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Home arrow History arrow Life History Evolution and Sociology: The Biological Backstory of Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010

Life History as a Correlated Complex

Coming Apart contains many passages that establish connections across all variables under scrutiny:

  • 1. “At that time, 38 percent of white males ages 20-49 who were on probation had not completed high school, more than four and a half times the overall dropout rate” (Murray 2012, p. 192).
  • 2. “That information reveals an extraordinarily strong relationship between the mother’s education and the likelihood that she gives birth as an unmarried woman” (Murray 2012, p. 161).
  • 3. “People who attend church regularly and report that religion is an important part of their lives have longer life expectancies, less disability in old age, and more stable marriages... there is strong evidence for the relationship of religiosity to happiness and satisfaction with life, self-esteem, less depression, and less substance abuse ... the list goes on” (Murray 2012, p. 201).
  • 4. “No matter what the outcome being examined—the quality of the mother-infant relationship, externalizing behavior in childhood (aggression, delinquency, and hyperactivity), delinquency in adolescence, criminality as adults, illness and injury in childhood, early mortality, sexual decision making in adolescence, school problems and dropping out, emotional health, or any other measure of how well or poorly children do in life—the family structure that produces the best outcomes for children, on average, are two biological parents who remain married” (Murray 2012, p. 158).

From a life history perspective, this is not at all surprising. Life history evolution is the only meta-theory elegantly explaining these many intercorrelations. Recall, life history evolution aggregates seven factors, which form an interdependent complex. It is as if these seven factors were links on a chain. Any one link can be elevated or depressed only slightly before elevating or depressing the chain as a whole. Figueredo et al. (2006) most pointedly explain this interdependence across these many variables from a life history perspective in a passage that merits extended quotation:

The social and behavioral literature indicates that many behavioral traits commonly considered “social problems” in modern industrial society occur in such clusters. A number of independent literatures consistently describe a positive manifold of correlations among many common human behavioral traits considered “social problems.” Theories derived from the Standard Social Science Model do not fully account for this positive manifold or cluster of “social problems,” but Life History Theory does because it instead construes such clusters to be coordinated arrays of contingently adaptive life-history traits. The literature examining teen pregnancy describes an entire cluster of what are considered “social problems” in modern industrial society. Teen pregnancy is predictive of both welfare dependence and the intergenerational transmission of poverty (Bonell, 2004; Gueorguieva et al., 2001; Smith, 2000; Spencer, 2001). Also, simply belonging to a group identified as high-risk sexually active teens (defined as teens who have had sexual intercourse six or more times in the past six months and rarely or never used birth control) predicts low socioeconomic status, sexual intercourse before the age of 15, non-use of birth control, and having multiple sexual partners (Kivisto, 2001). These same behaviors occur concurrently with poor school performance, alcohol and illicit substance use, and having friends in gangs (Kivisto, 2001). Reports from males indicating a history of impregnating others, multiple sexual partners, presence of an STD, drug abuse, and unreliable condom use indicate strong positive correlations among these variables. (Guagliardo et al. 1999)

In short, life history perspective suggests that the outcomes of Fishtown are a complex. Because life history confers an underlying biology of time relevant investment, violent crime, property crime, low marriage rates, father absence, early birth, low educational achievement, low income, poverty, outsized use of government services, lack of religiosity, and reduced achievement striving will reliably co-occur.

 
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