Sunday, January 26, 2014

Immigrant Success, or, You Can't Have Everything

Except for the children of millionaires, the most successful people in America are immigrants from India, whose family income is twice the national average. (They also have the lowest divorce rate.) Chinese, Korean, Caribbean and West African immigrants are also doing quite well. As Jewish immigrants did before them. Why? Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld:
It turns out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.
You remember Amy Chua as the original "tiger mom." But  here she is just presenting data, not giving advice, and the data is very interesting.
It’s odd to think of people feeling simultaneously superior and insecure. Yet it’s precisely this unstable combination that generates drive: a chip on the shoulder, a goading need to prove oneself. Add impulse control — the ability to resist temptation — and the result is people who systematically sacrifice present gratification in pursuit of future attainment. Ironically, each element of the Triple Package violates a core tenet of contemporary American thinking.
Absolutely. We hate the whole idea of ethnic groups feeling inherently superior, yet the data shows that people from such groups are more successful. Our whole paradigm for mental health is built around escaping from feelings of inadequacy, and yet such feelings motivate people to work hard and succeed:
Each of the three traits has its own pathologies. Impulse control can undercut the ability to experience beauty, tranquillity and spontaneous joy. Insecure people feel like they’re never good enough. “I grew up thinking that I would never, ever please my parents,” recalls the novelist Amy Tan. “It’s a horrible feeling.”
So there you have it. Raise your children to be happy and confident and they will, on average, earn less money and go less far in their careers than the children of immigrants who instill a deep insecurity and a painful need to be worthy of the family.


David said...

I have to admit that, at this point, I have trouble separating my dislike of the things Amy Chua says from my dislike of Amy Chua. In this sense, she reminds me of Tom Hayden and Newt Gingrich: a public personality whose ideas have become for me inseparable from a rebarbative public persona. If she said the sky was blue, I would begrudge confessing that she was probably right.

John said...

I despise her as well; probably it was a good thing I read this before I noticed who wrote it. But then she is famous and we are not, which to my mind only extends the lesson. If you want to be "successful" it helps to stop caring about everything else.

David said...

But it's mostly her despicable nature that's made her famous. It's not like she scrimped and sacrificed and struggled and made her family miserable, and then produced a Unified Field Theory or became president. She's just famous for believing that making one's own family members miserable is a virtuous act in itself (and for living what she believes).

I like the comment of David Graeber, a famous and successful person that I admire. He said, "I was myself born of humble origins and have advanced myself almost exclusively through my own incessant labors. I am well known by my friends to be a workaholic, to their often justifiable annoyance. I am therefore keenly aware that such behavior is at best slightly pathological, and certainly in no sense makes one a better person."

John said...

Well, that's the point, isn't it? Amy Chua doesn't want good and happy children, she wants successful children.

It seems to me that both goodness and happiness are impediments to success as we define it, which makes me wonder.