Jennifer Lee, a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine, has hit back at “The Triple Package,” Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld’s new, deeply flawed work which purports to explain the outsized economic success of some ethnic groups. This being “The Triple Package” though, there are myriad holes in Chua and Rubenfeld’s arguments. Lee chooses just one in an article over at Zócalo Public Square by honing in on the authors’ narrow definition of social mobility and success. She says Mexican-Americans in fact make the largest strides toward economic success in the U.S.:
Who is more successful: a Mexican-American whose parents immigrated to the U.S. with less than an elementary school education, and who now works as a dental hygienist? Or a Chinese-American whose parents immigrated to the U.S. and earned Ph.D. degrees, and who now works as a doctor?
Amy Chua (AKA “Tiger Mom”) and her husband Jed Rubenfeld, author of the new book The Triple Package, claim it’s the latter. They argue that certain American groups (including Chinese, Jews, Cubans, and Nigerians) are more successful and have risen further than others because they share certain cultural traits. Chua and Rubenfeld bolster their argument by comparing these groups’ median household income, test scores, educational attainment, and occupational status to those of the rest of the country.
But what happens if you measure success not just by where people end up–the cars in their garages, the degrees on their walls–but by taking into account where they started? In a study of Chinese-, Vietnamese-, and Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles whose parents immigrated here, UCLA sociologist Min Zhou and I came to a conclusion that flies in the face of Chua and Rubenfeld, and might even surprise the rest of us: Mexicans are L.A.’s most successful immigrant group.
Read Lee’s piece in full at Zócalo Public Square for context that’s all but absent from The Triple Package. Lee’s larger point though is that unlike the fictional world Chua and Rubenfeld theorize within, success can’t be boiled down to the supposed cultural values a family passes down to children. Institutional and structural factors like immigration status, access to economic and social capital, and the educational backgrounds of immigrant parents matter a great deal in shaping the opportunities a child may or may not have.
Critics–myself among them–have had a field day with “The Triple Package.” But Chua and Rubenfeld may want to pay attention to this one–the authors actually cite Lee’s work in their book to bolster their erroneous claims.