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The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America—A Book by Professors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld

A new book written by Professors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld takes a close look at one of humanity’s enduring mysteries – how some individuals from unpromising origins find success and why some cultural groups in the U.S. seem to consistently outperform others.

Drawing on original research and a trove of statistics, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America (The Penguin Press; February 4, 2014) seeks to challenge the conventional wisdom of success and achievement.

Described as “provocative,” and “thought-provoking,” The Triple Package identifies three unique traits that are prevalent in certain groups who are currently outperforming the national average. The authors contend that these traits­insecurity, a superiority complex, and impulse control­generate drive, grit, and disproportionate success.

“It might seem odd to think of someone feeling simultaneously superior and insecure,” says Rubenfeld, the Robert R. Slaughter Professor of Law at Yale Law School. “But it’s precisely the unlikely combination of these traits that generates drive: a need to prove oneself that makes people systematically sacrifice present gratification in pursuit of future attainment.”

Some of the cultural groups studied in this book include Nigerian Americans, Asian Americans, Jews, Mormons, and Cuban Americans among others. The groups the authors identify as successful are mainly immigrant groups, which Chua says is explained in part by the fact that America tends to attract immigrants with Triple Packagequalities.

“If you think about it, what kind of person dares to go to a strange country where he or she doesn’t know anyone and may not even speak the language?” asks Chua, the John M. Duff, Jr. Professor of Law at Yale Law School. “Typically, it’s individuals with some drive and grit, and maybe something to prove.  I think that’s part of the reason for America’s vibrancy.”

Chua’s last book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, sparked a heated debate about “Chinese” parenting and the cultural value of self-discipline. However, Chua and Rubenfeld, who are married, said they began working on this book in 2010, prior to the release of Tiger Mom.
 
“The books are very different,” says Chua. “One is a memoir­it was about a personal journey­and it was written partially tongue in cheek. By contrast, The Triple Package is based on years of research.  But of course there is some overlap in themes.”

The research that backs up the book’s thesis was compiled over almost five years, using both original data and also relying on the latest, most comprehensive psychological, empirical, and sociological studies available.

By looking at hard data and examining clear differences among America’s groups, Chua and Rubenfeld aim to give an honest look at the psychological cost of success.

“I think most books about success are unrealistic – they sugarcoat,” says Chua. “To be driven, something has to be pushing or pressuring you. You have to feel like you’re not good enough, or you haven’t done enough, which is not a very nice feeling.”

“If political correctness prevented us from talking about facts, we wouldn’t be able to understand the world we live in – or understand that the true levers of success in this country are,” adds Rubenfeld.

While the book has generated some controversy by singling out specific groups of people, Rubenfeld and Chua believe their findings actually debunk racist stereotypes by demonstrating the cyclical, generational factors that impact success.

“Triple Package success disappears in most groups after a few generations, which punctures the whole idea of ‘model minorities’ or of groups succeeding because of innate, biological differences,” explains Rubenfeld. “Third-generation Asian American kids, for example, do no better academically than any other kids.”

And though the book zeroes in on a narrow scope of cultural groups exhibiting these three unique qualities, Chua and Rubenfeld believe that anyone, from any background, can have the Triple Package and achieve great success.