The Triple Package, What Really Determines Success has caused a publishing furore in America. Chinese-American Tiger Mother Amy Chua and her Jewish husband Jed Rubenfeld investigated why certain cultural and ethnic groups in the US are more successful than others.
Both authors are law professors at Yale. It’s all very politically correct, but when they say Asian-Americans it usually means those of Chinese origin. This group does spectacularly well, making up about 5 per cent of the US college-age population, and 19 per cent of Harvard undergraduates, 16 per cent at Yale and 19 per cent at Princeton. And at the California Institute of Technology, which admits students by test results only, a massive 40 per cent are Asian-American.
Predictably, even though Chua is Chinese and her husband is Jewish, asking the questions triggered a torrent of accusations of racism before the book was even printed. It was branded a “a despicable new theory” of “racial superiority” by Salon, as espousing a “racist argument” by The New York Post and accused of harbouring “uncomfortable racist overtones” by Forbes magazine.
These guys can say things other writers would baulk at, such as: “Asians are now so overrepresented at Ivy League schools that they are being called the ‘new Jews’.” They are taking slight advantage of the situation: an ethnic outsider could hardly be so bold.
Chua wrote the bestseller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother about strict Chinese parenting styles. This new book widens the net to consider Chinese, Mormons, Cubans, Nigerians, Jews, Indians, Lebanese and Iranians – groups who all do disproportionately well.
It’s a shame that Americans are so quick to shout racism and stereotyping about questioning the links between ethnic background and success, when the findings shed light on many interesting issues.
In short, Chua and Rubenfeld set out to explain why Chinese, Jews and Mormons among others do much better than everyone else.
Three components for success
They put it down to three things: you need a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control. These three must be present together: one or two is not enough.
Too much superiority and you make no effort, like the British aristocracy of the Victoria era. Too much insecurity and your doubts cripple you. And if you lack impulse control or self-discipline, you can’t concentrate on anything.
If you have the “triple package, Chua and Rubenfeld argue, you have a puritan mindset long ago forgotten by white Protestant Americans – a group that is now much less successful than in the past and now has below-average wealth. But certain immigrants still possess these attributes, which give them an edge. While other have some but not all: the Amish have great impulse control; but they don’t aspire to conventional materialistic success.