Saturday, November 8, 2003

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Jay Drezner refutes the New York Times!

Last Sunday's New York Times ran an Ellyn Spragins column on how wealth inequities affect sibling relationships. Her conclusion -- it ain't good:

Because you come from the same gene pool and are raised in the same way, it's much tougher to find a convincing, palatable excuse for why your brother owns his own company, a vacation house and four fancy sports cars - and you don't. Is it because he's blond? Taller? Or is he smarter and better?

"Siblings are about as similar to you as you can get,'' said Margaret Clark, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "So when you compare, and you come out behind, it can be painful."...

Usually it's a less wealthy sibling who chooses to distance himself or herself from a rich sister or brother - or to drop the relationship altogether.

"If you seal off that relationship you don't have to think about the comparison and what it means to your self-esteem," Dr. Tesser said. One way to do that is to slur a rich sibling in a way that lends you superiority: "The money really changed him," for example, or "She sacrificed her family life to be successful."

In my family, this last point is amusing, given that Jay Drezner -- my brother -- makes far more money than I do, but was also the one who decided to go live in Australia for a few years.

Jay read the story and has a lot of things to say about it. Here's the punchline:

[A]sk yourself the following question. Do you think my brother is jealous of me for the money that I make or am I jealous of my brother for the lifestyle he leads? I suspect (being only one of the parties involved) that the answer to both would be a hesitant "No." In the career path that he has chosen my brother has been a success. If posed with the option to reverse history and choose my life instead, I believe he would reject it. Similarly, I would not choose the path than Dan has taken. I believe that the reason for this is, while I'm sure I would like more free time and Dan wouldn't refuse a higher salary, we both made our career and life choices aware of what those choices meant. Eventually, my priorities may change, but given what most people think of my profession, I feel it is appropriate to quote John Milton (Al Pacino's character from The Devil's Advocate), "Free will, it is a bitch."

All I can say is, indeed. [Does this mean you get Connie Neilsen?--ed. Oh, shut up.]

posted by Dan on 11.08.03 at 03:21 PM


Better Milton, Ala 'D's Advo', last line of the film: "Ah, Vanity - my favorite."

posted by: Art Wellesley on 11.08.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]

Keep your integrity Dan, and your day will come. That's an promise from the oldman. As for Connie, you couldn't handle her. No offense to you, but that's one wish that would backfire. As Benjamin Franklin said, if men could have more of their wishes come true they'd have more trouble than they could handle. It's okay to enjoy the dream though. Mine was Ingrid Bergman, even though there was no way in hell I could have handled that filly.

posted by: Oldman on 11.08.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]

Dueling anecdotes. How enlighening.

posted by: Pretentius on 11.08.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]

Fascinating psychology, but in truth, biological siblings can differ significantly in both genetics and environment. Genetic differences can result in differing treatment (i.e. environment) within the same family. See The Relationship Code : Deciphering Genetic and Social Influences on Adolescent Development by David Reiss

"The Relationship Code is the report of a longitudinal study, conducted over a ten-year period, of the influence of family relationships and genetic factors on competence and psychopathology in adolescent development. The sample for this landmark study included 720 pairs of same-sex adolescent siblings--including twins, half siblings, and genetically unrelated siblings--and their parents."

posted by: Rick Heller (Centerfield) on 11.08.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]

Jumping spritely from 'coming from the same gene pool' to genetically equivalent is stunningly ignorant of basic genetics. But facts are so gauche! I bet there's a tasty study of twins and household income out there somewhere, and I bet they're highly correlated.

posted by: sidereal on 11.08.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]

Yes, but neither you nor your brother are abject failures. Moreover, the 'multiplication' of your respective lifestyle and dollar scores (academic: good lifestyle, ok salary, MBA, ok lifestyle, good salary) would likely show a cetain equivalence. If you take Spragin's point more broadly, you might find more merit in it.

posted by: baa on 11.08.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]

1.) My mother and her sister don't even speak to their brothers any longer. Both were explicitly accused of "having it easy" because they married men that ultimately became successful (although neither man--my father and my uncle--were remotely successful at the time they married my mother and aunt), while the brothers have bounced around minimum wage jobs for the better part of four decades.

2.) As a lawyer at a big city firm who is married to a U of C academic, I would trade lifestyles and compensation with my wife in a second. Sorry, but flexible 30-40 hour weeks (and half of that spent at home) beats inflexible 75 hour weeks every day of the week, and twice on Sunday. Even factoring in the difference between $150K and $35K.

posted by: Joe on 11.08.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]

I think the question has to be intertwined with the question of whether the the poorer sibling believes they are making good progress toward their own goals.


1) the poorer sibling has no dinstinct, identifiable goals,


2) the poorer sibling has experienced failure more than success,

or more tragically

3) the parents of the siblings played favorites

then the potential for jealousy and separation increases. On the other hand, if the poorer sibling has identifiable life goals and is reasonably satisfied with his/her progress toward those goals, then there is less basis for jealousy.

I have four siblings, my wife has three siblings. There has been jealousy involved in the relationships, but the root cause of the jealousy are feelings of personal failure, or obvious favoritism by the parents.

The actual relative financial condition only tends to magnify or minimize the root causes. In-law relationships also affect the feelings.

Within my own and my wife's families, where we fall in "success" rankings really depends on how you do the ranking. But the feelings of "self-worth" are more specifically related to a self valuation against life goals, and obvious favoratism of one of the sets of parents.

posted by: Scott Harris on 11.08.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]

To me more blunt, and to more clearly illustrate the above point, in my wife's family, her father clearly prefers two of the four siblings over the others. His will divides his 7-figure wealth between those two siblings, and the other two feel cheated, rejected and fight feelings of inferiority. Of the jilted siblings, the male has handled it better than the female, but the wife of the male, who was once the best friend of one of the preferred sibings now no longer speaks to her former friend. This is despite the fact that on a professional level, the two jilted siblings make better salaries, and both rank in the top 10% of income families in the USA.

In my family, there is one sibling who is clearly below the others in every measurable category of success, whether personal, educational, professional, or wealth based. This sibling refuses to show up on holidays because he is embarrassed by his habitual pattern of failure.

There have been occasional flare-ups of jealousy among the other four siblings, but these have generally occurred when a particular sibling experienced a personal setback unrelated to the relationships with the other siblings. As long as each is making incremental progress toward individual goals, jealousy is a non-factor. It is the moments of failure that cause one to look around at others and get jealous.

posted by: Scott Harris on 11.08.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]

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