Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Accumulative Advantages & Outliers

Gladwell’s chapter “The Matthew Effect,” a title which refers to the biblical Scripture the Parable of Talents, illuminates how the talented greatly increase their talents. Biblical and popular retellings of the parable of talents often concentrate on the lesson that if talented people do not use or maximize their gifts, those gifts could be relinquished. But Gladwell, a writer always interested in providing an alternative take on familiar ideas, concentrates on the gifts talented people receive prior to attaining their most notable achievements.

Gladwell draws on a body of research from various scholars and reveals that all-star hockey players, for example, do not simply become all-stars because of their accomplishments as professional athletes. Instead, their achievements are rooted to a larger system of rewards offered early in their childhoods and which continually compound, a process known as “accumulative advantage.” To illustrate his point, Gladwell shows how, on average, young people born in the early months of a given year get a literal and significant head start over their peers who are born in later months of the same year in youth hockey and soccer leagues.

A cursory search of “accumulative advantage” on the internet connects that concept to inequality, showing how those fortunate enough to be born or situated in the right time and place receive tremendous advantages and benefits.

What do you think about the workings of accumulative advantage? Or better yet, how should we be thinking and talking about apparently hidden systems of rewards or disadvantages that exist at universities like SIUE?

22 comments:

Kiev Broadwater said...

I'll admit that when I first got the book, I thought it was going to be a chore. But this chapter actually fascinated me. I had never thought someone's date of birth had that profound an effect on their life. It does seem a bit outlandish that most professional hockey players were born in the early months, but after investigating it myself, it's true. I don't think SIUe should have to take any measures to accommodate those born at a later date. This is college...if you need help, seek it.

Natalie B. said...

I don't think that by the time you get to a university that the idea of accumulative advantage really affects you. If you accept the idea of accumulative advantage as true, then the "self-fulfiiling" prophacy has already taken its course for the most part. The fact is, that you're success in college is very much due to your previous training and education. If the system a student was in in the pass was set up for them to suceed or fail, then they are already on that course.

Corey Houston said...

The fact that an advantage in hockey was given to those born in the earlier months changed my thoughts on the whole "cinderella story" outlook. These players werent the best because they were natural gifted. They were the best because they were born at the correct time to get more training and become better than the rest. This makes me question things such as "gifted" programs because students that excel in academics will get more attention, therefore more practice, and finally will be "gifted" because they were given that advantage while others will continue to be seen as average. The reading altered my perspective.

Jayson Garrott said...

I wouldn't leave my life plan up to accumulative advantage. Yes, I was born in January, so according to Gladwell, I got a "literal and significant head start over [my] peers who are born in later months". A person should never rely on an external condition to determine their destiny. However, a person's background does determine their outlook on life, which in turn, could affect the amount of effort they put into bettering their life.
Schools should offer student programs to make themselves better or more efficient, which in turn, will make the student "gifted". You cannot force a student to learn the material or go to class, they have to be willing to want more.

Lindsey Fisher said...

I find it absolutely fascinating that something as simple as your date of birth can have such an affect on the rest of your life. It is almost fate. I do believe that it has some affect, but I also do not believe that being born in July means you are going to do terrible in school. Everyone has adversity to overcome and everyone handles that adversity differently. I think that someone who strives to do better can become better through a lot of hard work and determination. It might be harder for them than something with "accumulative advantage," but it is possible. For this reason, I do not believe that it should be a concern for a university such as SIUE. People are going to get where they want to be no matter what is facing them.

Anna Dibler said...

I do think something as simple as when you were born can give you an advantage over others. Some people may think it is not fair, but it does happen. Once a person has an advantage over others, more and more advantages can follow.
Even if "accumulative advantage" does play a part in advancements, it is not the only way people get ahead in life. I believe a person has to have the talent and drive to progress in what he or she wants to do. It does not matter when you were born if you do not have the motivation to back up your natural advantages.

RobB said...

The idea of accumulative advantages is something that is very real. You can't deny the evidence. This is just fate taking it's course, seperating the mass population into it's subgroups of strong, moderate, and weak.
However there is hope for those without blessed birth. The book is called outliers. So my guess is that as we get further through the book, Mr. Gladwell will reveal how those with a birth handicap can become outliers against the usual disappointments of the belated births.
Yes even if your born in December there is a solution for you to do something great with your life.

Ralicia Hawkins said...

Personally, I feel that once a person has reached the University level, the effects of accumulative advantage have already made their lasting imprint upon individual lives. So in a sense, for all of us who've already been "cut off", our hands are tied concerning achievement of equal opportunity. I do feel however, that SIUE could attempt to raise awareness among educational boards, committees, etc. and positively influence a change in the system that is currently in place.

Ralicia Hawkins said...

In a sense, I do think that accumulative advantage not only exists in society...It dominates society. While I agree with this, I can't help but wonder what the author would say about things like "Your Baby Can Read"...or is that simply yet another example of accumulative advantage...

Hilary said...

Wow.. reading this chapter, I was completely amazed. It was almost unbelievable that this really goes on in schools and on our sports teams. I am appalled that something simple such as a person's date of birth can give them such an unfair advantage. I have not sees a problem here at this University, though. I have not personally witnessed it either, with my birthday being June 1st. At least, I can't recall a situation that I have been treated differently because of my birthdate. I was never in any "gifted program", but I do not feel like I have missed out on anything because I was in June. I have however always been on the honor roll and have been pushed to work hard, despite my birthday.

Jessica Hickman said...

Before reading this book, I was not aware that accumulative advantage really does play a role in everyday life. Personally for me every school year it seems that I am the youngest in my class sice I was born September 3rd. Even though based upon the accumulative advantage I would not be as successful as most of my peers. But I do not feel that this is accurate.
When you reach the college level the advantage has already taken its course. But at SIUE, Students should seek help and motivate themselves to succeed. Your birth day should not determine if you succeed or not.

Quavell Hampton said...

I agree with the social science behind success. I was born in January and was held back when I was in pre-k. So by the time I was in Kindergarten I could already read well and was good at basic math. As far as five and six year old children that theory is pretty accurate, but in college I think it's another ball park due to the fact that we are all mature enough to decide if we want to work hard or not. Success at this point is up to us as far as higher education goes. If one works hard it will be noticed and rewarded no matter when that person is born.

Bryan M. said...

I don't know if I necessarily agree with the idea of being born in an earlier month gives you some kind of advantage over those born in the later months. I believe success comes from hard work and making goals for yourself. I was also born in January and I did excel in sports and subjects like math and science. I do not think this is because I was born in the earliest month of the year, but because I worked my butt off to become the best that I could be. Also, I found that I have a greater interest in the subjects of math and science and therefore applied myself more in those subjects. I guess I am saying that I do not agree with accumulative advantages, but it has made me think about my perspective on it.

Briana said...

I think it is funny how tired I was when I first began reading the book and how wide awake I was once I finished. Honestly, I do not know if I agree with the message of the book or not. It seems impossible that every or nearly every successful scientist, mathematician, and/or athlete is successful just because of luck. When I participated in sports the harder I worked the better I excelled. And math and science has always come easy to me. My birthday is in September. It was an interesting read I must say.

Dextavius Chatman said...

The very first couple of pages grabbed me. I wasnt expecting to read some of the point-of-views the author carrys, this made the chapter 1 so much more interesting. Malcom Gladwell basically give his alternate prespective to why success people are successful. I was raised up being taught that hardwork and dedication and things of this sort are the things that make those great people great. But no, he says that its all about your bloodline, your foudations,and those who came before you. Oddly enough, I find some logic in his finding about the birthdates, because when people with these outstanding gift are so far out of reach you wondering to yours self why did the trend miss me, why I dont have any outstanding talents or gifts. This first chapter gave me a new but wierd way to look at things of this nature, such as people who were born freakishly tall.....

Keori Johnson said...

Even though I got the book later than everyone else, I didnt feel the need to rush through it. It kept me captivated all by itself, it never stops making you think and its asks questions that you begin to think on yourself. Such as certain aspects of the college life that many experience in their live, and even on this very campus.

Robert Dammer said...

The vicious cycle of accumulative advantage, where an arbitrary initial categorization leads to more and more opportunities being given to a child when they are no more adept than their peers, can have a very large impact on a person's childhood. While this impact can carry on into adulthood, I do not feel that colleges such as SIUE should be required (or are in fact capable) of compensating for this problem. Much a person's success in college is based on whether or not they can keep up with the work and stay organized, and at this point in a person's life I feel that many of the imbalances of "accumulative advantage" have been naturally sorted out in some way. While accumulative advantage may have longer-lasting results on a person's psyche, I do not feel post-secondary education is affected in quite the same way.

SierraB said...

The Matthew Effect


The first section of this chapter describes a league of young Canadian hockey players. They, like many athletes, were practically raised from birth to play hockey. However, what about the rest of us that dream of being a great athlete? How many of you have ever had a dream but felt that because you did not start young you would not be able to achieve your dream?

In section two the book challenges the idea that people can come from nothing and still succeed on their own without help. Do you believe this to true? Why or why not?

In section three the book relates birth month to a hockey player's abilities. It further elaborates in section four stating that because the cut off for junior leagues in hockey is January 1st a child born January 2nd is more mature than boys in the younger league.

Terrence Brooks said...

I try not to let the idea of accumulative advantage affect my future. I believe that if you work hard enough and if you are talented at what you do then you have the equal opportunity to become successful. After reading the first chapter, I find it hard to believe that people in society think this way. At an university such as SIUE, I don't think we have to worry about these circumstances. Students have the opportunity to make something of themselves, all they have to do is keep striving and working hard.

Christian Harrelson said...

It is so odd that something so little such as accumulative advantage can take so much affect on a persons life. The theory of the hockey players having a better chance to be great if they were born in January seems almost unbelievable.
At a university I feel that everyone gets a fresh start. Some students may start in more advanced classes but anyone can catch up with time. I feel that the idea of splitting the eligibility cut-off at a younger age in sports at least would work well to diminish accumulative advantage but in education by the time your in college its is your choice to do well or not.

lauren said...

It's actually sort of weird to me that a person's date of birth gives them such a advantage over another person. Simply because a person has absolutely no control over when they are born, but a person does have a little bit of control over learning to play another sport or learning a new skill. So, it's like you are born with an advantage you are unaware of. However, I do not feel like SIUE should do anything to help the people born at later dates. I say this because SIUE is a college and everybody here is basically grown. Whatever, skills or talents a person does not have yet, they will not have and since everybody is older and more mature, if they do want to learn a new skill we are all old enough to go about it ourselves and figure it out on our own. Being at a college, we all have new responsibilites, so we do not need anybody babying and spoon-feeding us.

Ricky Mahajam said...

I think that we should be thinking that the hidden system of rewards should be an advantage that you have to know about and the disadvantages of being at siue should be seen as only challenges that are meant to be conquered.