United America, Core Value 7: Getting Ahead

February 4, 2014

By: Wayne Baker

Originally posted on Our Values

Cultural superiority + deep-seated insecurity + impulse control = success.

That’s the latest formula for success, served up in The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America. That’s the new book by the wife-husband team of Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld. They are professors of law at Yale University. Chua is the “Tiger Mom” in her book about driving their children to succeed.

What do you make of their success formula?

The Chua-Rubenfeld book is an attempt to explain why members of some cultural groups get better grades in school, earn more money, and climb the social ladder faster than members of other cultural groups. The answer, they say, is the triple package of success. First, parents and their children believe that their particular culture is superior to others. Second, parents make their children insecure by driving them to achieve but never being satisfied with what their children achieve. Third, the achievers are good at “impulse control,” otherwise known as delaying gratification.

Whatever you think of their thesis, it is true that getting ahead is one of the 10 Core American Values. Monetary success is a traditional indicator, but so is rising social status and mobility.

Core Value 7: “Getting ahead”—the guiding principle of “individual achievement, status, and success.”

The rub is that actually getting ahead in America is not so easy. Climbing the economic ladder is easier for citizens in several other countries than it is for Americans. But social mobility has not changed much over the decades, according to widely reported research by economists. What has changed is that the gulf between the lowest economic bracket and the highest economic bracket.

Another View of Getting Ahead

Getting ahead can mean more than money. One can get ahead by pursuing a calling—working for a higher purpose—even if it doesn’t yield more money or status. A calling orientation is instilled by parents, according to new research by me and Kathryn Dekas. This gives parents another option than Chua-Rebenfeld’s prescription of superiority and inadequacy.

Do you approve and disapprove of the “triple package” theory?

What did your parents teach you about getting ahead?