How much does poverty drive crime?

by on August 22, 2014 at 7:25 am in Economics, Education, Law | Permalink

Maybe less than you thought, at least after adjusting for other variables.  The Economist reports:

In Sweden the age of criminal responsibility is 15, so Mr Sariaslan tracked his subjects from the dates of their 15th birthdays onwards, for an average of three-and-a-half years. He found, to no one’s surprise, that teenagers who had grown up in families whose earnings were among the bottom fifth were seven times more likely to be convicted of violent crimes, and twice as likely to be convicted of drug offences, as those whose family incomes were in the top fifth.

What did surprise him was that when he looked at families which had started poor and got richer, the younger children—those born into relative affluence—were just as likely to misbehave when they were teenagers as their elder siblings had been. Family income was not, per se, the determining factor.

That suggests two, not mutually exclusive, possibilities. One is that a family’s culture, once established, is “sticky”—that you can, to put it crudely, take the kid out of the neighbourhood, but not the neighbourhood out of the kid. Given, for example, children’s propensity to emulate elder siblings whom they admire, that sounds perfectly plausible. The other possibility is that genes which predispose to criminal behaviour (several studies suggest such genes exist) are more common at the bottom of society than at the top, perhaps because the lack of impulse-control they engender also tends to reduce someone’s earning capacity.

The original research, by Amir Sariaslan, Henrik Larsson, Brian D’Onofrio, Niklas Långström and Paul Lichtenstein is here, here is how the authors report the conclusion:

There were no associations between childhood family income and subsequent violent criminality and substance misuse once we had adjusted for unobserved familial risk factors.

1 Alexey August 22, 2014 at 7:37 am

Pleasure to see the author’s cautious phrasing of possible conclusions.

2 dan1111 August 22, 2014 at 8:17 am

Yes, that is refreshing.

3 The Other Jim August 22, 2014 at 8:51 am

Yes. We wouldn’t want him to actually say what everyone on Earth knows he is desperately trying not to say, while still conveying what it is he would say if he could.

It’s a real pleasure what that happens. We can all nod wisely at each other.

4 dan1111 August 22, 2014 at 9:09 am

No, the point is that many studies like this jump to much more certain conclusions than are warranted by the results. It is nice when someone actually limits themselves to what the data can say, which is what was done here.

5 Alexey August 22, 2014 at 9:12 am

He clearly says that there does not have to be a cause-and-effect relationship, and if there is, it could plausibly go either way. Whether he desperately wanted to say something else, we cannot know.

6 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 5:50 pm

What would would he say if he could?

Many an ignorant man has nodded wisely all their lives, only to be found ignorant.

7 Andrew' August 22, 2014 at 10:37 am

Hopefully, the researcher uses caution in his speculation because he is doing research and that is what the formal research should be and for no other reason.

8 Go Kings, Go! August 22, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Based solely on my research here: Andrew’, you are a cantankerous misanthrope, all muscles and mush, a truly lamentable spectacle, a baby with whiskers, a rabbit with the frame of an auroch, a feeble and preposterous caricature of man, in short, a mountebank; you are one-third, more or less, a scoundrel, two-thirds, more or less, an idiot, and three-thirds, more or less, a poltroon, but nonetheless, a loveable scamp. (HT, HLM).

9 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Rightful critiques leveled at a man who supposes that researchers should not say ten times what the data suggests.

10 blighter August 22, 2014 at 7:38 am

Positing genetic causes for antisocial behavior is racist. This research should be banned and everyone who participated in it even to the point of reading this summary should be forced to sign a pledge that they shall no longer inquire into such evil topics upon pain of banishment from civilised society.

11 dearieme August 22, 2014 at 7:56 am

Forced to sign a pledge? Surely you mean should have their bollocks cut off?

12 NPW August 22, 2014 at 8:14 am

Expect more out of you blighter.

13 XVO August 22, 2014 at 8:21 am

satire?

14 XVO August 22, 2014 at 8:22 am

It’s not that far from the way certain people think about such research.

15 Michael August 22, 2014 at 8:56 am

526,000 Swedes were studied. How many of them do you think weren’t lily white?

16 NPW August 22, 2014 at 9:07 am

I would have thought that blighter’s reputation would have preceded him.

17 Brian Donohue August 22, 2014 at 9:08 am

Yeah. I don’t think we have the maturity as a culture to discuss this sort of stuff yet. Early returns indicate this comment section will be a doozy of anti-Frankenstein forces versus half-baked armchair racial theorists. Let ‘er rip.

18 Cliff August 22, 2014 at 10:20 am

Probably quite a few of them?

19 Joe August 23, 2014 at 1:03 am
20 Willitts August 22, 2014 at 11:24 am

Positing?

I’m quite sure it has been proven that antisocial behavior is a symptom of genetically transmitted personality disorders.

21 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 5:54 pm

That’s silly.

But pretending that social factors are irrelevant (and therefore legitimizing the excuse that we don’t need to do anything to fix them) merely because genetic variability exists seems to be the prime motivation of people of this perspective.

Anyways, this would be genist, not racist. I have yet to read a study showing a causal relationship between skin melanin and anything other than risk of cancer (vitamin D can help), yet people routinely prefer to ignore other possible explanations, like rupture of social and familial fabric following slavery followed by prejudice and outright racism, and instead prefer to posit excess skin melanin as an explanation for differences in socioeconomic outcomes.

22 tom August 22, 2014 at 7:44 am

There are other possible explanations, when using conviction rates you always have to be careful about influence. There were certainly kids in the town where I grew up that got warnings and just taken home to their parents rather than arrested. People who move economicly will not be as likely to have those friendships/be seen as in group.

23 Ernesto Resnik August 22, 2014 at 7:53 am

Genes which predispose to criminal behaviour and present only in the bottom income segment of the population? Absolutely ridiculous. Te Economist has been forever a cheerleader of the genetics of behaviour fetiche.

24 P August 22, 2014 at 8:00 am

Not only present at the bottom. Just more common there.

25 Ernesto Resnik August 22, 2014 at 8:30 am

From an evolutionary perspective, same thing.

26 dan1111 August 22, 2014 at 8:51 am

So, what is it you find ridiculous, then? Any claim of association between genetics and criminal behavior? If so, then why?

27 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 5:55 pm

What does evolution have to do with it?

28 bellisaurius August 22, 2014 at 8:13 am

Or, at any rate, more likely to be of the criminal type that gets caught.

29 P August 22, 2014 at 7:56 am

One is that a family’s culture, once established, is “sticky”—that you can, to put it crudely, take the kid out of the neighbourhood, but not the neighbourhood out of the kid.

Incidentally, the same authors have done another study where they show that neighborhood deprivation has no causal effect on criminality and substance use.

30 The Devil's Dictionary August 22, 2014 at 8:01 am

It’s all genetics. However, there’s nothing about race or ethnicity in the propensity to criminal behaviour. The key word is inbreeding or consanguinity. Over generations, it may lead to serious mental retardation as well as many other inborn diseases among populations that practise it. As consanguinity is common in certain cultures, it may appear racist to discuss the problem, which prevents it from being solved.

31 XVO August 22, 2014 at 8:47 am

Race/ethnicity is just kinship on a larger scale, the races are the result of the isolation of different groups of humans. Criminal behavior is not simply a genetic disease or disorder. It’s a historically evolutionarily successful combination of traits. The fact that the traits exist everywhere and proliferate prove that.

I find your mental gymnastics intriguing though. Trying to make the concept of racism have no meaning so that you can talk about the consequences of genetic diversity without thinking of yourself as a racist. You actually are a racist as the terms become so loose as to encompass any acknowledgement that all people aren’t born equal.

32 dan1111 August 22, 2014 at 8:58 am

I don’t wish to defend TDD’s point in general, but how is discussion of consanguinity–a voluntarily chosen behavior, not an inherited trait–racist?

33 XVO August 22, 2014 at 9:49 am

The suggestion that different races/cultures/ethnicities have different inbreeding rates and thus they have different genetic attributes is likely considered racist. “Oh blacks just have a higher crime rate because they’re so inbred.” Sound racist to you? Surely the pc brigade would think so.

Not to mention the fact that races/ethnicities are consanguineous groups of people, just on a large scale. For example, you might say white skin color is caused by inbreeding of white skin colored people.

34 dan1111 August 22, 2014 at 10:02 am

The difference between race and culture is the crux of the issue, which you have sidestepped by oversimplifying things.

The fact that races are consanguineous groups of people in some sense has nothing to do with the point.

35 XVO August 22, 2014 at 10:17 am

And you aren’t oversimplifying things when you assume everyone’s equal except for environmental factors? Which I take it is your view because it’s the only one that’s not racist.

The fact that the races are consanguineous groups of people is the point. Consanguineous groups of people share traits. The further from a shared ancestor the more differences there will be. There is no reason to believe that this doesn’t affect behavior and intelligence (only the physical can’t be denied by head in sand blank slatists) as it does with animals.

Any acknowledgement that meaningful differences exist between people that are genetic/heritable and affect behavior or intelligence except at the extremes(down syndrome, schizophrenia, autism, etc.) is racist. The OC’s mental gymnastics about inbreeding are a hilarious PC attempt around this.

36 JonFraz August 23, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Except that almost no human populations have been isolated long enough to develop as a separate subspecies.

37 Hadur August 22, 2014 at 10:00 am

Races are just groups of people who have inbred with each other and therefore share some common characteristics and genes.

38 Willitts August 22, 2014 at 11:26 am

It’s not “all genetics” and genetics are implicated by race, ethnicity and gender.

39 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Which cultures? It’s hard to solve a problem when it’s not even clear what you’re saying.

40 Tom August 22, 2014 at 8:16 am

The new racism creeping into the Economist.

41 charlie August 22, 2014 at 8:41 am

I have a cousin in Silicon Valley. Sold his 5th company, retired at 49. Likes base jumping. High risk behavior? In his genes?

Ironically, he has an adoped son (his wife’s son) who is black and now a two time felon in California. Genes? Culture? Risk?

42 dan1111 August 22, 2014 at 8:59 am

Anecdotal? Insufficient sample size to draw any meaningful conclusion? Irrelevant?

43 XVO August 22, 2014 at 10:05 am

If there weren’t so much evidence to back up the anecdote you might be right. The only reason you haven’t seen it is because you aren’t looking. Try looking at US crime stats by race, IQ by race, GDPpC in US by race, IQ to GDPpC, National IQ to National GDP, IQ to educational outcomes, Separated Identical Twin Studies. You can’t just wave away all of this evidence as being the result of racist whites keeping people down.

44 dearieme August 22, 2014 at 10:15 am

An anecdote isn’t a sound basis for generalisations, but it can be a perfectly proper test of a generalisation. In general.

45 dan1111 August 22, 2014 at 10:34 am

It can serve as a counterexample, but it is pretty meaningless as evidence for a generalization.

46 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 5:58 pm

+ (how many can you plus at once?)

First time I ever plussed something.

47 prior_approval August 22, 2014 at 8:48 am

OK, there was plenty to mock, but this is really too much – ‘There were no associations between childhood family income and subsequent violent criminality and substance misuse once we had adjusted for unobserved familial risk factors.’

Science involving ‘unobserved familial risk factors’?

48 Just Another MR Blogger August 22, 2014 at 8:58 am

Didn’t you know? Since Economists are the only people who can objectively re-examine their priors, they’re the only people who can adjust studies for unobserved phenomena. They’re also really good at predicting stock prices and GDP growth, too.

49 dan1111 August 22, 2014 at 9:04 am

You look like a couple of fools by mocking something that you haven’t even bothered to understand.

If one controls for X in a study, one has controlled for any risk factors (observed or unobserved) coming from X. In this case, by comparing people within the same families, they controlled for any effect caused by family, including effects they may not know about or have no way to measure.

This is a very basic principle of research. Controlling for unobserved factors is the reason for randomization in clinical trials.

50 prior_approval August 22, 2014 at 10:49 am

‘Controlling for unobserved factors is the reason for randomization in clinical trials.’

Except, of course, that one already has formed a hypothesis as to why one obseves the changes one does in such a setting. In this case, attempting, as far as possible, to isolate cause to the point that it is reasonable to assume the change which the researcher has caused is also the cause of the observed effects.

In this case, how have the researchers been so, well, reductionist?

In other words, in one case, cause is actually being sought, removing correlation to the extent possible.

In this case, correlation has been observed, and cause is inferred after all much controlling for the ‘unobserved’ as possible.

One method strikes me as being fairly valuable in advancing knowledge, in the sense of Quine’s justified true belief (admittedly, it was a GMU philosophy course where I learned this).

The other? Well, some people call it a Nobel prize in economics, other people call it the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel – as one group is interested in furthering their own framework, while the other group is interested in accuracy.

I don’t mind being foolish when it comes to accurate observation – something social science tends to consider beyond its ken, except when it suits the social scientist.

51 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 6:00 pm

For example, if I take 50 men and 50 women, I have hereby accounted for all uncontrollable factors. Then everything will perfectly follow the law of large numbers and we can forget about p < 0.05 or any of that nonsense because every dataset perfectly follows 1st year statistical theory.

52 Jeff R. August 22, 2014 at 9:22 am

I might just be dense, but what exactly are “unobserved familial risk factors?” Family histories of criminality?

53 Lord Action August 22, 2014 at 9:49 am

Lead paint in the family house, for example.

54 Nylund August 22, 2014 at 10:37 am

I also had thoughts regarding lead. There’s been a number of studies linking childhood exposure to lead to criminality later in life. In general, the presence of neurological toxins during youth may have some explanatory power. Since those toxins are more likely in poor neighborhoods, you’d see a correlation between poverty and the sorts of behavioral disorders that make criminality more likely. It would also explain why later affluence or moving to a different neighborhood doesn’t have much of an effect. The neurological effects of childhood exposure have already happened.

55 tom August 22, 2014 at 11:24 am

That wouldn’t effect this study (unless the toxins stayed in the mother’s system and effected future offspring) since they were comparing crime rates of children born into affluence after their parents moved out of lower income.

56 Jeff R. August 22, 2014 at 12:07 pm

I would have thought that would fall under the definition of observable, but maybe not.

57 P August 22, 2014 at 12:57 pm

It is observed if the researchers have measured lead exposure. If they haven’t, it’s unobserved. Because of the sibling design, all such effects are included in their estimates.

58 P August 22, 2014 at 9:57 am

Anything that two siblings share, e.g., genes, parental behavior, family dinners.

59 dearieme August 22, 2014 at 10:17 am

I understood that a major cause of criminality was failing to eat dinner together as a family. Or was that in the Guardian and therefore utter bollocks?

60 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Child abuse would probably top the list.

Perhaps also the presence of parents who don’t brainwash their children (or at least pass on cartoon explanations in the absence of ANY quality science) about the evils of marijuana, and as a result their children get busted for smoking some joints?

Or other aspects of parenting and transmission of family values which contribute to children finding themselves running counter to laws, or not.

61 Art Deco August 22, 2014 at 9:03 am

One might offer that antecedents to criminal behavior also generally injure one’s prospects in labor markets and in small business. (An observation that was all but explicit in Edward Banfield’s work).

62 Go Kings, Go! August 22, 2014 at 12:46 pm

What about labor markets in Syria, Ukraine, Congo, and Washington DC? Are sucess in places like that why these traits persist? Or is it all udder bullock?

63 Mike W August 22, 2014 at 9:12 am

“One is that a family’s culture, once established, is “sticky”—that you can, to put it crudely, take the kid out of the neighbourhood, but not the neighbourhood out of the kid.”

Isn’t this the thinking (mostly unstated) behind the left’s move in Congress for universal pre-school…to break the link between dysfunctional parents and their kids? The Job Corps program is acknowledged to be the most successful (against a very low standard of success generally) of the various federal “job training” programs primarily because it removes the participants from their homes and neighborhoods.

64 The Anti-Gnostic August 22, 2014 at 9:26 am

Please don’t give them any ideas. We do not need multi-billion dollar lawsuits on behalf of the “Stolen Generation” 30 years from now because liberals thought black and latino children spent too much time with their biological families.

65 Jenny Davidson August 22, 2014 at 9:41 am

On a related note (though towards a different conclusion), did you ever read Mikal Gilmore’s Shot in the Heart? It has the best description I know of how older siblings and a much younger one can grow up in what effectively amounts to a different family, with huge consequences….

66 buddyglass August 22, 2014 at 10:01 am

Also a possible contributor: “We started earning more money, but we didn’t move out of the old neighborhood.” So the younger kids, despite the parents’ additional income, were still raised in a unfavorable environment. Their schools, their peers, etc.

67 P August 22, 2014 at 10:12 am

The same researchers rejected that explanation is a previous study: http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/42/4/1057.short

68 DSGeller August 22, 2014 at 10:10 am

The major risk here is abstracting more meaning from this study than it merits, which is still relatively narrow in scope (applied to a specific group of teenagers). Moreover, I believe that coming away with the “genetic” view is FAR more dangerous than being overly skeptical of the findings, so articles like this can be premature and dangerous.

I am curious to see a similar study on an older demographic (do criminals who later become relatively wealthy continue to resort to crime?).

69 P August 22, 2014 at 10:17 am

Why is it “dangerous”? The is no question that criminality, just like all behaviors, has a substantial genetic component. Why is believing in false environmental theories and enacting bad policies based on them prudent?

70 Nylund August 22, 2014 at 11:10 am

One aspect of genes is whether or not they are expressed. Two people may share the same genetic makeup but have different genetic expressions. There’s a lot we don’t know, but it does seem that various factors, including childhood stresses and/or other environmental conditions, can influence whether or not a set of genes are activated. It may not be as simple as “These people have genes that predispose them to this sort of behavior,” but also, “these people live in an environment that increases the likelihood that this particular set of genes are activated and lead to this particular expression.”

There have been a number of studies on identical twins that show that as they grow up (and apart), their genetic differences increase as the differences in their environments lead to different genes becoming activated or inactivated. In mice, it’s been shown that certain stresses can trigger activation of genes that cause the mice to fear certain stimuli, and that once activated, this trait is passed on to the offspring. That is to say that if something “scary” happens to the parent mouse, it can develop a fear of something and genetically pass this fear onto it’s offspring. Essentially, the idea is that gene may be initially set to default to “off.” Once an environmental factor triggers it to turn “on,” the default setting that’s passed onto the offspring will become “on” as well.

Point being, sometimes chalking things up to genes can be a cop-out to conclude that nothing can be done, when really, it could actually be used as a call to action to change the environmental factors that may cause certain genes to become activated or inactivated.

71 Brian Donohue August 22, 2014 at 11:25 am

Good comment. Here’s a good write-up on the mice/Lamarckism thingee:

http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/12/01/mice-inherit-specific-memories-because-epigenetics/

Early days, but this is intriguing. I note that Darwin wrestled with the idea of Lamarckism rather than dismissing it out of hand. I would be surprised if this were a significant transmission mechanism, but maybe.

Like you say, though, there’s a lot we don’t know. I would ask everyone to refrain from labeling people as racists simply because they insist on keeping an open mind about all of this.

72 China Cat August 22, 2014 at 12:30 pm

“I would ask everyone to refrain from labeling people as racists simply because they insist on keeping an open mind about all of this.”

Only they won’t. So, given that they won’t, I would prefer it if everybody called everybody and everything racist all the time so the meaninglessness of it would be clear to all. That seems to be what is happening, without my even having to ask.

73 P August 22, 2014 at 12:44 pm

There have been a number of studies on identical twins that show that as they grow up (and apart), their genetic differences increase as the differences in their environments lead to different genes becoming activated or inactivated

Wrong. Twin studies show that MZ twins remain highly similar throughout their lives. In childhood, this similarity is substantially environmentally caused, but with age the similarity will be increasingly genetically determined. It is a well-replicated finding in behavioral genetics that the heritability of behavioral traits increases with age. This refutes the idea that cumulative life experiences negate genetic influences. MZ twins are certainly not behaviorally identical and the environment has an influence, but genetics is by far the leading explanation of behavioral differences throughout life.

In mice, it’s been shown that certain stresses can trigger activation of genes that cause the mice to fear certain stimuli, and that once activated, this trait is passed on to the offspring. That is to say that if something “scary” happens to the parent mouse, it can develop a fear of something and genetically pass this fear onto it’s offspring.

That research is total BS. See here: http://www.wiringthebrain.com/2014/04/the-trouble-with-epigenetics-part-3.html

Point being, sometimes chalking things up to genes can be a cop-out to conclude that nothing can be done, when really, it could actually be used as a call to action to change the environmental factors that may cause certain genes to become activated or inactivated.

Genetically influenced DOES NOT MEAN UNMALLEABLE!!! Why do people have this bizarre idea that heritable=unmalleable? For example, myopia is highly heritable, but it’s easily cured with eyeglasses, contact lenses, or eye surgery. In medicine, it is well appreciated that many conditions are caused by genes, but that has not led medical researchers to conclude that nothing can be done about such conditions. On the contrary, knowledge of genetic etiology helps in the discovery of cures. Most people have no problem understanding this in the context of diseases, but when the same logic is extended to behavioral traits, they suddenly start to think that heritable=unmalleable. If you want to “cure” criminals, it makes sense to study the genetic etiology of crime, because without knowing the causes of crime there’s little you can do about it.

74 Go Kings, Go! August 22, 2014 at 12:57 pm

I recall Lewontin saying this is not true to date: “On the contrary, knowledge of genetic etiology helps in the discovery of cures.” I’d appreciate if you elaborate.

And, if you’re up for it, another question: You say genetics is merely an “influence”. but what role can it play in explaining an individual’s behavior? E.g., if a peer ir parent is a bad influence, we separate them from the subject. How is genetics helpful here?

(Given this environment, let me assure you that I’m honestly curious and I ask because you sound reasonable and knowledgable)

75 HL August 22, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Genetics may be good at ruling out inefficient/non cures rather than finding good ones. If someone is predisposed to X because of genetics, then we realize that trying to cure it may not be possible or worth the effort. Maybe its better to mitigate the damage of X rather than to spend a bunch of money trying to fix it.

76 P August 23, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I don’t really disagree that knowledge of disease genes has not contributed much to cures so far. At this point, the primary use of genetic knowledge in medicine is to predict the future onset of disease and to rule out wrong ideas about causation. For example, there’s no cure for Huntington’s but you can find out whether you will develop it by taking a genetic test, and then plan your life accordingly. Or how Angelina Jolie had her breasts cut off because a genetic test showed that she was highly likely to develop breast cancer.

And, if you’re up for it, another question: You say genetics is merely an “influence”. but what role can it play in explaining an individual’s behavior? E.g., if a peer ir parent is a bad influence, we separate them from the subject. How is genetics helpful here?

If there was an intervention that reduced criminal offending in those genetically predisposed to anti-social behavior, it would help reduce such behavior and make it more probable that they would live productive lives. It would not help people who are criminals just because of circumstances. However, the genotypes of your parents and probably your friends, too, are similar to yours, so what you call a “bad influence” may not be a purely environmental variable.

77 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 6:10 pm

I question.

Certain genotypes may be presdisposed.

But that does not mean that you can look at the outcome and conclude anything about the population of individuals comprising that population.

For example, some features have been observed in the brain (apologies, I forget where I read it or the name of the study) where is a certain part of the brain is larger (this could still be environmental cause, often including certain cancers, but presumably there is a genetic component in some other cases), then they are more likely to be a perpetrator. So, the suggestion is that surgery or drug therapies should be recommended in these cases. Even though the individual is still considered as criminally culpable in a great number of such cases, the biological component makes it possible for them to seek a medical treatment which makes it easier for them to successfully integrate.

What is “substantial”? 1% 99%?

I believe that nurture is far more relevant than nurture.

In the book Nature Versus Nurture, Matt Ridley showed that many genetic predispositions are “released” or “triggered” by environmental factors. In those cases, is nature or nurture responsible?

I read your perspective, but mostly ignorance w.r.t. understanding of distinctions between environmental and predisposed factors. Do you care to cherry pick some twin studies to counter the point?

78 Richard Harper August 22, 2014 at 10:12 am

Peer group effects goes oddly unmentioned in The Economist article. Judith Rich Harris (The Nature Nurture Assumption book and others) long ago reported on the idea that parenting, aside from the genes contributed, has much less impact than most people appreciate and perhaps peer groups should be looked at more closely. Life-long peer group associations seem to be formed for most people in the Junior High and High School years. And as per the buddyglass comment above, if the family earns more money but continues living in the same neighborhood ..

79 dearieme August 22, 2014 at 10:19 am

“Life-long peer group associations seem to be formed for most people in the Junior High and High School years.” Another good reason to leave home and go off to university?

80 P August 22, 2014 at 10:31 am
81 XVO August 22, 2014 at 10:37 am

People fit in with people who are like them, think like them, act like them, enjoy the same play and interests. This is how kids self organize into cliques. You’re putting a ridiculous amount of weight to the power of peer groups. Isn’t it more likely that the common cause of life outcomes is genetics, which is also affecting the peer groups kids choose/are accepted into.

It will never cease to amaze me the mental gymnastics PC people will play to not acknowledge genetics. It’s a perfectly eloquent theory to describe the differences in life outcomes. It’s never been satisfactorily proven incorrect, yet every social ill needs an environmental cause so that it can be fixed, and, yet still, the environmental solutions tried over the last 50 years have repeatedly failed.

The real question is how can so many people be so deluded when the answer to their questions is slapping them in the face every single day of their lives? Why are all of these very smart and intelligent people so afraid to accept that our genetic legacy determines largely who we are as people? Are they afraid of who they’d become? Do they think it would mean they don’t control their lives?

82 John Mansfield August 22, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Do you really believe the totality of who you are and how you live was determined before your birth?

83 John Smith August 22, 2014 at 2:19 pm

XVO + John Mansfield eloquently present the liberal paradox: The winners are determined by inheritance (genes, culture, money, society, etc.) and the losers are determined by environmental factors (too many to elaborate).

To reconcile their position. They attempt to link the two via a tale of oppression. By their definition, inheritance might as well be the continuous and forceful extraction of beneficial resources, genes and otherwise, from one group to the other.

It is a pathetically weak argument. I can only hope they encourage their offspring to breed with the children of Ferguson and at the same time send as much of their income as possible to aid the community of Ferguson.

Put their money, and their genetic future, where the mouths are.

84 XVO August 22, 2014 at 3:11 pm

What?!?!! You misread me (really badly, 180 from what I said). I’d say that everyone’s position is determined by both things, but that our culture in america has a collective hysteria in which the idea that our outcomes are determined by our genetic inheritance is completely ignored in favor of environmental factors.

I’d say that largely, in our civilized, technological, meritocratic world, intelligence and certain emotional traits (drive to work/achieve status, curiosity, high-impulse control etc.) are so valuable that they trump most environmental factors when determining life outcomes. These traits are genetically determined and they explain most of the difference in income and wealth between individuals who would be considered healthy “normal” people.

@John M as well
I’d say it’s somewhere around 50-80% nature vs 20-50% nurture. Whereas your average reporter in the media and idiot who believes everything they say would think it’s 5-20% nature vs 80-95% environment. Actually the way they talk you wouldn’t be surprised if they believed nature had nothing to do with life outcomes.

85 John Smith August 22, 2014 at 4:29 pm

XVO – your comment is far from liberal, in that you assert causative predetermined effects universally. I read it correctly.

John Mansfield discounts your perspective – people can affect their circumstances, predetermination be damned.

I’m with you. I split the difference.

But the liberal paradox is that the winners in life were predetermined (your original comment) and the losers in life affected by circumstance. There are therefore no reasonable claims for the spoils brought about by such predetermination, and a moral argument can be made to helping those of unfortunate circumstance. The lot they struggle most with are the people that were born into unfortunate circumstance, but then lift themselves out of the mire. Typically they ascribe some sort of immigrant work-ethic or Tiger-mom motivation.

But, if in fact winners and losers are made based on their intrinsic qualities, and those alone, the justification to redistribute resources from the winners explodes in a big way.

86 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 6:18 pm

I’d put money down on 95% nurture and 5% nature.

But convincing proof could only be offered by breaking every iota of ethics in social sciences, and anyways many people hear what they want to hear, believe what they want to believe, and this shattering of the research ethos in social sciences would probably only lead for demand to do more of such studies, and yet more of them.

I do not understand how a person can hold that something like inheritance or socioeconomic status has little relevance. If you know that daddy can hook you up with a chance at one of the big legal firms (or whatever the industry is), then he has a reason to push you, and you have a reason to go for it, because you KNOW it will pay off because you’re already in, so long as you don’t prove to be a complete retard.

Born in a poor neighbourhood, a family with no connections, you can work like a dog, get a degree at the best uni, etc., and work for a great many years just to budget the door open a crack, and MAYBE get a chance somewhere.

Whatever, if you work hard and persevere you will probably get an OK job and who needs the millions anyways, but rejection of inherited social factors makes me question whether you deserve whatever chances you were handed that lead you to believe that you are oh so much better.

87 Brian Donohue August 22, 2014 at 2:39 pm

This question is independent of the influence of genes. The philosophical idea of determinism is ancient and not at all dependent on the concept of genetic inheritance.

88 John Smith August 22, 2014 at 3:12 pm

No question. But most people seem more comfortable discussing silver spoons rather than the meaning of life.

89 Denis Drew August 22, 2014 at 10:36 am

My personal observations of juvenile delinquency in the Bronx back in the ’70s:
a) boys are in the emotional dependent stage until they are 18 1/2 (year or so earlier for girls) for all practical purposes as much as if they were 12;
b) this seems to run full bore until the end (18 1/2) and “switch off” over a weeks time (pure social instinct thing);
c) if they feel nobody cares about them (wrong about half the time) they literally won’t care about themselves — no penalty can deter them — I cal this hysterical alienation;
d) to emphasis this, 18 year olds who are simply out of the control of loving guardians can be just as fully hysterically alienated;
e) just as remarkably, 5 or 6 weeks* of intensive attention — during which time the crime does not slow down the slightest little bit (makes you crazy near the end) — and one day a different kid wakes up (the invasion of the body snatchers — weird phenomenon — my experience) — the first week to ten days you have to play along with anything the kid thinks or says or will run off, truly hysterical.
* unlike the decades of positive socialization it takes to resolve the paranoia that underlies severe heroin or alcohol addiction.
**********************
100,000 out of 200,000 Chicago gang age, minority males in street gangs? Pay people enough to work of they will find something else to do.
https://www.google.com/search?q=100%2C000+chicago+street+gangs+cbs&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=sb

yr..per capita…real…nominal…dbl-index…%-of
68…15,473….10.74..(1.60)……10.74……100%
69-70-71-72-73
74…18,284…..9.43…(2.00)……12.61
75…18,313…..9.08…(2.10)……12.61
76…18,945…..9.40…(2.30)……13.04……..72%
77
78…20,422…..9.45…(2.65)……14.11
79…20,696…..9.29…(2.90)……14.32
80…20,236…..8.75…(3.10)……14.00
81…20,112…..8.57…(3.35)……13.89……..62%
82-83-84-85-86-87-88-89
90…24,000…..6.76…(3.80)……16.56
91…23,540…..7.26…(4.25)……16.24……..44%
92-93-94-95
96…25,887…..7.04…(4.75)……17.85
97…26,884…..7.46…(5.15)……19.02……..39%
98-99-00-01-02-03-04-05-06
07…29,075…..6.56…(5.85)……20.09
08…28,166…..7.07…(6.55)……19.45
09…27,819…..7.86…(7.25)……19.42……..40%
10-11-12
13…29,209…..7.25…(7.25)……20.20?……36%?

Look at Wal-Mart: 7% labor costs. DOUBLE Wal-Mart’s average wages ($10 to $20 an hour) and ADD health benefits, paid vacations, etc., and prices might go up 10% (7% + 3%?). If Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters were in there that would have occasioned long ago.

90 Denis Drew August 22, 2014 at 10:38 am

Seem to have uploaded badly somehow — especially minimum wage chart — but folks here are familiar with wage numbers.

91 Dan Weber August 22, 2014 at 11:16 am

How about wage subsidy instead?

92 Denis Drew August 22, 2014 at 4:44 pm

A wage subsidy implies there is not enough demand to pay the wage. I had a funny idea last week: suppose we cut fast food prices in half — would most people buy anymore yuck burgers (65% of Ronald’s customers go through the drive through — not poor)? IOW, there may be a “maximum burger buy line” (demand for food is inelastic in general).

Then I thought, suppose we may have ducked under the max line 30 years ago — how would we know? 🙂 We do know that per capita income is up almost double since 1968 (on chart above that did not load right) — we also know the federal minimum wage is $3.50 an hour lower now than in 1968.
http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl?cost1=1.00&year1=1956&year2=2014

We know Wal-Mart labor costs are 7% (fast food being the other cost extreme) — meaning double Wal-Mart wages and pile on half-again more in benefits and Wal-Mart prices should rise about 10%. If it were possible for Wal-Mart employees to withhold their labor to bargain for an increase I am sure that would happen.

A $15 minimum wage would raise fast food prices 25% (Wal-Mart 3.5%). If I’m right about the “maximum burger buy line” (don’t look for it in any textbooks yet), the left over money that we would have spent on yuck but bought an extra shirt with instead — will be spent on an extra shirt by the fast food worker. 🙂

93 Denis Drew August 22, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Having a sloppy day posting:
That minimum wage inflation link above was for 1956 — not 1968 — still $1.50 more than today’s! Here’s the federal minimum wage in 1968: $10.95 an hour.

http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl?cost1=1.60&year1=1968&year2=2014

94 HL August 22, 2014 at 11:49 am

180

95 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Is this part of the Automating the Future of Retail America Plan?

96 John Mansfield August 22, 2014 at 10:44 am

There are aspects of human life that are fairly invisible in a world of one- and two-child families, which I take Marginal Revolution readership to mostly be. In circles where many have a couple dozen cousins, the importance of older siblings providing a good model for the younger is familiar.

97 Willitts August 22, 2014 at 11:28 am

It’s easier to take the man out of the hood than to take the hood out of the man.

Dozens of lottery winners and Hollywood stars of every race, gender, and nationality provide evidence.

98 yang August 22, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Per capita, blacks commit violent crime higher than whites, hispanics, and asians combined.

Blacks murder whites 10x more often, per capita, than whites murder blacks.

Blacks should rob, rape, and murder people much less often than they do.

99 Brandon August 22, 2014 at 2:38 pm

you should post less

100 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 6:24 pm

lol, per capita … combined.

OK, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the notion of controlling for other factors.

For example, you can control for income, single parent (black neighbourhoods are constantly patrolled, and so we help them by stealing parents away from children at very disproportionate rates)…

There are two factors. Challenge your intellect and ability to consider both sides of an argument, and please suggest 2 or 3 other possible factors. (Hint: sometimes there is a causal relationship between history and the present.)

101 yang August 22, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Blacks commit more violence probably due to their lower average IQ.
Blacks commit murder 10x more often than whites.
Whites murder 4x more often than asians.

Everyone should try to be less violent and more orderly, like asians.
People with low IQs commit more violence and IQ is 60% heritable, just like height.

Best thing is to just avoid people with low IQs who are prone to violence.
Some low IQ problems are due to childhood malnutrition. But low IQ teens and adults cannot be helped and should simply be avoided instead.

102 Brian Donohue August 22, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Not sure where your figures come from. Are you including Mao, Pol Pot, the Myanmar junta, the knuckleheads running North Korea, and Imperial Japan in your calculations?

Prolly best to steer clear of these nuts as well.

103 JonFraz August 23, 2014 at 6:06 pm

There is no link between violence and IQ. (For one thing there’s a major selection bias- stupid criminals are more likely to get caught)

104 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 6:25 pm

blah blah blah, I’m stupid because I only believe what I want to believe because I’m so much better than everyone.

105 timclark August 22, 2014 at 1:36 pm

I think there’s a way to settle this. Take someone rich and successful and ruin them, then take someone of a poor background and give them all the material support and advantages of the rich one. Monitor the outcomes.

Perhaps a small wager is in order as to if this will change their fundamental nature, say, one dollar.

106 msgkings August 22, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Thread closed. This comment cannot be topped.

107 Art Deco August 22, 2014 at 4:12 pm

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086465/

Been done. Don Ameche lost the bet.

108 msgkings August 22, 2014 at 11:52 pm

Um, Art? See that thing that just flew over your head? That was timclark’s joke…

109 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 6:28 pm

A rich person faced with ruin still has connections and has the background to be able to make use of them.

A poor person doesn’t have a lifetime of privilege and access, and may struggle to integrate with those rich networks and thus not succeed. An experienced burger flipper could not easily take advantage of all the wealth and connections because it takes a lifetime, not a few courses, to learn how to tap them. Probably they would get screwed out of their money by some “savvy” investors.

You’d have to start at ground zero, infancy, an idea which easily comes up but wouldn’t pass muster at the least ethical of research institutes in the world.

110 gwern August 22, 2014 at 9:58 pm
111 JonFraz August 23, 2014 at 5:59 pm

I can the possibility that some very general traits like aggressiveness are tied to genes but not specific criminal acts. The real issue here is the fact that we do not provide outlets for young male aggression

112 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Sports.

That’s why we should offer tax rebates for sports programs such as football and hockey and cut community programs so we can afford the rebates. We’re already trying this in Canada.

113 Alec Yu August 25, 2014 at 6:15 am

This study reminds me another one in epigenetics:
http://www.nature.com/news/behaviour-and-biology-the-accidental-epigeneticist-1.14441
By studying disadvantaged children, Richard Tremblay has traced the roots of chronic aggressive behaviour back as far as infancy. Now he hopes to go back further.

To solve the aggression problems, which are mainly a male problem, we need to focus on females,” Tremblay says. “If you ameliorate the quality of life of women, it will transfer to the next generation.”

114 Nathan W August 25, 2014 at 6:31 pm

In case someone looks to knock the epigenetic sort of explanation (easily done), it is worth nothing that there is evidence of something called methylation of certain parts of genes which can allow mothers to transmit environmental aspects over several generations. Once the gene is methylated, it is blocked from transcription, and this can be passed on. This is a likely explanation for things like the ability to transmit resistance to famine over several generations.

115 Flocccina August 29, 2014 at 10:52 pm

Certain genes in a particular society might produce criminal behavior but those same genes may not produce criminal behavior in a different society.

116 TallDave August 30, 2014 at 3:44 am

In absolute 1950s terms, there is essentially zero poverty in the United States. And 1950s United States would have had essentially no poverty by 1900s US standards — which at the time, were the highest any human civilization had ever achieved. And yet we still have lots of crime in some areas.

The confusion stems from the fact poor area are high-crime, but it’s pretty clear culture and local institutions can explain both crime and poverty. Adverse selection is important too, great piece on the Big White Ghetto (which has surprisingly low violent crime rates) from Kevin D Williamson.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/367903/white-ghetto-kevin-d-williamson

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