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Moral luck, intergenerational lack of mobility, genetics, etc. and life outcomes


Quill
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I know; such a simple, concise subject. 

I want to talk about life outcomes and the differences in paths taken and how people become something admirable (or not). 

By way of preamble: we recently handled a criminal case for a 36yo woman in the law firm where I work. This is a person whose life has gone in a very unsuccessful direction. She is clearly suffering from multiple forms of substance abuse/addiction (she confirmed this, but it was also physically evident). 

The attorney I work for is pretty much unshockable and he never flinches as he hears all the great variety of drugs and the mayhem it has brought in this woman’s life and, by association, all the people who are also in her life. 

But as we talked later about this woman’s issues, my attny said one of his kids went through “a bad period” where they “tried everything under the sun.” There was trouble for a few years, then found a life partner and left the drugs and such behind. 

I always wonder how these different outcomes happen. And - this seems like a taboo we’re not supposed to mention - but I think a major part of why is wealth/socioeconomic background. I think being the child of a successful attorney, who lives in a posh neighborhood where a lot of other high-status professionals live, makes it less likely that kid was going to keep going down that path. I think there is even a role within the extended family. There’s all these examples around the one kid of Uncle Ralph, who is in local politics, or Aunt Suzanne, who is district manager at the post office, and Cousin Steve, who is off to Princeton. But the wayward client - what examples were in her life? Did she have any siblings, aunts, uncles, parents, mentors...did she have anyone to admire and say, “I’m part of that clan, I can become somebody”? 

Or is it more basic than that, like genetic tendency? I know families with bio and adopted kids in which the bio kid is “successful” in life and the adopted kid is not (so far), though I know the parents poured as much (or more) into mitigating the adopted child’s early disadvantages. Seems as though the issues with the non-bio child goes much deeper, right to the genes. Though it seems depressing to draw that conclusion.

I am interested in others’ thoughts and observations about this subject. 

 

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There may be a role model function.  There may be a genetic function.  But I think the biggest contributor is the safety net function.  An adolescent/young adult with well-off family has off-ramps.  And when they want to get sober they will have resources and time to do it rather than being in prison or on the street. And then they will have connections to help them find a job and build a life.

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It is a hugely depressing subject to me.  My brother and I were raised by the same woman, only 4 1/2 years apart.  His life took a sharp left from mine and we have not been anything alike in at least 40 years.  I do blame drugs.  I don’t know why he fell for that path and I did not.  I  Have never used drugs and I did not drink until I was about 26.  We have different fathers....both alcoholics.  His father never did get sober up to the bitter end of liver failure.  Mine did....last 20 years or so of his life.......

sometimes it feels like my brother is from another planet.

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3 minutes ago, Danae said:

There may be a role model function.  There may be a genetic function.  But I think the biggest contributor is the safety net function.  An adolescent/young adult with well-off family has off-ramps.  And when they want to get sober they will have resources and time to do it rather than being in prison or on the street. And then they will have connections to help them find a job and build a life.

I agree.  My brother has had off ramp opportunities many many times in his life where as other people in his world have gone to prison....shockingly he has never even been arrested but he has wasted so so many opportunities to come out and live a happy life.  

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We have a big family, and while there isn't a lot of jail stuff, there are big ranges in the choices people make and how their options play out in spite of having family support. Family support does help, but it's limited. I do see a strong genetic component for some things in my family (say, one kind of problem on one parent's side and another kind of problem on the parent's side). On one side of the family, I can definitely see a place where ADHD plays a big role, but most of the people that have strong ADHD traits are in an older generation that would've never been diagnosed--they are now elderly. Another thing I've seen is that some people really do want to learn from others, and some people don't care at all. My grandfather specifically worked to keep his "vices" under control after seeing siblings die early or have major problems in those areas (smoking, drinking, eating). 

Not all kinds of family support is equal--support of parents vs. siblings vs. farther flung family members is qualitatively different, and I think it makes a little difference if the family doing the support has resources, but I think that not everyone responds to inciting events the same way. For instance, there was abandonment in part of the family, and some of the abandoned siblings grew closer while others wanted nothing to do with each other at all even though it was the parent that did the abandoning. 

Avoiding jail is relative as far as a success point--someone in my family had a number of DUIs and finally moved to a place he could walk to and from the bars to avoid the DUIs. That's one way to fix the problem, but it certainly didn't address the alcoholism. It didn't fix the job problem or the alienating people from your life problem. I also think that some people can be functional and addicted and some cannot. It can mean they hold onto jobs a lot longer or family a lot longer than someone who cannot be a functional addict. 

I think structure makes a big difference--some people need more structured jobs and lives and gravitate toward careers and lifestyles that provide it. Others kind of p*ss on the whole idea but need that kind of structure.

I personally also think that things like ADHD, LDs, etc. play into things. I read that prisons are full of people with ADHD and learning issues, though I don't have current stats on that. ADHD can certainly differ from person to person--some people with it are pretty self-aware and some are not. Probably some people have undiagnosed ODD as well. They are often comorbid.

Some people just don't want to be told what to do, and for some people (not all) that precludes a lot of pro-social behavior. 

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Posted (edited)

Nature vs nurture.  I think the answer is both. 

Lucky genetics, resource access, nurturing family/environment.  I think if you have 2 of 3, you have a chance.

I think inter-generational trauma is a vicious cycle that's really, really hard to overcome, even with the most robust genetics.  Impoverished/non-nurturing early environment (even as an infant) is hard to overcome.  Fetal exposure to substances might be impossible to overcome (fetal alcohol syndrome is permanent).

The combination of unlucky genetics, impoverished environment/resource access, and a non-nurturing family is deadly.

Edited by wathe
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There is growing pool of reserch about many factors that contribute to the final outcomes of a person.

Reserch on

the in-utero inviroment - and the effects substances like alcahol and drugs have e on the deleloping child. Even the quality of sperm is affected by drug use and can cause some DNA changes in the offspring 

Trauma -can leave a "memory" for three generations

The importance of the first 1000 days from conception. If key things are it triggered in this time then there is permanent brain damage. Example. extreme neglect

There is a very interesting study happening in New Zealand that are following all the babies born in one city in one year. They are adults now. They have found out some pretty interesting things. When they were 4 years old they were given the doughnut test, the impulse control one. . All the ones that failed the test ended up becoming dysfunctional adults. 

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Posted (edited)

Many factors, family background often plays a role.

With substance abuse, the person is often self- medicating mental illness. Unless that underlying illness is addressed, the person may bounce from substance to substance,  but won't be stable and functional. And with mental illness,  here is an underlying genetic component for predisposition,  and there is the socioeconomic aspect of access to care. Role model availability doesn't cure the condition. 

Edited by regentrude
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Genetic differences play a huge part, even among siblings. My brother and I were raised in the same dysfunctional household by the same dysfunctional parents. One parent was an addict and the other was totally checked out and basically ignored us.

My brother turned out like my parents. He became an alcoholic as a teenager, then later ruined his relationship with his wife and child and ended up dying at a young age from his addictions.

On the other hand, I knew even as a very little kid that I was never going to be like my parents. I put all my effort into making a different kind of life for myself.

It has been a mystery to me how we turned out to be such complete opposites, and why he would choose that disastrous path after seeing it up close and personal as a kid. I have had a bit of survivor’s guilt over my life being stable and successful while his was not. The only explanation I can come up with is that it was a difference in our DNA, something that caused our personalities to be  so different.

I have seen this same type of scenario happen with siblings in other families, at all income levels.

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As others have said, its a combination of nature and nurture, and the interplay of those is unique for each person, even within the same household.  My father was one of 6 kids and there are 15 of us cousins.  We grew up within 30 miles of each other and attended the same school district (so culturally experienced much the same).  Out of the 15 of us, I would guess that we are fairly spread across the income distribution, with at least one person in each decile.  The same holds true for educational attainment.  We have a fairly wide range of life outcomes and there have been a variety of life choices. DH looks at his cousins and sees the same range. 

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Partly genetics - are you impulsive or cautious? Need risk or afraid to take a chance? Good at picking up social cues, or do you misread things as threats? All those things will have a huge difference to your life outcomes.

But having a social safety net in terms of family and society is enormous. You can get better help, and earlier. Having a place to stay when you're unable to work is huge, and means you're less likely to be tempted into drugs and crime. 

It's not about being morally better or worse - it's about opportunity. We can extend the opportunity of having better health and a safe place to live by having a fairer society, with things like accessible health care, public housing, and benefits for those who can't work. 

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One of my brothers got into trouble for a few years beginning in early high school. It was handled so badly by my parents. So I often wonder did the way we were raised set him up on this path, or was he just destined to do the things he did? I was raised by the same parents, and I didn’t make those choices. He did so much better for years until he again made some really bad choices, although these didn’t involve drugs. There was often explosive anger at home. That’s the way things were handled. If he had been raised in a different atmosphere, what difference would it have made? Is there someone to blame? Or is he just who he is? He can be very sneaky and manipulative, which seems to be a theme In my family. So, genetic? Or was this learned? Or both? The other brother was favored. He was always at home. There was never any anger directed at him. He never got into trouble. Neither did I, but I was at the receiving end of explosive anger a lot. I think some damaging things occurred that affected him, but who knows what would have been different if he would have been dealt a different hand. It’s something I think about a lot.

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56 minutes ago, Melissa in Australia said:

There is a very interesting study happening in New Zealand that are following all the babies born in one city in one year. They are adults now. They have found out some pretty interesting things. When they were 4 years old they were given the doughnut test, the impulse control one. . All the ones that failed the test ended up becoming dysfunctional adults. 

I bet that's an interesting study!

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55 minutes ago, Melissa in Australia said:

I cannot remember the name of it. It has been goi g for something like 30 years. This evening, .When I have time and access to a computer I will try looking it up and posting a link

The Dunedin Study. They are now 45 years old.

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Obviously it's complex, but part that I think there needs to be clear awareness about is the part you called "taboo," Quill - the fact that when you've got family wealth, it serves as a safety net in a huge host of ways - both in forming you and in rescuing you and giving you possibilities later. I don't feel like it's taboo exactly anymore. People seem much more aware of their own various forms of privilege. But it's just so tempting to say, oh, my kid/brother/friend was an addict/criminal/victimized and managed to pull themselves out of it and find success and therefore, this other person should be able to as well and if they can't it must be "bad genes" or "bad upbringing" or something. When actually it's just straight up access to connections and money. Even when it seems like it isn't. It usually plays a pretty key role.

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2 hours ago, kbutton said:

We have a big family, and while there isn't a lot of jail stuff, there are big ranges in the choices people make and how their options play out in spite of having family support. Family support does help, but it's limited. I do see a strong genetic component for some things in my family (say, one kind of problem on one parent's side and another kind of problem on the parent's side). On one side of the family, I can definitely see a place where ADHD plays a big role, but most of the people that have strong ADHD traits are in an older generation that would've never been diagnosed--they are now elderly. Another thing I've seen is that some people really do want to learn from others, and some people don't care at all. My grandfather specifically worked to keep his "vices" under control after seeing siblings die early or have major problems in those areas (smoking, drinking, eating). 

Not all kinds of family support is equal--support of parents vs. siblings vs. farther flung family members is qualitatively different, and I think it makes a little difference if the family doing the support has resources, but I think that not everyone responds to inciting events the same way. For instance, there was abandonment in part of the family, and some of the abandoned siblings grew closer while others wanted nothing to do with each other at all even though it was the parent that did the abandoning. 

Avoiding jail is relative as far as a success point--someone in my family had a number of DUIs and finally moved to a place he could walk to and from the bars to avoid the DUIs. That's one way to fix the problem, but it certainly didn't address the alcoholism. It didn't fix the job problem or the alienating people from your life problem. I also think that some people can be functional and addicted and some cannot. It can mean they hold onto jobs a lot longer or family a lot longer than someone who cannot be a functional addict. 

I think structure makes a big difference--some people need more structured jobs and lives and gravitate toward careers and lifestyles that provide it. Others kind of p*ss on the whole idea but need that kind of structure.

I personally also think that things like ADHD, LDs, etc. play into things. I read that prisons are full of people with ADHD and learning issues, though I don't have current stats on that. ADHD can certainly differ from person to person--some people with it are pretty self-aware and some are not. Probably some people have undiagnosed ODD as well. They are often comorbid.

Some people just don't want to be told what to do, and for some people (not all) that precludes a lot of pro-social behavior. 

Studies are being done on some prison in Western Australia. Something like 2/3 possably have FASD. Which haa characteristics like lack of impulse control, can look like ADHA, lack of ability to learn to read and write....... 

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2 minutes ago, Melissa in Australia said:

Studies are being done on some prison in Western Australia. Something like 2/3 possably have FASD. Which haa characteristics like lack of impulse control, can look like ADHA, lack of ability to learn to read and write....... 

It was 40% with FASD and 89% with some form of neurological disorder, but only 2 had actually been diagnosed prior to incarcaration.  https://www.sbs.com.au/news/study-finds-89-per-cent-of-wa-youth-in-detention-have-neurological-impairments#:~:text=Almost 40 per cent of,according to a new study.&text=Almost nine out of 10,according to a new study.

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Just musing a little before I head off to bed.

Dh and SIL had the same upbringing with drastically different results. They have a lot of the same traumas, but reacted and coped differently.
Similar in my own family. My sisters and I faced the same issues for the most part (some variations due to age range,) but one exists on a different level than two of us.

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28 minutes ago, Farrar said:

Obviously it's complex, but part that I think there needs to be clear awareness about is the part you called "taboo," Quill - the fact that when you've got family wealth, it serves as a safety net in a huge host of ways - both in forming you and in rescuing you and giving you possibilities later. I don't feel like it's taboo exactly anymore. People seem much more aware of their own various forms of privilege. But it's just so tempting to say, oh, my kid/brother/friend was an addict/criminal/victimized and managed to pull themselves out of it and find success and therefore, this other person should be able to as well and if they can't it must be "bad genes" or "bad upbringing" or something. When actually it's just straight up access to connections and money. Even when it seems like it isn't. It usually plays a pretty key role.

I had a friend in high school that got involved with hard drugs.  Went to fancy rehab.  Then took ten years to get through college, while heavily involved in anti-globalization protests.  (Not a crime!  But definitely a choice!) When he was done with that phase, he used family connections to get a nice job in investment banking!  I really like this guy, and I don’t fault him for changing course, but it was hugely eye opening about how some people get wildly amazing (first, second, third) chances, and some just don’t.

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Posted (edited)
30 minutes ago, bookbard said:

Thanks for that

Seeing as FASD has only been recognised in Australia for 3 or so years it isn't surprising that they weren't diagnosed prior 

Edited by Melissa in Australia
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Anecdotal only: there is something to be said for having insight into the way the world works.  

It's not just "having money" that gives you an advantage.  It's knowing how and why to get into what university and having the money to pay for it. I can't put it into exact words, but I have seen it play out in reality.  Take two families with the same amount of money, the same start in life--the family that comes from "older money" will do better than the "newer money" family.  

 

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Dan Goleman wrote about the Dunedin Study in his book Focus but he also summarizes it in this interview Q&A:

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/daniel-goleman-research-supports-sel-betty-ray

Quote

 

Consider a 2010 study done in Dunedin, New Zealand, in which researchers followed every child born in the city over the course of a year -- more than a thousand children. At each grade level between the ages of four and eight, the children were tested thoroughly on cognitive control. The researchers then tracked them down when they were in their 30s and found that those with better cognitive control as children had greater financial success and were in better health than those who had tested poorly as children. Cognitive control actually turned out to be astonishingly powerful as a predictor of life success -- stronger than childhood IQ or even the social and economic statuses of the child's family.

The take-home for schools is that we could be teaching kids to enhance their cognitive control. In some sense, this ability comes down to how well you pay attention -- and attention is a mental skill that can be increased and cultivated. So if this is a skill that can be taught and further enhanced by the right lessons, why not give every child these advantages?

 

 

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Tests of cognitive control eg the marshmallow test has been somewhat debunked of late.

Iirc it's now understood that the test actually indicates material deprivation ie those children who know marshmallows are in their near future can more easily resist the sweet during the experiment; those who don't have that expectation fairly sensibly take whats on offer before it disappears. 

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Resilient said:

Anecdotal only: there is something to be said for having insight into the way the world works.  

It's not just "having money" that gives you an advantage.  It's knowing how and why to get into what university and having the money to pay for it. I can't put it into exact words, but I have seen it play out in reality.  Take two families with the same amount of money, the same start in life--the family that comes from "older money" will do better than the "newer money" family.  

 

Yes, there's a definite mindset difference, or approach difference. And just a knowledge difference. Looking back on my own upbringing compared to my friends, my parents simply didn't know what advantages I could be given, while friends whose parents were born and raised with better circumstances took those advantages as just a given. 

Also, people tend to attribute their successes to their hard work and smarts, and their failures to bad luck. Luck's role in our successes is usually undervalued.

---

Also with generational trauma, I think what we consider "rising above" or overcoming it is not always what it looks like. DH is working really, really hard not to pass on his trauma to the kids. I mean, there's some passed down that he can't help, but what he is in control of he is adamant won't be given to them. But it is taking a tremendous toll on him to do so, not just mental or emotional but physically as well. And frankly, financially/career-wise. 

So on the outside it may not look like he's successfully moved past it, but really, he's not passing the buck on and doing what's best *for him*, which would be deny the problem exists and act as his parents modeled. 

Behave by Sapolsky and The Body Keeps the Score have been really helpful for him to come to terms with what the fallout may look like for him and why it's happening. When you're doing the right thing and seemingly getting punished for it, it can be a hard pill to swallow.

[Not to say that anyone with bad childhood histories/generational trauma and also outwardly successful is hiding the problem or in denial or taking it out on their kids, just offering a different perspective]

Edited by Moonhawk
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I think some of it is at what point you see it.

In the 60s drugs were cool and their bad effects were considered BS.  Kind of like the forbidden fruit of the garden of Eden, actually mind expanding and kept from you by uptight people that you did not want to emulate.

But by the time I was in my teens in the 70s there were so many very screwed up ex druggies around as cautionary tales.  And choosing not to do drugs had become socially acceptable as long as you didn’t interfere with someone else’s other choice.

Then the pendulum swung back and forth again since then.  And so it goes.

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So many factors come into play:

in utero environment: substance abuse, malnutrition,  gestational time, extreme stress in pregnant mothers during fetal development
genetics: everything from lower intelligence, addictive tendencies to mental health issues
lack of quality home environment
lack of quality role models
physical trauma
emotional trauma
lack of local social environment
chemical contamination in local environment
lack of quality family dynamics
lack of early medical intervention
lack of mental health treatment
lack of the more stable personality traits
lack of quality mental stimulation in childhood
lack of quality education opportunities

It's very important to remember that traits/behaviors that serve a person well in successful environments are useless/counterproductive in chaotic environments and traits/behaviors that  serve a person well in chaotic environments are useless/counter productive in successful environments. Making the switch is really hard. 

For example, when living in a high violent crime or war torn area, it pays to think in the moment, be physically and psychologically intimidating, hyper-vigilant to threats, skilled in violence, reactive, and extremely flexible.  Routine, long term thinking, delayed gratification, compliance, orderliness, collaboration, and cooperation aren't as useful. If we're measuring success as say, a high paying, intellectually demanding STEM job, the latter are very useful and the former are not. 

So someone self-medicating with drugs an underlying, untreated mental illness due to lack of access to a professional charging $130 an hour twice a week will quickly find themselves dealing with all sorts of chaos in dangerous places because gainful employment is difficult to maintain.

Anyone without the personality traits prone to stability like higher intelligence, being pro-active, diligence, orderliness, and compliance during their K-12 years so they can go to an expensive place and do it for at least 4 more, so they can continue to do it in the workplace every day until about age 65 is going to face challenges in our society. Not to mention that they need psychological bandwidth that isn't damaged by any of the long list I opened this post with, a decent school environment, and the ability to delay gratification. 

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Posted (edited)

As an adoptive parent I'm familiar with a few the basics of the Karyn Purvis research on traumatized children.  The brain scans and biomarkers of trauma show that children from traumatic backgrounds often continue to actively experience the physiological effects of stress YEARS after leaving the stressful environment and being immersed in nurturing environments.  The implications are bone chilling.

Edited by Homeschool Mom in AZ
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Did the Dunedin Study use the Marshmallow Test? I thought the tests were fairly involved. Testing is touched upon in this article but I don’t see specifics.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/02/two-psychologists-followed-1000-new-zealanders-decades-here-s-what-they-found-about-how

A short summary:

Quote

 

The Dunedin data showed that just over a fifth of the population accounts for the bulk of the social costs: crime, welfare payments, hospitalizations, cigarette purchases, fatherless child-rearing, and other indicators of social dysfunction.

What's wrong with these people? Moffitt and Caspi went back and looked at their data from age 3. The target group seemed cursed from the beginning: They scored low on early language skills, fine and gross motor skills, neurological health, and self-control. Often they also grew up in poverty and suffered maltreatment. All through life their disadvantages haunted them. "They didn't get a fair start right out of the starting block," Moffitt says. "You can't expect people with this kind of childhood to do well."

They even seem to age faster than those who had a better start. In their cohort, Moffitt and Caspi have been finding signs of aging starting in the 30s. They're particularly struck by the effects of stress at an early age. Childhood abuse seems to erode telomeres—the caps at the end of chromosomes, associated with cell preservation—and that, in turn, may accelerate aging.

Moffitt and Caspi offer no grand unified theory of human development: Humans are too complicated, too irrational, to sum up in a principle. What their research gives them is not so much a conclusion about humans as a particular point of view.

"All people are not created equal," Moffitt says. "Some have real gifts and talents, and some have real problems right out of the starting block. Once we accept that, we can't dodge the responsibility for social action."

Watching people's lives unfold over decades, she adds, "obliges compassion."

 

Another person who has been attempting to understand and improve social inequality is James Heckman.

https://cehd.uchicago.edu/?page_id=71

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So many factors,  but just between my siblings - same parents - I suspect effects of:

Autism, the age/stage when our parents divorced,  depression, differing parental interest during childhood,  educational experience due to a mismatch with the educational system.

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I don't believe it is that simple or straight forward.

I'm going to make it simple - in my experience, there are three types of kids.  those that will eventually be productive with their life despite a bad background.  those who are influenced by environment (I do think this is the largest group) - but environment is not everything, and those that will give the best parents in the world a run for their money.   

I've personally known kids from good, affluent families who made self-destructive life choices.  including jail and  death.   - (not to mention the ones that make the news. re: adult son of multimillionaire dad who murdered him for reducing his allowance.)

environment can influence - but ultimately people choose.  

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, Homeschool Mom in AZ said:

As an adoptive parent I'm familiar with a few the basics of the Karyn Purvis research on traumatized children.  The brain scans and biomarkers of trauma show that children from traumatic backgrounds often continue to actively experience the physiological effects of stress YEARS after leaving the stressful environment and being immersed in nurturing environments.  The implications are bone chilling.

Yes it is so so sad, and makes me so mad

 

 

 

Edited by Melissa in Australia
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5 hours ago, Resilient said:

Anecdotal only: there is something to be said for having insight into the way the world works.  

It's not just "having money" that gives you an advantage.  It's knowing how and why to get into what university and having the money to pay for it. I can't put it into exact words, but I have seen it play out in reality.  Take two families with the same amount of money, the same start in life--the family that comes from "older money" will do better than the "newer money" family.  

 

Yes, I agree. J.D. Vance talks about this in Hillbilly Elegy. He talks about how there were so many details his Yale classmates were totally comfortable with (like what Sauvignon Blanc was and how it would taste). It makes a big difference. 

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4 hours ago, BeachGal said:

They even seem to age faster than those who had a better start. In their cohort, Moffitt and Caspi have been finding signs of aging starting in the 30s. They're particularly struck by the effects of stress at an early age. Childhood abuse seems to erode telomeres—the caps at the end of chromosomes, associated with cell preservation—and that, in turn, may accelerate aging.

I find this part interesting. One thing that’s very noticeable whenever we have a substance-abusing client (i.e., longterm; lifestyle) is that they look dreadful. Hair, skin, muscle tone, teeth and then, hygeine/clothing/presentation are all affected in a longterm abuser. They seem decades older than they are. 

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4 hours ago, Homeschool Mom in AZ said:

in utero environment: substance abuse, malnutrition,  gestational time, extreme stress in pregnant mothers during fetal development
genetics: everything from lower intelligence, addictive tendencies to mental health issues
lack of quality home environment
lack of quality role models
physical trauma
emotional trauma
lack of local social environment
chemical contamination in local environment
lack of quality family dynamics
lack of early medical intervention
lack of mental health treatment
lack of the more stable personality traits
lack of quality mental stimulation in childhood
lack of quality education opportunities

When comparing random people, all of these things look fairly obvious.  Siblings tend to baffle me though. Especially when, in my case, it’s the middle sibling with the most troubles, making it harder to point at the ages we were when different things happened. (And I’m talking things like divorce and financial changes, not abuse or homelessness.)


Intelligence wise, we oldest two were the “smartest”, but the youngest is the one with not only a college degree, but an advanced degree.  The middle is actually the only one who currently financially supports herself.  I was the young adult rebel, and yet I think I’m the most grounded one. The youngest is very vocal about living a sober life while I love my wine, and the middle has had a lot of substance abuse problems.

We ALL have mental health issues, but the middle has likely spent more time with professionals than the other two of us combined, and still struggles the most, with much more severe diagnosis.

The differences are even more pronounced between dh and his sister, but I think gender expectations played a huge role there. Both unhealthy, but I got the one expected to be a provider, while the one expected to be dependent hasn’t found anyone who could be depended on.

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It’s been a long time since I looked into it but I believe there are four factors in the literature:

1) trauma

2) genetics 

3) age at time you start using substances 

4) community (at least among rodent models, in isolation a mouse is much more likely to choose a drug than if surrounded by other mice)

My totally non-scientific addition would be why they started experimenting.  Rich kids are more likely to experiment with substances for fun.  It’s so typical it’s expected in some circles. Poor kids are more likely to experiment to numb their feelings IMO. 

That said, I went to school with at least 3 rich kids whose drug use permanently disabled them.  One is still an inpatient at a psychiatric hospital last I heard. 

I also knew several pastors kids who died from an overdose (one accidental, one suicide, I don’t know about the third). 

When you’re using substances to escape trauma that’s when it becomes addiction that you’re likely to go back to.  It’s a coping mechanism.  Anyone can become dependent physically on addictive substances, but it doesn’t cross into addiction unless you use it to cope with or numb emotions.

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1 hour ago, Carrie12345 said:

When comparing random people, all of these things look fairly obvious.  Siblings tend to baffle me though. Especially when, in my case, it’s the middle sibling with the most troubles, making it harder to point at the ages we were when different things happened. (And I’m talking things like divorce and financial changes, not abuse or homelessness.)


Intelligence wise, we oldest two were the “smartest”, but the youngest is the one with not only a college degree, but an advanced degree.  The middle is actually the only one who currently financially supports herself.  I was the young adult rebel, and yet I think I’m the most grounded one. The youngest is very vocal about living a sober life while I love my wine, and the middle has had a lot of substance abuse problems.

We ALL have mental health issues, but the middle has likely spent more time with professionals than the other two of us combined, and still struggles the most, with much more severe diagnosis.

The differences are even more pronounced between dh and his sister, but I think gender expectations played a huge role there. Both unhealthy, but I got the one expected to be a provider, while the one expected to be dependent hasn’t found anyone who could be depended on.

Personality traits and genetics are enough to account for dramatic differences is siblings raised in the same environment.  Our society rewards certain personality traits;  higher intelligence, diligence, agreeableness/compliance, and orderliness are the big 4 that pay highly in academics and what gets called successful careers. 

Personality traits that tend to emotional resilience also pay-I don't think social science has a handle on what exactly those are, but as Dr. Jordan Peterson (love him, hate him, have mixed feeling about him) said it's amazing how two people subjected to the same devastating traumatic experience can result in one being completely destroyed by it and another shrugging it off and continuing to be a functional person. 

Openness to change is an issue I see from a distance with my father and his 6 siblings: 4 boys, 3 girls, born starting in the early 1940s through the early 1960s, a baby every 3 years, raised in rural Maine. Their father has severe mental health issues, was an alcoholic, and abusive; their mother was overwhelmed (teen mom at the beginning) and passive by nature. Of the 7, the ones that moved away as young adults did much better than those who stayed in that economically devastated place around people who stayed in that place. I call them "the ones who left vs. the ones who stayed." It's like each camp has two completely different views: This is BS, so I'm outta here ASAP vs. This is My Life Now (since birth.)

Since each bio child only gets 50% of their genetics from Mom and 50% from Dad, it's like Russian Roulette. (Some mental illness is inborn and some is a result of circumstances and role models.) If kid A gets the inborn mental illness gene/gene set  and the susceptibility to addiction genes, it's going to be such a life-long struggle compared to their siblings, kid B, who might only get the susceptibility to addiction but not face the constant temptation because they don't have inborn mental illness, and kid C who got neither the inborn mental illness nor the susceptibility to addiction.  

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The propensity to go down that path? Definitely genetic and related to mental illness. We are now on the 3rd generation of (known) substance abusers on my husband's side. My side has functional alcohol dependence that has led to destroyed relationships and some job difficulty, but none of the harder stuff like in my husband's family.

Winding up successful, even if "successful"  just means avoiding jail time or early death? God, dumb luck, privilege, IDK. My FIL dealt cocaine as a teenager, then met the Lord and became a very successful pastor. But a less successful father. All 3 of his sons had substance abuse issues (not his fault) and he basically checked out and didn't really get them the kind of help they needed (that part was his fault).

My DH ran with a "crew" as a teenager and of the 5-7 of them, only he and one other avoided jail time. DH avoided it by the skin of his teeth. The car was surrounded by police who were going to arrest him as an accomplice. Then the officer in charge saw the car seat in the back and asked him if he had kids. "Yes a son he is 6 months old officer" Officer tells him "Get out of here and if I ever see you again you won't see your son until he's an adult." DH drove home sobbing and never did anything criminal again. The guy DH drove to the scene got 10 years.

Another time DH huffed an air duster and passed out in a park, totally unresponsive for hours. His friend was freaking out thinking he was dead or comatose. DH wakes up not even realizing he'd been passed out. That friend later did 5 years for armed robbery and has also survived a... reverse drive-by? He was in a car and some kids doing a gang initiation shot up the car. Friend was shot in the head but lived. Another person and a dog in the car died. Friend has been in and out of rehab again and again. Earlier this year, his brother and his uncle died by OD in the same week. DH and the friend were neighbors in high school but came from totally different worlds regarding race and class. Well-adjusted and sober people are in the minority in the friend's life, the majority in DH's life. I think that has a lot to do with it, a network of support rather than just one or two people. Coming from the perspective of the sober family members, dealing constantly with so many addicts whom you love can be exhausting and it's so easy to just check out and say, "This has to be your problem now. It can no longer be my problem." That's what the friend's sister has had to do with him.

DH's people are not rich by any stretch, but they are well-educated, have strong church community, and know where/how to get assistance. That's absolutely huge when it comes to cushioning rock bottom.

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I know of two brothers ( relatives of a close friend). Both working class. Both alcoholic. Both married with kids. The older drank himself to death, abused his kids, led a much less functional life. The younger was able to stop drinking eventually. Didn’t abuse his kids. Drinking took a toll on his health and family, but the toll was more financial.

their kids’ lives reflected the difference in the ways their fathers’ lives had gone. The older brother’s kids had more problems with self-destructive behaviors, not just alcohol but drugs. One abused his wife. He ended up being quite brutally killed in what (i think) was determined to be self-defense. 
 

the younger brother’s kids are still working class, but they’ve made functioning lives for themselves. The girls seem to have avoided alcoholism for themselves, the boy I’m not so sure. The girls did both manage to marry alcoholics, one an active alcoholic (ended in divorce), one an alcoholic in recovery. 
 

so i don’t know what Can be gleaned from that, except that even in seemingly identical situations, some people have better outcomes even if it might not look like the success you would want for your own kids, and the reasons are mysterious. One person made better choices, even if clearly they were not all good choices. Why better choices? Is it influenced by birth order and the expectations thereof? Why do the girls in one family seem to control their drinking better even if they still have some por thinking habits  about drinking ( eg, you’re not really responsible for what you do while drunk)? Was it having the example of a mother who wasn’t alcoholic, that gender expectation that the woman’s job was to hold things together and pick up the pieces for the man? Or did they get different genes from her?

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4 minutes ago, egao_gakari said:

Well-adjusted and sober people are in the minority in the friend's life, the majority in DH's life.

I watched a documentary a few years ago about a rehab facility for those with opiate abuse issues.  One person who had completed rehab was nervous about going back to his small town.  He said, "I don't know anyone who is clean and sober." He had many family and friends there. That was eye opening for me. 

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18 minutes ago, Emba said:

Why do the girls in one family seem to control their drinking better even if they still have some por thinking habits  about drinking ( eg, you’re not really responsible for what you do while drunk)? Was it having the example of a mother who wasn’t alcoholic, that gender expectation that the woman’s job was to hold things together and pick up the pieces for the man? Or did they get different genes from her?

I've noticed this as well. DH's sister never had a single issue and is a well-adjusted adult. My FIL's sister too, she's a missionary. Our DD so far does not appear to have the problems DS does. But she sure makes a lot of excuses for their bio-mom's bad behavior - "She was just drunk, she didn't mean it."

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Posted (edited)

Impulsivity is a curse and a blessing.

My dad is one of the most dynamic humans I've ever met.  He was good looking, charming, and shockingly bright.  He LOVES people and it shows - people are drawn to him.  However, his impulsivity has nearly been his undoing at times.  He has struggled (always) with alcohol abuse and, at times, drug use.  He was attracted to a "good girl" - one who always does/chooses the right thing and she was so beautiful in high school.  My mom kept pulling him onto the path as best she could.  For years, people thought my mom was a little over the top controlling because my dad was SO "fun."  I agreed.  But then I grew up and there is an interesting dynamic.  I adore the man.  I could NOT have raised kids with him.  He was spontaneous, aka unreliable.  He did hold a job.  But there were friends that she said, "Him or me."  She left him once until he got into rehab.

Fast forward one generation.  Of my three siblings, I am his mini.  People tend to be drawn to my personality, and, like him, I married a person who always chooses the high road.  In high school, I spent a lot of time with alcohol (and the resulting choices of being utterly inebriated) and was damn lucky there was no permanent fallout from it.  I dabbled with other extra curriculars. I was my worst enemy.  Did I page for the House of Representatives? Yep.  Did I get kicked out for throwing an underage alcohol party AT A REPRESENTATIVE'S HOUSE for the other pages? Yep.  I look back now and think, "What the h#ll?!"  But... I should have been medicated.  Truly.  Wicked smart when it came to school IF I could get it done in one sit down or not lose it, but otherwise? Good luck if I remembered an assignment or where I put anything.  Horrible choice maker.  My boyfriend before I met DH is in prison (again) as a 3x offender for dealing meth.  I met this guy, DH, cool because he was older of course, and ended up pregnant.  I'm sure it changed the course of my life  - much the way my dad's life was changed by his life partner.  DH was steady and supportive.  Thank God for him.  I still think I would have screwed that up too, except that I became a believer early in our marriage (23) and if gave me a focus and compass I didn't possess.

Fast forward one generation - I have eleven individuals in my home.  There is ONE who must CONSTANTLY swim upstream.  He is the hardest working kid I've ever met and if there is a BAD choice to make? He makes it.  Always.  I don't want to homeschool him, but we also know he'll connect with the worst kid in the room.  He's impulsive, rises to every battle, creates half the battles, and is his own worst enemy.  His impulsivity is off the charts.  He is heavily medicated, diagnosed with ADHD and ODD, and is a GREAT human, but his decision making ability? Wretched.  We are working our butts off to help scaffold his future, but one text and drive, one get drunk and be stupid, one experiment...  it could all go awry.  We pray.  He is SO me, except my family didn't believe in ADHD or medicating. (My dad drinks two pots of coffee each day, likely self medicating.)  He's been offered an opportunity to work with adults we trust doing carpentry and building for the summer.  We're planning a welding program in the fall.  We'll keep him busy and exhausted doing GOOD things as long as we can and pray that we can keep him in good circles until his decision making process matures.  We have a lot of discussion about drug and alcohol use/abuse because we already see a tendency there - an interest, kwim? We're social drinkers, so the goal is to make a drink or two without being a jackass the norm.  

Parents are just people.  Even with our research, diagnoses, medication, scaffolding, careful planning, resources, etc.? It could be blown out of the water in an instant.  What will happen when my husband is left to hold everything together? He can't manage a single parent household AND a young adult who isn't invested in making good decisions.  Nurture can compensate to some degree for nature, but some of it is circumstance.  Meet the right person, meet the wrong person, look at a text at the wrong time, have a momentary weakness and try something that hooks you...  I have cousins (3) who grew up in a stable family.  One created a stable family.  One has fought a meth addiction his whole life (he's my favorite because he is such a genuinely sweet guy) and one is already dead from a life of addiction.  The one who died was athletic and popular in school...........  She was introduced to the monster and he drug her back into the lair and never let her free. 😞

Edited by BlsdMama
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13 hours ago, Melissa in Australia said:

 

There is a very interesting study happening in New Zealand that are following all the babies born in one city in one year. They are adults now. They have found out some pretty interesting things. When they were 4 years old they were given the doughnut test, the impulse control one. . All the ones that failed the test ended up becoming dysfunctional adults. 

And there was a previous test - the marshmallow.

My 14yodd watched a 60s (?) video of the marshmallow test and wants to buy a shirt, "Don't touch the marshmallow."  Ironically, DS16 said - what a stupid test, just eat the marshmallow.  SMH.  And thus illustrates the differences in thought patterns between them.

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13 hours ago, Melissa in Australia said:

There is a very interesting study happening in New Zealand that are following all the babies born in one city in one year. They are adults now. They have found out some pretty interesting things. When they were 4 years old they were given the doughnut test, the impulse control one. . All the ones that failed the test ended up becoming dysfunctional adults. 

 

5 minutes ago, BlsdMama said:

And there was a previous test - the marshmallow.
 

Here's an article about the marshmallow test and others like it and how the original researchers came to faulty conclusions about them:
https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/06/marshmallow-test/561779/

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13 hours ago, Quill said:

 

I always wonder how these different outcomes happen. And - this seems like a taboo we’re not supposed to mention - but I think a major part of why is wealth/socioeconomic background. I think being the child of a successful attorney, who lives in a posh neighborhood where a lot of other high-status professionals live, makes it less likely that kid was going to keep going down that path. I think there is even a role within the extended family. There’s all these examples around the one kid of Uncle Ralph, who is in local politics, or Aunt Suzanne, who is district manager at the post office, and Cousin Steve, who is off to Princeton. But the wayward client - what examples were in her life? Did she have any siblings, aunts, uncles, parents, mentors...did she have anyone to admire and say, “I’m part of that clan, I can become somebody”? 

Or is it more basic than that, like genetic tendency? I know families with bio and adopted kids in which the bio kid is “successful” in life and the adopted kid is not (so far), though I know the parents poured as much (or more) into mitigating the adopted child’s early disadvantages. Seems as though the issues with the non-bio child goes much deeper, right to the genes. Though it seems depressing to draw that conclusion.

I am interested in others’ thoughts and observations about this subject. 

 

Income only matters in that people with mental illness, drug addiction and so on have better access to treatment and, if arrested, aren't relegated to the public defender's office. (No disrespect to PDs, but they're grossly overworked and aren't able to give the same attention as a private attorney would... which is a whole 'nother conversation about how lack of funding for public defenders feeds into certain inequities of the justice system).  

Money provides options. Options for treatment.  Options for employment post-treatment.  Options for private mental health care. Options for education. That's pretty much it.  It's not about "moral luck" as much as it is being able to afford to play the game.  

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

I cannot find which specific tests were used in the Dunedin Study but it was not the Marshmallow Test (a test done on four-year-olds in the 1970s by Walter Mischel at Stanford). Dan Goleman wrote this about the Dunedin Study in his book Focus:

These kids underwent an impressive battery of tests over their school years, such as testing their tolerance for frustration and their restlessness, on the one hand, and powers of concentration and persistence on the other.

After a two-decades lull all but 4 percent of the kids were tracked down (a feat far easier in a stable country like New Zealand than, say, in the hypermobile United States). By then young adults, they were assessed for:

Health. physicals and lab tests looked at their cardiovascular, metabolic, psychiatric, respiratory, even dental and inflammatory conditions.

Wealth. Whether they had savings, were single and raising a child, owned a home, had credit problems, had investments, or had retirement funds.

Crime. All court records in Australia and New Zealand were searched to see if they had been convicted of a crime.

Edited by BeachGal
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23 minutes ago, shinyhappypeople said:

Income only matters in that people with mental illness, drug addiction and so on have better access to treatment and, if arrested, aren't relegated to the public defender's office. (No disrespect to PDs, but they're grossly overworked and aren't able to give the same attention as a private attorney would... which is a whole 'nother conversation about how lack of funding for public defenders feeds into certain inequities of the justice system).  

Money provides options. Options for treatment.  Options for employment post-treatment.  Options for private mental health care. Options for education. That's pretty much it.  It's not about "moral luck" as much as it is being able to afford to play the game.  

 

 

 

Well, I agree with you in general, but the person I described in the OP happens to have a family member willing/able to pay the retainer for a private attny, my boss. So here’s this one little glimmer of advantage, despite her many disadvantages, but she apparently, so far, has not parleyed that one benefit into elevating herself. 

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1 minute ago, Quill said:

Well, I agree with you in general, but the person I described in the OP happens to have a family member willing/able to pay the retainer for a private attny, my boss. So here’s this one little glimmer of advantage, despite her many disadvantages, but she apparently, so far, has not parleyed that one benefit into elevating herself. 

Some people just can’t/won’t grab the out stretched hand.  It’s very sad.  

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