Scholars suggest that, in order to determine whether a society is more equal than another, it is essential to determine whether people from different family backgrounds have the same opportunity to achieve success.
The United States has been described as the land of opportunity, the most advanced democracy in the world. These two popular slogans signify that we should have low social stratification and high social mobility. Sky is the limit for everyone.
Social stratification consists of hierarchical relationships among different groups, as though they were arranged in levels. Stratified groups may be unequal on variety of measures including material resources, power and education. Simply put, in a highly stratified society, a person’s standing position in society is based on qualities that the person gained through birth.
On the other hand, there is the issue of social mobility, which means an individual’s ability to move through a system of social stratification. If social mobility is low and social stratification is high, the opportunity for the stratified groups to advance will be low.
Recently, in order to promote his policy for increasing the minimum wage, President Barack Obama stressed the idea of equal opportunity for every American. From these actions, it appears that American society has failed to fulfill this promise.
The Daily Journal recently published an article titled “Falling Behind” concerning the racial gap among U.S. children. Based on a study sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a new index based on 12 indicators that measure a child’s success from birth to adulthood finds that white and Asian children fare much better than black, Latino and American Indian children. Because of this study, particularly the challenges facing African-American children, we have a “national crisis.”
This important report only presented us the facts but did not provide us with any explanations. The big question is why does the world’s most advanced democracy have such high social stratification.
I am a Chinese-American. Because of this I can provide some insight as to why Asian-Americans have achieved high social mobility in this country. To illustrate my view, let me share a story of an owner of a local Chinese restaurant. This family worked very hard to make ends meet and made many sacrifices for the benefit of their children.
Due to their hard work and cultural background, they managed to send their daughter to Harvard to study medicine and their son to Princeton University to study law. As you can imagine, this family broke through the social ceiling big time. This is not an isolated case. Many Asian families have accomplished the same thing.
Based on an IRS report, the median Asian-American household income is higher than white households (in 2012, the Asian-American household median income was $68,636, the white American household income was $57,009, and the black American household income was $39,005).
As you can see, Asian-Americans have earned the stereotype as the model minority. Despite this success, the label of model minority is not a blessing. The real question we should ask is how these families become successful.
I believe this success is based on two important factors. The first is value of family. This is universal — everyone values their family. However, many societies value individualism. In America, we put our individual interests first. For the majority of Asian-American families, the family is considered the basic unit. Each family member has a role and works together to strive for the family’s success. This group orientation makes them more successful and provides a better support system. The individual’s success is the family’s success.
The second factor is education. Education is the key that will open doors. Based on statistics, Asian-Americans have the highest enrollment rate for Ivy League schools. Parents will sacrifice their own happiness for the success of their children. They also believe that each succeeding generation should be more successful than the previous one.
Unfortunately, not every family can achieve this goal, but these families always try to encourage their children to work hard to be good students with the hope of a better career future. There is a lot of intensity and pressure so this comes with a price, but the end results seem to be worth it.
Even though the report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation used race as the basis of its study, the real issue is not of race but of culture. Culture is way of life. It is how a group of individuals set their priorities in life. It seems that family values and education are the two main ingredients for succeeding in our society.
Professor Yu-long Ling, a Franklin resident, is an expert in foreign policy. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.