Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Success in America

Reading Thomas Sowell's Ethnic America in college affected my thinking about the progress of various ethnic/racial groups in American society quite substantially. I learned for the first time about the historical discrimination against the Irish and against many Eastern and Southern European ethnic groups when they first arrived in the US. I also learned about the idea of selective immigration for the first time - the notion that individuals from a given group who show up in the US, or anywhere else, as with the Chinese diaspora scattered around Asia, are not randomly selected from the population, and that this might have something to do with how they fare in their new homes. The relative success of immigrant blacks from the Caribbean in the US was also news to me at the time. In addition, Sowell charts the gradual rise over time of groups like the Irish up the scale of average incomes.

This Slate essay by Nicholas Lemann considers a later stage in the process of economic success and cultural assimilation. One might call this the "regression to the mean" part. I could see this pretty plainly among the Chinese students at Western Ontario when I taught there. The first generation kids, who were way over-represented in our honors program, particularly among that segment of the honors program that got by on effort rather than just on smarts, worked really, really hard. More than once I had a student in my office tell a story of genuine sleep deprivation brought on by extreme pressure from parents for academic success. By the third generation, my casual observation suggested that it was more often clothes, cars and parties (and, presumably, as Lemann suggests, hockey as well).

Via "The .Plan"

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