Success (Part 1)

Why isn’t everyone successful in life, whether in school of work?  Is it due to individual effort (or lack thereof) or systems that are designed to favor only a few?  Dr. Thomas Sowell, economics professor and Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, explained this in his book Discrimination and Disparities.  Sowell noted that success is not evenly distributed among individuals, groups, or nations.  As multiple studies have shown this (from Duke’s Donald Horowitz and MIT’s Myron Weiner), the explanation for this “disparity” is clear.  There are multiple variables/factors at work to determine success.  In his book, Sowell lists these:

Parental education

Parental attention

Socioeconomic level


Birth order




Let’s explore four of these in this blog.

Parental education is a factor in the success of their children.  All children are exposed to spoken language throughout the day, and the educational level of parents often has an impact on the amount of words spoken per hour.  In an article entitled “Choose Your Parents Wisely,” The Economist (7/26/2014) stated that the words spoken per hour is 2100 by professional parents, 1200 by working class parents, and 600 by parents on welfare.  Being exposed to more verbal interaction is essential to learning and social interaction.

Parental attention is another variable in the success of children.  Not only is the amount of exposure to words different in children’s lives, but also the types of words and positive/negative feedback.  Betty Hart and Todd Risley’s book Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children explained one stark distinction.  Children receive on average 6 positive comments to 1 negative comment by professional parents.  However, children receive 2 negative comments to 1 positive comment by parents on welfare.  Receiving encouragement and support is essential to success for all children.

Socioeconomic level is a contributing factor to success, but two major influences on socioeconomic level are marriage and work.  Examining the US Census Bureau data from 2008 revealed the difference in poverty level for married couples compared to single-parent homes:  

Married whites—3%             Single whites—22%

Married Hispanics—7%         Single Hispanics–35%

Married blacks—12%             Single blacks—38%

Obviously, two people working will most likely raise a family out of poverty better than just one breadwinner.  In the same way, work will raise a family out of poverty in this land of opportunity.  The University of Michigan’s longitudinal study over 15 years (1992-2007) found that 95% of those in the poverty level moved out due to working full time.  Those 95% left poverty and moved to the middle class and higher.

Environment is a variable in the success of children.  Instead of low standards and lack of discipline, schools such as KIPP Academy and Success Academy provide the recipe for success for students of any background.  Maintaining high standards for all students, having a longer school day and year to increase opportunities for learning, and showing little tolerance for disruptive behavior were the three main ways that these school provide a way for all students to succeed.

Sowell explains more factors in the reasons for success.  Those are detailed in the next blog.

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