*The Origins of You: How Childhood Shapes Later Life*

That is the new forthcoming book by Jay Belsky, Avshalom Caspi, Terrie E. Moffitt, and Richie Poulton, which will prove one of the best and most important works of the last few years.  Imagine following one thousand or so Dunedin New Zealanders for decades of their lives, up through age 38, and recording extensive data, and then doing the same for one thousand or so British twins through age 20, and 1500 American children, in fifteen different locales, up through age 15.  Just imagine what you would learn!

You merely have to buy this book.  In the meantime, let me give you just a few of the results.

The traits of being “undercontrolled” or “inhibited,” as a toddler are the traits most likely to persist up through age eighteen.  The undercontrolled tend to end up as danger-seeking or impulsive.  Those same individuals were most likely to have gambling disorders at age 32.  Girls with an undercontrolled temperament, however, ran into much less later danger than did the boys, including for gambling.

“Social and economic wealth accumulated by the fourth decade of life also proved to be related to childhood self-control.”  And yes that is with controls, including for childhood social class.

Being formally diagnosed with ADHD in childhood was statistically unrelated to being so diagnosed later in adult life.  It did, however, predict elevated levels of “hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and impulsivity” later in adulthoood.  I suspect that all reflects more poorly on the diagnoses than on the concept.  By the way, decades later three-quarters of parents did not even remember their children receiving ADHD diagnoses, or exhibiting symptoms of ADHD (!).

Parenting styles are intergenerationally transmitted for mothers but not for fathers.

For one case the authors were able to measure for DNA and still they found that parenting styles affected the development of the children (p.104).

As for the effects of day care, it seems what matters for the mother-child relationship is the quantity of time spent by the mother taking care of the child, not the quality (p.166).  For the intellectual development of the child, however, quality time matters not the quantity.  By age four and a half, however, the children who spent more time in day care were more disobedient and aggressive.  At least on average, those problems persist through the teen years.  The good news is that quality of family environment growing up still matters more than day care.

But yet there is so much more!  I have only scratched the surface of this fascinating book.  I will not here betray the results on the effects of neighborhoods on children, for instance, among numerous other topics and questions.  Or how about bullying?  Early and persistent marijuana use?  (Uh-oh)  And what do we know about polygenic scores and career success?  What can we learn about epigenetics by considering differential victimization of twins?  What in youth predicts later telomere erosion?

I would describe the writing style as “clear and factual, but not entertaining.”

You can pre-order it here, one of the books of the year and maybe more, recommended of course.


Reading is optional with TC, not fundamental.

What's your point, prior?

If you have had children you will discover that they are born with traits and personalities that you cannot mold or unmold.

Dunedin, New Zealand and British. Sample size = 2. :-)

At no point does he make comparisons between countries. This is just uninformed.

90% of the symptoms of sleep-deprivation and ADHD are the exact same. And you wonder why ADHD is mis-diagnosed 90% of the time--and is almost never diagnosed during summer, when kids don't have to get up until they've gotten enough sleep.

Which is also a time of the year where they don't have to focus on anything they don't want to focus on for too long. Which is guess is a more important factor if what your saying is true.

I am a strong believer in routine for children, especially regarding sleep and food.

I used to fill in as a substitute at the grade school (middle to upper-middle-class socioeconomics) across the street during my child's school years. Then they put in a daycare - to some extent designed for the babies of district teachers, but which was soon filled as well with the tots of neighborhood mothers who worked as well as non-working neighborhood mothers who found it congenial to drop off the tot at 7:45 AM with their older school-aged sibling and go ... shop or exercise or whatever. Despite my strong antipathy to the concept, I was soon filling in there as well, they being desperate and I being accommodating - and it was an instructional period, daycare being outside my experience theretofore.

There was a marked imbalance, more boys than girls. The boys tended to have behavioral problems, perhaps the reason their mothers had sought daycare for them; or else they simply coped less well with the institutional day. Although most of the caregivers - a mix of sweetly-ignorant young women, mothers themselves, with sloppy personal lives and long commutes, and older, more detached "matron" types - genuinely found children's company interesting and were generally patient with even the most exasperating among them - constant cajoling, not correction, is the sane daycare worker's only recourse - they did lament that they were not allowed to curate the class for balance, of either gender or temperament.

As the day wore on toward five-thirty, it became harder and harder for some kids to amuse themselves in the box of a room, and harder for the other kids to be in a box with them. The sharp limit on outdoor time seemed to me a Geneva Convention violation, and even that occurred in a cordoned and not-very-stimulating space. Much plying of carb snacks would be involved. It seemed to me that children who snacked so much at this time would be unlikely to be hungry for dinner by six, which I considered the proper time, at the latest, for a child to sup.

(I noticed that the worse the behavior or the seeming emotional disturbance of the child, the less likely was its parent to ever deviate from the daycare's schedule: those children would be dropped off the moment the doors opened, and collected at the very last moment or indeed late - unlike some children whose mothers occasionally relented when they found that they had some spare time in the day which they could devote to springing their child from daycare early. I expect this phenomenon - first left, last collected - did not escape even the dullest child's notice.)

But then I soon learned - "He was up until ten-thirty last night" - that the post-daycare evening "routine" was usually a nightmarish affair that went on for hours, as dinner came late, and parents either assuaged their guilt by letting the child stay up - something a stay-at-home mother would never in a million years feel - or simply had too much to do in the hours after they got home, to manage the bedtime process with dispatch; and it appeared to me from their haggard look in the morning that the children often did not get enough sleep.

Still, those sweet young women - I remember once as the daily Enya recording pealed over "naptime" (we distributed around the room and tried to pat or stroke the tots into slumber, something for which I had a very poor knack) a discussion among them over the language spoken by one family, foreign, at home, and the conclusion that it was "European" - I knew they were more nurturing than the women that had given so gladly surrendered to them the care of their children. So it seemed to me the setting and the strictures of the thing were more the problem.

What you utopians will be wanting is not universal "preschool", but universal nannies for all.

My son went part-time to a well-run daycare where most of the children thrived. One, however, had a very young, defensive, overwhelmed single mother who dropped him off first thing and picked him up just before the lights went off. The boy (call him Michael) was only two, but he already had seen too much and/or been loved too little: He spit, cursed and hit the other children. My kid was scared of him -- "No Michael!" was the first thing he'd yell each morning when he woke up. Soon enough preschool separated them, but I wonder even yet what I could have done. Michael is now a young adult and almost certainly in prison somewhere.

we read the above summary of this sociology book/narrative
carefully word by word twice
at the end of the day
it sounds like it was boldyenvisioned by a ivy league level astrologer!!

Is this Haiku Bill? What metre is this poem at? Looks like free verse.

PS--is this book a "Dr. Spock for the data-driven Millennials?" (those under 50 probably think i'm talking about Star Trek, unless you're well read).

dozens poorly defined buzzwords and bold claims
we smell empathy/money

"Girls with an undercontrolled temperament, however, ran into much less later danger than did the boys, including for gambling."

This can be shortened to "Girls run into much less danger than boys."

Saved 11 words!

Saved 11 words and changed the meaning completely: he is talking about an interaction effect, you are talking about a main effect. Why not closely read and leave the triumphalist gesture at home? Not your only post of this kind under this post.

I'm quite curious to hear what Bryan Caplan's take on this will be.

Thanks. I shall order this book.

I wrote about the now 47-year-old Dunedin tracking study back in 2014:


The review here is incoherent, but what I want to know is whether the research ignores the results obtained in genetics, twin and adoption, and Judith Rich Harris? It sounds pretty clueless. Family environment matters moor that day care. Duh. What about with adoptees?

We're long past the point where we should be paying any attention to genetically illiterate social science research.

Indeed. Who needs observational studies when we can decide over a bottle of wine what effect genes have based on their names. The Sonic gene for example, clearly has something to do with projecting your voice.

Longitudinal studies like this are gold, absolutely, but they need to be designed correctly. The NLSY for instance includes two solid IQ tests, one at 3 years old and one at about 17 or later. From Tyler's summary it sounds like the researcher team here did not include genetically literate members, and may have an ideological allergy to the concept of IQ and deterministic thinking. So they may have "forgot" to measure IQ. That makes any results that attribute trait causation suspect and the problem is fundamentally unrepairable unless they go out now and test all the subjects. It's like doing a study on some new weight loss theory and forgetting to measure calories. You need to confront the alternative theories directly with data.

Indeed I cannot tell from this review whether this research confirms or refutes JRH hypothesis.

And I fear this sort of generational study would be rife for p-hacking issues. Especially given no interventions were made on the kids as I understand.

The review here is incoherent, but what I want to know is whether the research ignores the results obtained in genetics, twin and adoption, and Judith Rich Harris?

Judith Rich Harris did not obtain any results. She wrote a review of literature and some subsequent pieces derived from that original review.

It sounds like they did some of it wrong:

"For one case the authors were able to measure for DNA and still they found that parenting styles affected the development of the children (p.104)."

This is surprising because of Judith Harris et al, however the Dunedin, AFAIK, consists mostly of normal children and few identical twins. So it sounds like they threw in a random polygenic score, declared that this controlled for 'genetics', and any remaining residual must be environment/parenting style. This is wrong because any PGS only accounts for a part of genetics, and is a subcase of regression to the mean / residual confounding ("Statistically Controlling for Confounding Constructs Is Harder than You Think"), but you see a lot of researchers doing it anyway. Steve Sailer might call it an example of "Occam's butterknife" - it's always the environment, until proven otherwise...

Simple to make this more accurate, reflecting the increase in the amount of time spent by a subset of fathers to provide the largest amount of parenting.

... parent-child relationship is the quantity of time spent by the parent taking care of the child, not the quality. Notice how child is neutral, though it too could be a relevant factor at another level?

...By the way, decades later three-quarters of parents did not even remember their children receiving ADHD diagnoses, or exhibiting symptoms of ADHD (!).

Doesn't this add support to the theory that ADHD has a genetic component?

Well..! Having raised two children who went to Harvard and earned magna cum laude in college and Law school, and having read literally tons of books on child raising, including that behemoth , Dr.Spock, I can say categorically that spending the most time with your child, showing action and not mere words, constantly and consistently caring and empathetic, encouraging socialization with both peers and seniors, and letting the child be him/herself, and constant and consistent attitudes of inquisitiveness and enthusiasm for the magnificence of nature and life.. well... this is how my wife and I raised them !!! We have NO regrets!!
Cheers. VENKAT .

"Clear and factual, but not entertaining" would make one of the best book-jacket blurbs ever

Does this not motivate an (macro-)economist to set a target for society such that only one parent must work full time? As our gracious host would say, solve for equilibrium

Did Tyler's mom stay home when he was little?

Thanks for this post, Tyler. Ah, ADHD... Imagine someone who is NOT diagnosed with ADHD when he/she was a child and only discovers, as was my case, that he suffers from ADHD at the age of forty or so. I say "discover" because I made my own research in order to find out what was wrong with me, why my life was a chaotic one, one of suffering, with ups and downs (more downs than ups), why in spite of working very hard (as a researcher in economics), I would always procrastinate and end up (almost) never getting anything published, etc. I was living in France at that time and when I told the psychiatrist at the hospital that I had made some research on the web (Dr. Russell Barkley's videos helped a lot as well as those of Dr. Abigail Levrini in VA) and thought that I was suffering from ADHD, she told me that this was not the case - without any test, without even hearing the rest of my story. I stayed none consecutive months in hospital and one day she asked me: "Why is it so important for you to be treated for ADHD?" Euh? Are you serious? Don't you understand that I suffer a lot internally, that my life has been a chaotic - and thus abnormal - one till now in spite of everything I've told you? It's amazing, unbelievable to hear a doctor ask you why you want to be treated for a pathology! In the end, I had to leave France and get back to my native country where a Belgian psychiatrist listened to me. made me past several tests, and in the end concluded that I was suffering from ADHD. I am now under treatment and I can say that my Belgian psychiatrist saved my life, or rather what is left to me to live. Because not a single day passes without me thinking of what I could have done, what I could have written, what a totally different life I could have enjoyed had I been diagnosed in childhood or even at twenty or thirty. So, I invite parents reading this post to consult a specialist in ADHD as soon as possible if they notice any of the usual symptoms of ADHD in their child's behavior. You will avoid him/her a lot of suffering, trust me.

"The Origins of You: How Childhood Shapes Later Life" -- a book about YOU!

Is there anyone who doesn't want to read about themselves? It's about YOU!

A perfect title: is such a book not all but guaranteed a spot on the NY Times' bestseller list?

This article may be relevant to this discussion
It includes
Our prime minister {David Cameron at the time of publication] was only seven when he was sent away to board at Heatherdown preparatory school in Berkshire. Like so many of the men who hold leadership roles in Britain, he learned to adapt his young character to survive both the loss of his family and the demands of boarding school culture. The psychological impact of these formative experiences on Cameron and other boys who grow up to occupy positions of great power and responsibility cannot be overstated. It leaves them ill-prepared for relationships in the adult world and the nation with a cadre of leaders who perpetuate a culture of elitism, bullying and misogyny affecting the whole of society.

The Origins of You sits a question that is both timely and timeless: how does each of us become the different person we are? Drawing in the most authoritative psychological education ever conducted on the matter, the authors offer a riches trove of remarkable insights that both underscore the complexity of human development and affirm the power of human resilience.

Really amazing piece of words.Keep Sharing!

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