How critical are the early years of life?

“Early intervention” to benefit children is one of those sacred cows which I consider unproven and which also is cited in far too malleable a fashion.  Here is a new paper by Alan Rushton, Margaret Grant, Julia Feast, and John Simmonds, probably gated for many of you, but worth a read if you can.

The abstract is too wordy, but the study is a follow-up on one hundred Chinese girls who first lived in Chinese orphanages, were later adopted into the UK, and who now are 40 to 50 years old.  The orphanage involved deprivation and even some malnutrition (55% of sample).  There was basic medical care and supervision, although no general one-to-one caregiver relationship.

Of the initial hundred children, 98 were still alive and 72 of those responded to the survey, which also involved extensive follow-up interviews.

Most entered the orphanage very early, in the first year of life, with a mean of three months old.  Age at exit varied between eight months and 83 months, with a mean of 23 months, and with a mean of 20 months spent in the care of the orphanage.

Compared to a general sample of adopted British women, and also UK non-adopted women, the adopted Chinese women did not appear to be at greater risk of mental illness, nor did they appear to have elevated health risks.  There were no statistically significant differences when it came to “life control” or “life satisfaction.”

This single study is hardly dispositive, but it should raise some skeptical eyebrows.  Recovering from a bad start, in this data set, appears eminently possible, provided of course that the environment improves.

Addendum: Here are some observations on Gerard Debreu’s early life (jstor).

For the pointer I thank a loyal MR reader.


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