mouths to feed, often have educational opportunities, and future prospects, curtailed for economic reasons.
  • The  resource pie can grow or shrink depending on the success, and survival, of the breadwinner(s) which can differentially influence older and younger children.
  • A local extended family, think of holiday meals with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins, can compensate for or sometimes aggravate the family situation. 
  • The older child starts out with more individual attention which declines as the resource pie gets shared more with increasing family size.
  • Birth order is less significant than family size and child spacing. Often the oldest and youngest (mistake) children in a large family do better than the middle children. 
  • If a parent dies the eldest child at home is often expected to take on increased domestic responsibilities which may impact on education, but also cause them to accept responsibility more easily. Adult siblings who have already left the family home will likely be relatively less affected.
  • Pre-school children often adjust better to migration than older children.
The Pecking Order: which siblings succeed and why by Dalton Conley, published in 2004, received mixed reviews. Some reviewers didn't like the anecdotal style. Borrow it through your local public library or purchase through Amazon which has multiple copies for resale at http://goo.gl/CjQ8k

1 comment:

DWP said...

Among the key points not mentioned in this post is whether the child is a girl or a boy. Some fathers thought that his daughters should have the same educational opportunities as his sons, whereas other fathers thought that his daughters' role was to be only in domestic work for which the fathers thought that no schooling was needed.