Episode 92: Professor Dalton Conley, The Pecking Order
Professor Dalton Conley
Karen speaks with Professor Dalton Conley, the Henry Putnam University Professor of Sociology at Princeton University and affiliate of the Office of Population Research and the Center for Health and Wellbeing. Professor Conley talks with Karen about his bestselling book, The Pecking Order, Which Siblings Succeed and Why, which asserts that birth order does not determine success but instead, success is influenced by socioeconomic factors.
Dalton Conley is the Henry Putnam University Professor in Sociology and a faculty affiliate at the Office of Population Research and the Center for Health and Wellbeing. He is also a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), and in a pro bono capacity he serves as Dean of Health Sciences for the University of the People, a tuition-free, accredited, online college committed to expanding access to higher education.
Conley’s scholarship has primarily dealt with the intergenerational transmission of socioeconomic and health status from parents to children. This focus has led him to study (among other topics): the impact of parental wealth in explaining racial attainment gaps; the causal impact of birthweight (as a heuristic for the literal overlap of the generations) on later health and educational outcomes; sibling differences that appear to reflect the triumph of achievement over ascription (but which may, in fact, merely reflect within-family stratification processes); and, finally, genetics as a driver of both social mobility and reproduction.
He earned a M.P.A. in Public Policy (1992) and a Ph.D. in Sociology (1996) from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in Biology from NYU in 2014. His books include Being Black, Living in the Red; The Starting Gate; Honky; The Pecking Order; You May Ask Yourself; Elsewhere, USA;Parentology; and The Genome Factor. He has been the recipient of Guggenheim, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Russell Sage Foundation fellowships as well as a CAREER Award and the Alan T. Waterman Award from the National Science Foundation. He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science as well as a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Intro Voices 00:04
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Karen Ortman 00:30
This is you matter, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of campus safety. Hi, everyone, and welcome back to you matter, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I'm your host Karen Ortman, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety operations at the Department of Campus Safety, and a retired law enforcement professional. Today I welcome Professor Dalton Conley, the Henry Putnam University professor of sociology at Princeton University, and affiliate of the Office of Population research, and the center for health and well being. Professor Conley is here to talk about his best selling book, the pecking order, which siblings succeed and why, which asserts that birth order does not determine success, but instead, success is influenced by socio economic factors. Professor Conley, welcome to you matter.
Dalton Conley 01:35
Thanks for having me, Karen. And please, please call me Dalton.
Karen Ortman 01:38
So if you could share with our listeners, what is the study of sociology? Let's start there.
Dalton Conley 01:46
That's a tough question. Actually. Sociology is the study of group interaction, social behavior at any level from interactions between two individuals on up to understanding dynamics and all of society.
Karen Ortman 02:04
When was your passion born? For this field of study,
Dalton Conley 02:08
I would say it had a long gestation and when it was born, was actually after I graduated college and was trying to figure out what to do with my life. But up until then, I in college actually took one sociology class I barely remember in intro to sociology. But when I look back on my life, it seems almost, you know, over determined that I ended up as a sociologist, because I grew up. My parents were both artists, my mom was a writer, my dad was a painter. And, and they were, as you can imagine, struggling young artists. And they looked for a cheap place to live in the late 1960s, in New York City, when they moved here, and they ended up living in a neighborhood of housing projects on the Lower East Side, where I was a fish out of water. My childhood was like a sociology experiment, in the sense of I was very different in terms of my skin tone, and the kind of resources that my extended family had. And the cultural capital, as we call it in sociology that my family had compared to my neighbors. Yet, I was growing up in the same sort of physical and social environment at the same time, yeah. Later on, I ended up commuting to the other side of town to a wealthier neighborhood. So I got to see on a daily basis, both ends of the rather broad economic spectrum that we have here in New York County, aka Manhattan, which is literally the most unequal county in the United States. So all of those experiences of realizing my own sort of middle class privilege, even though my parents were on food stamps, my own sort of white racial privilege, even though I was living in a impoverished, dark skinned community, all that by contrast, and then further sort of seeing how the, the, the wealthier people on this island live. All was sort of marinating in my brain. And I discovered sociology as a way to make sense of all that, I think, I think a lot of us are motivated by unconscious reasons, and we don't know why we go into something. And that's my best guess.
Karen Ortman 04:40
Yeah. So you mentioned that you took one Sociology course in college, what was your major,
Dalton Conley 04:47
especially my major was art and technology in the 20th century. I wrote my senior thesis on the transformation of Warner Brothers cartoons, from Porky Pig to Daffy Duck to Bugs Bunny. Look, I got my degree I got out. I didn't know what I was doing. Then I figured things out.
Karen Ortman 05:09
So when did you get involved in teaching at the college level?
Dalton Conley 05:15
Well, originally, I, I saw the struggles that my parents went through trying to make it as, as an artist and a writer. And I really wanted to be a writer. But I didn't want to have those same struggles. So I wanted some more job security. And I thought, going and get a PhD, and then becoming a college professor, would be a way that I could have some amount of, of economic security, yet also have the time off during summers. And during all the breaks that colleges get to do pursue my passion of writing. I didn't know that once you get into something like that, it starts to take over your mind and actually put you in a different direction. So that ended up becoming my passion. And my, my, you know, my primary occupation, and the writing fell away to becoming more of a secondary thing.
Karen Ortman 06:19
You're now at Princeton University, which we said in the intro, what other schools have you worked on?
Dalton Conley 06:26
Well, I mean, I spent most of my career at your August institution at NYU. I was there, depending on how you count 16 years or so. And I still come back occasionally, as a visitor to the Abu Dhabi campus, at least I've done one so far and repeat that. And, you know, I'm a native New Yorker, so, and a lifelong New Yorker, so I really feel a connection to NYU, very much still,
Karen Ortman 06:57
the pecking order which siblings succeed, and why. What about this subject compelled you to write this book?
Dalton Conley 07:09
Well, there are many answers to that question. We break down the amount of inequality we have. And we talk about where, where it's located, so to speak, about half of it is between families, and half of it is within families. And what I mean by within families, I mean, half of the differences that you can see, if you randomly, you know, draw two people from the pool of the US Census, about half of those differences would exist between two siblings drawn. So in other words, two siblings, you and I are not related. Whatever differences we have, if if I happen to pick my sister, or I don't know if you have siblings, but what are your siblings, that on average, the differences between you and your sister will be basically half as much as whatever differences are between us on average. In other words, it's a difficult concept to explain. But what I'm trying to say is that a lot of the inequality we see, and we know we have a lot of it in this country, yeah, is actually between siblings. So becoming from the same family doesn't mean you end up in equal position, we see these very stark differences between siblings from the same family. That's the starting point. The second point is that actually even that sibling inequality itself is not created equally. If you come from a disadvantaged family, that meaning, you come from a family where there's only one parent there, raising the kids, you come from a low income family, you come from a family, that's racial minority, then the differences between how the kids turn out turned out to be greater. If you come from a wealthy family with few kids, a lot of resources, racial majority family, then the differences between those kids tend to be less dramatic, because parents who have those resources actually use it to quote unquote, buy equality between their kids to ensure that their kids all even the, the the most lagging, one is brought up to be closer to the other siblings. So that's the so that's one part of it is that let's understand the patterns by which siblings end up similar or dissimilar in life. And the second pattern the second question that motivates the book is, okay, we know there's a lot of differences between siblings. What predicts which sibling is on the top of the pecking order? Which is on the bottom?
Karen Ortman 10:04
Yeah. The subject of birth order has always been fascinating to me. It's not just a fun sort of evaluation of where you fall in terms of birth order.
Dalton Conley 10:17
Yeah, we don't live in like a medieval society where you have a firstborn male inherits the, the estate and, and everyone else is screwed over. It's much more complicated. And the family is not a simple kind of like, cookie cutter machine. It's it's a complex boiling cauldron where people are bouncing off each other and reacting to each other. So birth order does matter in some circumstances, which I can talk about. But it's not as powerful and all determining as most people tend to think there are a lot of other factors that we can talk about that determine which which brother or sister will be the golden child and which will not
Karen Ortman 11:00
Yeah. And then there's all the other factors that come into play in a family like dysfunction, abuse, addiction, that tends to change the family dynamics entirely.
Dalton Conley 11:21
Let me start, you start with the overall like patterns of birth order, and then we can get to those kind of complicated situations. Okay. So overall, in a family of two kids, there's no birth order effect. So, there might be on personality, there might be another sort of the political leanings, on all sorts of psychological traits. But you know what, you can be the chatty extrovert and be successful in our society. And you can be a ponderous introvert and be successful in our society. Yeah. Because you'll find different niches. So ultimately, for economic success, whatever differences birth order doesn't matter, doesn't engender in a in a family of two kids don't really have major consequences on their chances of economic success, where birth order, again, on average tends to come in to play as in larger families, such as yours. So when you get a family of three or more in tends to be the middle children that suffer the most, the firstborn and the last born, tend to be more advantaged, as compared to the ones who are in the middle one, true front more for attention. That's it, that they're the firstborn, at least gets to spend the very beginning of their lives as the only child they have, they might get some sort of favorite treatment, growing up. And often the last born does as well. And in theory, if the if the rest of the kids move out of the house, when they're supposed to according to our cultural norms, then they get to spend the last part of their childhood with all the resources on them. And interestingly, in very large families, that effect is even more pronounced, so that the last born in a very large family is tend to do the best of all. And it tends to be because there often is a large gap between the second last and the last. Because the last is, let's call it a happy accident, like people have three or four kids. And then there's a gap of, I don't know, five, seven years, and all of a sudden, oops, there's another kid. And that kid has been raised not only by his or her parents, but by these kind of older, much older deputy parents. Yeah, so they're getting a lot of attention from older, more cognitively stimulating people in the household. Yeah. So it really is, again, the ones that are stuck in the middle, so to speak, that are kind of lost in the family shuffle and suffer for it. But again, certain, as you mentioned, there's death, divorce, abuse, etc, that can actually flip that script in complicated and interesting ways.
Karen Ortman 14:19
Is there a commonality that you can attribute to dysfunction and how it impacts the larger families that you're speaking of? The three plus kids? And do I assume that it would affect a smaller family differently with just two kids?
Dalton Conley 14:40
Well, I think, obviously, dysfunction is generally not good for any kid. But how it works depends on the timing and when it occurs in the life course of the kids. So if you have a larger family, you're more likely to have a wider age disparity between the kids meaning from the oldest to the youngest, and therefore, when some family trauma happens, is happening at very different points in the kid's life courses. So let's, let's take, before we get into something like, you know, domestic abuse or something complicated like that, yeah, let's take something like the death of a parent, you know, not a long chronic disease that the family has been dealing with for 10 years, but just dad has a heart attack and kicks the bucket. And there's the trauma and shock and bereavement over that. And there's also negative economic consequences to the family. Now the mom is now they're a single mom family, and then she, whether she was working or not, before, of all of a sudden, she's balancing everything, which is fewer parental resources and Family Resources. In general, with something like that happens, it's better to be the oldest. And in the case of a large family, it's just better to be further up the birth order, whether you're in the middle or not, because you will have experienced more of your childhood under the better conditions. And it'll affect the younger kids the most. But now, let's talk about Well, there's one exception to that, okay. What I call the Cinderella effect, to just show you how complicated is when the eldest is it is a female, a daughter. Often when there's a divorce or a death of a parent, we regardless of which parent that is, the eldest female takes on the social role of the other parent. And that's why I call it the Cinderella effect she's she takes on the housework, or the caring for the younger siblings. Enormous amount of adult responsibility and a predator naturally young age. And you might think, Well, isn't that good for her, like she's learning adult responsibility compared to the kids? No, it turns out that most often, that Cinderella in the family end up overly burdened by those responsibilities, making sacrifices, for example, not going to college, so she can stay home and take care of her younger siblings. So on the other hand, if you're already out of the house, if you already left, by the time, some tragedy like that happened, you're not scot free, obviously. But you're in a lot better position than the kids who are still in home, even if you're the eldest female in the family. So you have to learn to look at the sort of the whole landscape to understand when and how birth order and gender matter. Yet, and I haven't even talked about genes, of course, you know, you could have one kid who's just a prodigy, another kid who's, who's, who's a dollard. And all the birth order other family circumstances in the world aren't going to change that.
Karen Ortman 18:10
Can you speak to your research and how it was conducted for this book?
Dalton Conley 18:15
Sure. I mean, it's a combination of what we call multi methods study. The broad statistical trends and analyses were done on nationally representative data. Data Sets, including the US Census, which of course captures everybody in a household to a study called the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, or what I like to nickname America's family tree, because they've been following well, they started with 5000, nationally representative families in 1968.
Karen Ortman 18:56
I heard about that, that's fascinating.
Dalton Conley 18:57
And then just followed all of the descendants, basically, if you moved in and married somebody in the PSID family, and then you got divorced and moved out, they still try to follow you and your kids and so forth. So it becomes this kind of family tree like structure. And from those original 5000 family, it's touched, I think, by now, almost 200,000 individuals, they have data. So you can really follow multi-generational dynamics within that study. Those are the two main sort of data sets of I realized a couple others. And then I flesh out the stories and actually make some interesting new discoveries, by using by doing interviews with siblings, and getting the perspective of each sibling. You know, I had expected for example, for kids to do or not kids. But adults siblings to do a version of the old Smothers Brothers comedy routine where mom always loved you best, where each one thought that the other one was the favorite. However much just our surprise, in the interview study, we found that there was agreement about who, who the golden child and who the black sheep was in the family. I might say, Oh, mom and dad really loved Karen the most or I don't know about love. But they certainly she was their favorite. And they, you know, doted on her. They, they were so proud of her. Like, I just felt like chopped liver compared to her. And then they'd go interview you, instead of saying, oh, you know, an adult and got all the attention, you would say, Yeah, I feel guilty. I was the favorite. And I feel bad now because my brother's not doing too well. And so, you know, I put money in his kid’s college savings account. There's some account, but there's actually agreement about disparate treatment by the parents, which that was totally surprising to me. Through the interviews, we also learned that about the important role of sexual identity and also about within minority communities and minority families, skin tone. So, for example, many people are familiar with the idea that within the African American community, lighter skinned individuals tend to be more advantaged socio economically but turns out, you know, there's variation in skin tone with even within a family and, and that pattern tracks within family. So for black families, more than birth order is skin tone. For example, if you're a, what I'll call a sexual minority, non hetero normative sexual identity, you're, you're gay, or bisexual or whatever, or queer in some other way, that can be good for you socio economically or bad for you socioeconomically depending on your starting position. Again, a complicated story. If you're from a struggling family or community, like you're from a dying mill town in upstate New York, or, or you're from a impoverished inner city neighborhood, the not fitting in to the dominant sort of cultural norms about sexuality, being gay, let's say, is going to spark likely spark a journey for you. And you're most likely to end up in one of the world called gay capitals of the United States, a major urban center where there's where there's a gay community. And, and even though it's motivated by finding your sexual identity, along for the ride comes upward social mobility from that, from that die in Middletown, or from that impoverished inner city neighborhood, you tend to be end up better off economically than your siblings. But if you come from a wealthy family, and you're the gay son, you tend to be disfavored, on average, and end up worse off than your siblings. So, again, in that case, it depends on where you're starting.
Karen Ortman 23:40
Yeah. How long did it take you to write your book?
Dalton Conley 23:46
Oh, I never know how to answer a question about how long the book takes because I had been thinking about it. And doing some of the research for four years,
Karen Ortman 23:59
I would imagine your search took many years.
Dalton Conley 24:02
But once all the research had been gathered, and the interviews completed and transcribed, and, and sorted out the actual writing, probably, you know, a few months for the first draft, and then a few months of, you know, so probably your total writing, but the actual studies that went into it took many more years.
Karen Ortman 24:23
yeah, that makes sense to me. So in the pecking order, you stated that in each American family, there exists a pecking order between siblings a status hierarchy, if you will. And this hierarchy both reflects and determines the siblings positions in the overall status ordering in society. What does this mean? And can you give an example of how this might play out?
Dalton Conley 24:54
There exists a pecking order in each family. That is a finding from the inner views when there was no like, differences in the subjective ranking of the position of each kid, each sibling acknowledge, they could say, it's Jill, John, Jason, and then Jerry, that's the order. And if you ask each of those people, they're going to give that exact same order. Of course, there's some. It's not a hard and fast rule. But that was what I was shocked at, in the interviews that everybody agreed to the rank order of this sort of status or power or position of the various siblings, and that they trace that back to all the way back to childhood. Yeah. Yet that's probably retrospective labeling, because they didn't know necessarily, who is going to turn out very successful, who was not but once they're adults, and there is a difference in their sort of traditionally defined socio economic success. That's now sort of seen as a result of the dynamics back in childhood of who was who was the more favored or golden child and who wasn't.
Karen Ortman 26:17
Yeha. Does that also go to the often-asked question of the parents, who do you love most?
Dalton Conley 26:26
Exactly. So for a limit, for a limited number of families, we interviewed the parents as well. That was the original intention, in fact, to get every member of the family and get their point of view. But we found that the parents were useless. Really, the siblings told us well, everything we needed to know, the parents had this sort of cognitive veil over themselves, they, you know, they had lies that they told themselves, that worked just fine for them, and they weren't gonna, like deviate from them. And that, I will call it a lie. The mantra is, I love all my kids equally, which, myself as a parent of three children, of course, I love all my children equally, but that we become blind to is how we actually treat them differently. Even if we love them all equally. So the parents were totally useless. They wouldn't. Yes, you love all your kids equally. But now let's talk about how you treated them differently. And they're they can't...
Karen Ortman 27:32
Dalton Conley 27:33
they can not, yeah, they can not process that.
Karen Ortman 27:37
You also talk about in your book, birth order being the red herring, uh, studying families. Because, and this is this is consistent with what you said earlier, because you said that the family size is what really matters. So like, a family of two kids, there is no birth order effects, right. But you can still study that family, it's just not going to be in the context of birth order.
Dalton Conley 28:07
right. There gonna be likely some differences between those two kids and in their socioeconomic status as adults. And it just, it's just as equally likely that the firstborn is going to be the more successful one as it is the second born in that two kid family,
Karen Ortman 28:28
you referenced the Cinderella effect earlier, and that the oldest child, assuming that, let's say mom dies, a premature death? And that just leaves dad to raise the kids. Is it always the oldest child that would bear that outcome? Or could it be the youngest child who's more responsible than the oldest child?
Dalton Conley 28:58
I mean, of course, there are innate differences in responsibility. Yeah, like response, sense of responsibility, reliability, all those kinds of things are somewhat environmental, and somewhat in our genes. I can only report the overall pattern, that it's very unlikely that the youngest child would take on that. And it's very unlikely that a male child takes on that. It it's when there's an older female sibling, whoever the oldest, if the oldest, if the oldest child still at home is a female, that's likely she's likely to end up with that burden or responsibility.
Karen Ortman 29:39
But if she's not home, that's a good point. If she's not home, and there are three children remaining, and let's say there's two boys and a girl, regardless of what order that girl is, will she be the...
Dalton Conley 29:50
again, it's much more likely if she's the eldest one at home, but after that, I I can wager prediction Then you have the kind of competing tugs of gender norms versus age. Yeah, one of the patterns that we found was that this the sibling who's the most successful, was tended to be tended to be the least connected to the family, they often move farther away for their career. And therefore, they actually saw the rest of their family less often, and, as a consequence, was less engaged with, for example, elder care taking care of a frail or sick parents. So the cost of that success is sort of a slight disengagement, let's say from the fam. Also, I've noticed that imagine you have two professionals who get married, they both have the exact same status, maybe they're both doctors or either they're in some high status profession. they're more likely, I mean, there's a lot of other factors, of course, like, where they live, they happen to live and where their families of origin happen to live. But there, they're more likely to be connected to the husband's family, if the husband's family. If the husband comes from a family, that is also a family of professionals, if the wife is upwardly mobile and her family's working class, but she's now a doctor, they're going to feel more culturally connected to the husband's family
Karen Ortman 31:35
Dalton Conley 31:35
or vice versa, of course. So lastly, on the sort of input side of culture matters, what's really hard to distinguish between culture and economics in the sense of going back to what I first said, is that there's greater inequality among certain, like, more disadvantaged families, the in terms of the outcomes of their children than there is among wealthy families or privileged families. And that's due to different practices within the family, which we could call culture. But I rather think of them as more like economic rationalities. If you are, say, just skirting the poverty line and have very limited resources. And you see that of your three kids, one seems to have an enormous talent, you're going to take all your resources and put it you know, better than a number, you know, number two, letter B and a third race, like you're going to put all your eggs in that one basket, because you think chances are, like, society is stacked against us, this kid has the best chance of making it, Let's enhance that chance as much as possible. If we have any money for tutoring, or any money for whatever extracurricular activities that would enhance that kid's chances, I'm going to give it to that, that kid, I'm going to spend more time and energy on that kid, and hopefully, that kid makes it and then can lift, it can help the rest of us out. Now, that's a rational approach when this deck is stacked against you, when you're kind of sitting at the top of society, and you have three kids. And you see that two are doing just fine in school, and one is kind of messing up, you know, his high every day for school or his grades are slipping or whatever, that's the kid you're going to put the most resources in, because you want to prevent them from falling downward, you want to maintain the equality between your kids, because it's assumed that the other kids are going to do just fine. So the investment strategy among the parents is exactly the opposite. In in, in in the two scenarios, that looks like a cultural preference, maybe about equality and privileging equality or not within the family. But I think it's actually a much more rational sort of economically driven calculation.
Karen Ortman 34:12
What about your research for your book shocked you the most?
Dalton Conley 34:21
Well, I'd say that the quantitative analysis where I describe the overall patterns did not shock me. As I mentioned, the interviewer shocked me and the interviewer shocked me, because that's where it was revealed to me that there's a widespread agreement among members of the family about the pecking order. And then the two other sort of dynamics that I was worth really three other dynamics that I wasn't able to discover in the quantitative analysis because they're more subtle, and that is the skin tone effect being so pervasive in African American fans Emily's the, the queerness effect, if you will, and the Cinderella effect. So those really attest to the power of actually talking to people and doing the kind of old shoe leather kind of sociology, which I don't usually do. I usually I'm ensconced in my office with my computer and just analyzing data that other people already collected. But this is one of those few studies in my career that actually engaged involved collecting new data through talking.
Karen Ortman 35:34
Yeah, yeah. Did you speak to any teen parents,
Dalton Conley 35:40
we had a whole range of, of ages and in teen parenthood falls into that general category that I mentioned, of disadvantage. Where if you have a lot of kids, if you're a young parent, if you're a single parent, if you have less money, if you're a racial minority, it all drives the same sort of pattern of greater disparities between your kids in that different differential investment strategy.
Karen Ortman 36:10
So you have a sibling?
Dalton Conley 36:11
Karen Ortman 36:12
a younger sibling?
Dalton Conley 36:13
a younger sister by three years.
Karen Ortman 36:16
And do you find that your research comports with your family's outcome?
Dalton Conley 36:29
Well, according to my data analysis, we're a family of two. So there should be no birth order effects. We didn't have a traumatic, you know, one of our parents and go out for cigarettes and milk and never come back. You know, during our childhood, we didn't have a death of a parent. So a lot of it does not apply. Yeah. But as I said at the outset, like I went into academia, for job security. And that's been great. I, you know, when the great recession happened, I didn't have to worry about my income, plummeting to zero, but losing my job, yeah. In a way that my sister and her husband have been, you know, they they're doing just fine. But because of their career choices. They're more tied to the business cycle and so forth. So we definitely have some differences, but they're not super drastic or anything like that. As some, as many of the families are describing.
Karen Ortman 37:46
Did your research impact your own parenting? You said, you have three children?
Dalton Conley 37:52
Yeah. I tried to ascribe to what I preached. In the end, for example, in the family size domain, I had two kids. And I said, That's it. Once you have a third creates a disadvantage the middle child, and so I was stopping there. But then 20 years later, I had a third kid. So that again, hopefully that fits into what I was saying before the big gap between the siblings. It helps out that that younger kid, but yeah, they're there half the youngest one has a half sibling of the other two, which we haven't even got into the whole domain because there are step siblings or half siblings
Karen Ortman 38:45
your just going to have to come back because there's just too much to talk about. I think three is a great number. I have three, and I love them all the same. Equally.
Dalton Conley 38:55
That's why I'm not going to interview you. For myself.
Karen Ortman 38:59
Fair enough. In a prior interview, I don't know I don't recall if the statement was made or the question was asked, but it was something to the effect of isn't sociology, the study of the obvious?
Dalton Conley 39:15
That's a hahah that's a, a critique, often level that sociology and Sociology at its worst is certainly the study of the obvious. But I will refer to my esteemed colleague, Duncan Watts, who's a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania. His book called Everything is obvious. The subtitle is something like only after the fact or something like that. And he quotes a very famous study from the mid 20th century by Paul Lazarus Feld, who was one of the towering sociologists of 20th century America. And they asked they did a study about The Army during World War Two and they asked...they want to know who survives army life better who thrives better and army life. draftees or recruits who come from urban areas from the city or from the country. And now you can tell a story that like city draftees are more used to living in cramped quarters and having roommates and having like, I'm working with others, and being around a lot of people at all times. So they can eat more easily adapt to life in the army. Or you could say, well, you know, country folk, they're used to hard physical work and, and maybe more material deprivation and living in it more closer to the earth, so to speak. And that's more like army life. So they can they actually do better than the army. I don't actually remember the real answer. But I think it was actually city draftees, but like, if I told you at first city, people from the city do better in the army than people from the country. You said, Well, yeah, that's obvious, of course, because they're used to living in more cramped conditions. Like, but we didn't know actually, beforehand, we had two competing hypotheses. So a lot of times, something that seems obvious, after the fact is not obvious, when you have to actually think about it and make a prediction before you know the answer.
Karen Ortman 41:33
Yeah. Is there anything about The Pecking Order that you want to talk about? Before we end our time together that perhaps you want listeners to know, other than? Obviously, they can get it at any location that sells books? It's a great book. But is there anything that you want to share about it that we haven't talked about which we haven't talked about a lot of it? Because we don't have the time, but...
Dalton Conley 42:03
I guess I would say that it's, it's, it's now quite an old book. Study, I think it's still relevant. Yeah. And, and is informed my work ever since in the sense that now, my primary area of research is integrating genetics and social science. And genetics, I talk about it in The Pecking Order, but I don't really analyze it, because back then, we didn't have genetic data, at a large scale to understand to integrate it with social scientific studies. But now we do. So now, I can actually talk about the pecking order in a much more complete way. Because I can talk about how someone's genotype there. So what genes they happen to inherit, from their parents play a role in all of this within a family and how that interacts with birth order, and so forth. Because, you know, you and your siblings, you only share 50% of your genes on average. So there's a significant difference between you and your brothers and sisters in your genetic makeup. And that's another sort of layer of complexity, and you could have a kid who's incredibly, athletically talented, but they're born into a family that's a bunch of librarians, and they never have that talent fostered by or you could have the kid who's like, the math prodigy, but born into a family that is a bunch of basketball fanatics, and never has that mathematical talent fostered, yeah, so are realized. So it's really like a three level chessboard, you have the bottom level of, like, what you what your innate, or God given talents are and liabilities. And then you have, what your family values and what they, what their environment is, and the kind of investments they make, then you have what society rewards so you could even have a lineup of the first two levels, like let's say I'm innately musically talented, which I am 180 degrees from that, and my family values music as well. You know, what, it's really hard to make it as a musician and make a viable living as a musician in society. So, you can have even kind of a pair or you know, part of a of a straight flush with at the individual or family level, but then you get to the society level and what your family culture and what your talents are it just not rewarded or very few people are rewarded for that. Or, you know, conversely, you could have that the kid is talented Mathematically, the family is not that oriented that way. But today's society does reward mathematic ability in terms of like, for example, you know, computer programmers, just, there's just 1,000,001 ads for them. Right? So how does that work? Because it's not fostered by the family, maybe, or maybe not, that kid will be that kind of upwardly mobile kid from their family, or maybe not. So. So having this sort of genetic information now we can actually fill out that three level of chess board a little bit better.
Karen Ortman 45:38
It's fascinating. So you're just gonna have to come back. We're gonna have to do another episode together. Okay. Okay. Well, thank you, Dalton.
Dalton Conley 45:47
Thank you, Karen,
Karen Ortman 45:47
for coming. And speaking with me and spending time with me today. I really appreciate it. So thank you to my guest, Dalton Conley and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You matter if any information presented was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the wellness exchange at 212-443-9999 or NYU department of campus safety and their victim services unit at 212-998-2222. Please share, like and subscribe to you matter on Apple podcasts Google Play, tune in, or Spotify