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Satow, R. (1988). Psychic Functions of Failure. Psychoanal. Rev., 75(3):443-457.

(1988). Psychoanalytic Review, 75(3):443-457

Psychic Functions of Failure

Roberta Satow

Achievement and upward mobility have traditionally been cornerstone values in American society. Failure to achieve, therefore, can be a major source of anxiety for those who experience it as well as for those who observe it. Although social position in the United States is based on achievement rather than kinship status, in fact, intergenerational occupational status has been remarkably stable. However, despite this overall stability, there are many people who do not make it in their parents' occupational status. This failure to achieve is particularly interesting when the “failures” are people who come from privileged, well-educated families in which one or both parents are professionals. Particularly, self-employed professionals are distinguished from other occupations in that they constitute an economic elite in our society.

Studies of social mobility consistently attest to the fact that the sons of self-employed professional fathers are most likely to be professionals themselves (Baron, 1980; Yamaguchi, 1983). In addition, Pearson (1983) found that, for both sexes, mother's occupational status was strongly associated with her daughter's occupational destination. Therefore, we would expect the children of two high status parents to maintain their parents' status. Sociologists explain that the stability of intergenerational occupational status for self-employed professionals is largely a result of the resources that these parents make available to their children (Yamaguchi, 1983). But, what sociologists cannot explain is the difficulty of those children who are provided with all the resources necessary to attain the same occupational status as their parents and yet do not.

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