That may or may not be true. I haven't familiarized myself with the research. But it's hard for me to take, because since planning (and succeeding) on not having sex before marriage worked for me, my wife, and many of our friends in college -- it's hard for me to understand why it's unreasonable to expect others to do the same. It wasn't exactly easy, and I can certainly understand why one could fail, but it doesn't strike me as an inherently unreasonable expectation. Why? Well, at root, because to say that it's unreasonable to expect others to even be capable of pulling pulling that off would be to say that they simply don't have the abilities that I have. And I have fairly deeply ingrained within me the idea that just about anyone can, with hard work, do the same things that I have done.
This has been striking me a lot over the last couple years as we have finally issued into what I think of as the upper middle class (which I define, in thoroughly relativistic fashion, as doing better financially before 30 than my parents ever did, even right before my father's retirement/death.)
Back when we lived in Los Angeles (one of the most expensive living areas in the country) and we scraped by on a single income which was not much over the poverty line for a family of four, I enjoyed the righteous feeling of insisting, "I may be poor, but I still don't think the government has any business taking money from the rich and giving it to me." It's a fun position to hold, and I milked it for all it was worth while I was qualified to hold it. (Probably much to the annoyance of some of those around me.)
Now I find myself in a less flattering position -- that of the person who has "arrived" in some sense, and now finds himself saying, "If I could get to a stable family income through hard work and dedication -- so can everyone else." This is characterized by those who disagree with the sentiment as "Telling the poor that if they aren't doing well, it's their own fault."
I don't tell the poor that. (Indeed, unless one imagines "the poor" to be an embodied character that wanders about the stage of life, I'm not sure exactly how one could without being insanely rude.) And there are a set of "advantages" that I did have even though I grew up in a lower-middle-class family and never had got a job through "connections": I had two parents who provided me with a stable family environment, an outstanding education, and a strong moral grounding. Those are incredible advantages in life, and ones I do not think I could possibly have got where I have in life without. But they aren't advantages that can be given to you by a government program.
There are, so far as I can tell, to different ways to react to the feeling of being a "self made man". My own, which I would tend to think of as an essentially conservative one, is to conclude that one's success is essentially the result of hard work and a good upbringing, and to seek to help others to receive a similar upbringing, while encouraging them to work hard. The other approach, which I would tend to think of as a "liberal" one (and which has been on my mind of late as it seems to be the approach which is followed by presidential candidate Barack Obama) is to hold that while one somehow achieved success, it was really, really hard and few other people can possibly manage to do the same, and so all sorts of preferences and programs are needed in order to others to achieve what you have.
For instance, I recently ran across this quote from Obama's book, Audacity of Hope. Speaking about meeting with the top campaign donors from his Senate campaign, he says:
But they reflected, almost uniformly, the perspectives of their class; the top 1 percent or so of the income scale that can afford to write a $2,000 check to a political candidate. They believed in the free market and an educational meritocracy; they found it hard to imagine that there might be any social ill that could not be cured with a high SAT score. They had no patience with protectionism, found unions troublesome, and were not particularly sympathetic to those whose lives were upended by movements of global capital.Sure there are lots of social ills that can't be cured by the free market and a good SAT score, but in regards to getting a good education and a good job, the free market and a good SAT score will certainly get you a long way. And Obama should know this, as do I. Because unless he got into college based strictly on racial preferences (and he seems like a smart guy, so I doubt it) it's been his good SAT scores and the free market that have taken him from middle class Hawaii to having a very good chance of being our next president. (And making far, far more money than anyone I know in the mean time.)
Yet Obama's reaction to all this is not to say, "Look, I had a lot of obstacles before me, but with the help of a loving family, and a lot of hard work in school and afterwards, look where I am today. And you could do the same." Rather, his message is essentially that unlike him, none of us poor schmucks stand a chance of getting anywhere in life unless he's elected president so he can start a bunch of new programs that will do everything for us.
The conservative attitude sounds rather heartless, since it boils down to: "Go work hard, and you'll do well." But it stems from an implicit assumption that the person being addressed is of the same abilities as oneself. The progressive attitude, on the other hand, implicitly assumes that others do not have the same abilities as oneself.
In the end, which of these is fair, and which is demeaning?