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Low parental income in childhood linked to increased risk of mental disorders (doi.org)
104 points by rustoo 5 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 165 comments





I went looking for articles about what personality traits correlate to success. From a 2018 Forbes article, there are 8 'scientifically proven' traits[0]. I surmise that the more of these traits one exhibits, the more likely they will attain 'success', and yes, the article casts it in more nuance than simple financial success:

1. The ability to delay gratification

2. Conscientiousness

3. A belief in free will

4. Being in an open network

5. Childhood adversity

6. Avid reading

7. Past success

8. Grit

If we work backwards and imagine persons who have fewer of these traits, it becomes easier to imagine that they'd also be more likely to have mental disorders of increasing severity. A lack of grit and lack of conscientiousness could be signs of depressive personalities, for example. Or not believing in free will and not having an open network may stem from paranoia.

My takeaway is simply that social programs may want to focus more on proactive measures to address mental health of children in lower socio-economic circumstances.

[0] https://www.forbes.com/sites/briannawiest/2018/04/23/8-trait...


The problem with this is that Forbes almost certainly went into that article with the eight traits they wanted to say are important, and then found articles that can suggest their importance. There are countless other traits that likely have the same or a better correlation to success that Forbes doesn't want to encourage.

You almost certainly went into this comment with a bid against Forbes, so it all evens out.

I am not a fan of Forbes, but I would have the same fault with any arbitrarily picked list of key traits. If you want to make such a list, you need to demonstrate that those traits are the most correlated to success.

If you have me guess, what the effect of low access to resources is (time, money, health, job, anything) I will bet having lower resources will have an adverse effect - because that is kind of the definition of it.

When I read these studies, I'm thinking that this "fact" is disputed and low access to resource may have positive effects - which is ridiculous.

A kind of second order implication of this is that it's more important to research the problem than to solve it (I know you need to understand the problem first, but I think it is not that complicated).


> When I read these studies, I'm thinking that this "fact" is disputed

Being critical in a scientific context shouldn’t be wrong. True, it might be hard to balance.

> it's more important to research the problem than to solve it

Yes, I’d say research is the necessary first step.

Human intuition can always be wrong. Regardless, the results of a research can provide useful pointers about next steps.


Interpretations I can think of, some obviously more reasonable than others:

1. People with mental disorders, tend to have lower paying jobs, and also kids with mental disorders.

2. We must fix income inequality to protect the kids.

3. Low income people should not be allowed to have children.

4. People who will have kids with mental disorders can usually predict that by using their income as a marker (this one kinda breaks the laws of physics but whatever)

I'm sure there's more. But just reading the ultra left and ultra right interpretations in this thread immediately killed my creativity.


>People with mental disorders, tend to have lower paying jobs, and also kids with mental disorders.

They adjusted for parental mental disorders.


> 3. Low income people should not be allowed to have children.

Maybe it's a good thing you don't get too creative...


I know people are going to talk about income inequality, but isn't this obvious? That it's better to be richer? You'll have more resources and advantages. A common concept where I'm from is you work harder so you can give your child a better life.

My parents immigrated to a country with basically nothing and barely spoke English. I can't imagine what their lives were like, how hard it must have been. I was raised below the poverty line and had free lunch well into high school. They always told me they did everything they did because they wanted me to have a better life. It worked. I am amazed at how far there were able to climb, and it gave me the confident to achieve so much more. My mom routinely calls me a dreamer because I wanted to make six figures. In her world, this is huge, she doesn't understand the world like I do. And, that's okay, she did the best she could, so I achieve so much more. And, hopefully, one day, my child can achieve things I can only dream of.

Life is unfair. The way I see it is every one of us was dropped into a race that we didn't ask to be in. Some of us got dropped further along in the race, some of us got dropped further behind. Is it unfair? Fuck yea it is, but what are you going to do? Stay there and complain? Or are you gonna get busy running.


Ah the age old, “I was successful despite setbacks, so literally everyone is capable of the same, just work harder like I did”. I grew up in a very wealthy town and many of my friends shared this opinion - until they volunteered or worked with actually disadvantaged kids. Young Jimmy can’t pull himself up by his bootstraps when dad is in jail and mom works 12 hour shifts at McDonald’s. School feeds him breakfast and lunch.

“Just work a little harder young jimmy, you can be successful despite not eating enough and having little parental guidance for the first 15 years of your life!” I did it just fine!

You see it as a race because you won. Many people are just trying to stay alive, they can’t even conceptualize competing.


As a result of his difficult home life "young jimmy" acts out at school. Whereas in the past he got sent to the principal's office, today he is sent to the community support officer. Young jimmy has a criminal record. Higher education is now off the table.

The OP had three advantages that many kids today dont: he had at least two parents. Those parents had no contact with the criminal justice system and were themselves in good health (evidenced by the fact they were allowed to immigrate). And his parents were probably allowed to work. Many young kids today dont have two parents. Many young kids have one or more parents who are not properly citizens, who dont enjoy the priviledge of being allowed to work legally.

Today is not yesturday. Poor kids today face much greater challenges than those of the past. Direct comparisons of situations are almost always apples and oranges.


> Poor kids today face much greater challenges than those of the past.

To believe this requires a baffling degree of historical ignorance.


Depends actually, it's pretty easy to see that boomer kids had way more opportunities than those of today. Depression era kids had it way worse of course.

The landed class loves watching poor folks compete.

It makes the poor more productive.

You just have to adjust monetary policy to maintain that status quo.

Of course, the opposite of that is true as well.

Ultimately the race isn't all about merit but also politics.


> Ah the age old, “I was successful despite setbacks, so literally everyone is capable of the same, just work harder like I did”

This is totally not what davidn20 wrote.


Thank you

> Is it unfair? Fuck yea it is, but what are you going to do? Stay there and complain? Or are you gonna get busy running.

This is literally “pick yourself up by your bootstraps”. Get busy running is not a thing underprivileged kids can do.


Perhaps it even is "pick yourself up by your bootstraps and your kids' life might be better". Do you not see how that's different from "I was successful despite setbacks, so literally everyone is capable of the same, just work harder like I did"?

Undeprivileged kids can try harder or less hard, same as privileged kids can try harder or less hard. The starting position makes a huge difference. Whether one tries or not also makes a huge difference.


Yeah the point I make in my other reply is that hard work from a privileged kid results in success, but hard work from an underprivileged kid does not result in success, and likely will not result in their children’s success.

At its core it’s the difference between believing anyone can succeed and believing outside factors are much more impactful than working hard. In America it is often times a conservative b liberal mindset.


> Get busy running is not a thing underprivileged kids can do.

It's a thing privileged kids can afford not to do. Underprivileged kids absolutely have to get busy running to get anywhere.


You’re still missing the point. If I work $12/hr and that pays my rent, food, and not much more.. I literally can’t quit my job. I can’t go get an education because I can’t afford it. I can’t find a better job because everyone I’m surrounded by works near the minimum wage and I’m literally not aware of alternative options. Technically I could get a student loan from the gov, but I 100% do not know that option exists.

“Get Busy” sounds good when there is opportunity to improve. My point is that many people who are in a situation where working harder does not result in success. They do not have the tools, knowledge, access, etc to turn hard work into success.


>> My parents immigrated to a country with basically nothing and barely spoke English. I can't imagine what their lives were like, how hard it must have been. I was raised below the poverty line and had free lunch well into high school.

> Young Jimmy can’t pull himself up by his bootstraps when dad is in jail and mom works 12 hour shifts at McDonald’s. School feeds him breakfast and lunch.

I don't see the difference. It sounds like Jimmy is starting at the point the OP's parents did, not OP.


Isn't there a big difference between a child that still has to learn basic skills such as cooking and an adult that was taught this. One person compared to a couple?

I think that’s what the top comment is saying. Every one starts the race with different set of disadvantages. In the end its up to you what are you going do about it.

Also OP never says that he won the race. He is hoping his children will do better than him. I don’t think anybody ever “wins”. You only trade something for something else.


> In the end its up to you what are you going do about it.

This is the ideology I was arguing against since it comes purely from a view of someone successful. It assumes everyone is equally capable of “doing something”. But if you struggle to find your next meal, you can’t do anything besides.. Try to find food. There is no “doing something about it” because you are so disadvantaged that regardless of your action it’s impossible to escape.

In some cases you didn’t eat enough as a child and your brain is literally incapable of escaping. And you’ve never seen someone escape, so it’s not a known possibility.

From my perspective op won the race because he/she makes 100k so objectively isn’t poor and doesn’t have comparable hurdles.


So we just give up on the concept of equal opportunity since everyone starts out differently?

There's also the causality direction in question. Are they parents richer in part because they are less likely to have psychological disorders? Hence the offspring is also more likely to have fewer psychological disorders?

In that scenario money is a correlated variable, and the root cause is somewhere else.


They adjusted “for the potential confounding effects of parental history of mental disorders...”

To quote:

"Adjustment for parental mental illness also likely represented an under-adjustment as most parental psychiatric disorders that were treated in outpatient clinics (without inpatient admission) were not recorded, and all of those that were treated in primary care (without inpatient or outpatient treatment) were unregistered. Furthermore, although register-based mental disorder diagnoses have been shown to have good validity [33, 34], not all mental disorders have been validated."

So if they exclude parental outpatient treated disorders, and exclude parental primary care treated disorders, all that seems to be left over is the rounding errors of self diagnosis and stays in mental hospitals, which would seem to be a huge issue for the conclusion.

The conclusion section doesn't seem to relate to the results section and discussion section, so that's weird.


I agree. I would expect genetics to be a fairly significant confounding variable.

Telling people with mental disorders to pick themselves up by the bootstraps because life is unfair is a bit ridiculous.

Let's define mental illness better. We don't lump all bumps, bruises, and broken bones into physical illness.

Yea, it's out of touch to tell someone with broken legs to walk it off. But, if someone got the wind knock out of them. That's perfectly fine advice.

In fact, I hope and believe the majority of mental illness cases are not serious. Like, most physical cases. It's just harder to see, so people have a harder time properly categorizing it. Which is damaging to a person psyche. If someone has a sprain ankle, but thinks they have cancer. Imagine the unnecessary trauma and hopelessness the person is experiencing.


The study talks about mental illnesses that require "secondary care", i.e. the general practitioner is out of options and needs to refer the patient to a specialist. So not just "bumps and bruises".

Roughly 25% of these disorders are "broadly defined schizophrenia." Should we change that diagnosis so we can blame those suffering for their own failures?

Personally, I'd rather hope and strive to reduce the amount of people suffering from mental disorders rather then redefine them so they aren't "serious." Everyone should be entitled to the "resources and advantages" that prevent illness, not just the rich.


I don't understand why people think I'm against helping people. I'm not. I'm not trying to shame anyone.

I'm simply saying, no matter your situation, do the best you can because that's what you have control over. Also, it's easier to change yourself, than to change the world. I mean if you're fighting to change the world, more power to you. I hope you succeed and make the world a fairer place.


>I'm simply saying, no matter your situation, do the best you can because that's what you have control over. Also, it's easier to change yourself, than to change the world

Again, you're telling this to people with mental disorders like schizophrenia. They don't necessarily have control over their disorder, and are unable to change themselves alone.

This is why it seems like you're shaming people. You both belittled their issues and are telling them to just get over them, like they haven't been trying all along.


> They don't necessarily have control over their disorder, and are unable to change themselves alone.

As someone who has dealt with serious, chronic health issues for a decade, I truly hate this attitude.

I don't necessarily have full control over my health issues, but I'll be damned if you tell me I am unable to take actions to change myself and my situation.

Yes, I much prefer messages that emphasize my personal agency, which your well-intentioned message actively denies.

This is a tight-rope to walk: sick people have limitations and one should acknowledge them, but repeatedly asserting their utter helplessness is also a form of shaming and encourages them to stop trying.


>As someone who has dealt with serious, chronic health issues for a decade, I truly hate this attitude

Do your chronic health issues alter the way your mind operates? If you believe that some external agent is inserting thoughts into your mind, how do you take control of such a situation?

That's an extreme example, but such issues are common with mental disorders. When your mind itself is ill, willpower alone doesn't necessarily cut it.


My health issues came along with significant cognitive effects, ones that significantly affected my career.

I can't speak towards schizophrenia specifically, but you work through mental health like any other obstacle: if it turns out to be an impassable mountain, then go around it.

This is what I hear in GGP's message, and it strongly resonates with my own experience.


First, GGP?

Can you imagine your situation being a little worse, so that no matter how hard you tried you couldn't find a path around it? Some people will end up in untenable situations, if you want a clearcut example consider a coma patient.


Great-grand-parent, to whom you were responding.

A couple of thoughts: of course some people will be in a hole so deep they cannot dig themselves out. But I suspect that is rarer than you expect (look at how we went from mental illness in general, to schizophrenia, now to coma patients).

Unless you’re intimately familiar with someone’s situation, how can you judge?

I’ve found it more helpful to focus on how one can succeed, whether for myself or loved ones.


>But I suspect that is rarer than you expect (look at how we went from mental illness in general, to schizophrenia, now to coma patients).

I think it's relatively common for people with mental illness to end up in a situation they themselves can't recover from, and my examples were hyperbolic as you seemed to deny the very existence of such people. They generally recover with help from those close to them, medical experts, and government support.

>Unless you’re intimately familiar with someone’s situation, how can you judge?

I don't need intimacy with anyone's situation, all I said was that some portion of the 30,000 incidents of mental illness could not control their disorders and would need help.

>I’ve found it more helpful to focus on how one can succeed, whether for myself or loved ones

I'm guessing my post was misunderstood, as here you seem to be trying to help others rather than forcing them to accomplish it by willpower alone.


One problem is some mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, can cause the victim to believe they are not ill under any circumstance, and because of that they will refuse treatment.

What can be done to work around self-deception?


No one is encouraging sick people to stop trying.

They're trying to explain to relatively healthy and privileged people that blaming sick people for trying and failing is extremely unlikely to help them.


The first post was using an article about mental illness to brag about their rags to riches story incidentally implying that mental disorders were a result of not trying hard enough.

This one is offering the much more woke opinion that life is like a patronizing disability porn hollywood movie that disordered people just can't change themselves alone. They need the help of the audience self-insert to unlock their special disabled potential.


You and the original article seem to be making two arguments that sound good in isolation but are incompatible.

You are saying that it's no good to advice people with severe mental health issues to do better if they are poor (fair), whereas the article says early poverty increases the chances of having these disorders (also fair). The causation in two arguments is reversed, however (poor -> mental disorder, mental disorder -> poor), and this is where the OP's argument fits, I think... you become more likely to develop mental disorders because of certain aspects of poverty (malnutrition? bad habits/lifestyle? etc.), however for someone who believes in personal responsibility, that may be to a significant degree because you "didn't do better".


> I'm not trying to shame anyone.

Yes, you are. “Most mental disorders are not that serious” is passive-aggressively stating that those suffering from something you consider to “not be serious” just aren’t working hard enough; that they’re lazy, not disabled.

The truth is, you can work as hard as you want, but if you’re not lucky as well, that work won’t propel you forward.

https://youtu.be/3LopI4YeC4I <- Veritasium on luck vs hard work


Yeah, I hear and sympathize with you, but it's a bit of a truism and misses the point. If this was about lead poisoning, and not parental income, that leads to mental illness, wouldn't you want to fix the problem, rather than just say buck up?

So, hospital for bumps and bruises, because they're just as serious as broken bones?

No, provide all the children with the safety equipment that limits both bruises and broken bones rather than only give it to the wealthy children.

>In fact, I hope and believe the majority of mental illness cases are not serious.

Who are you to decide the seriousness of a mental illness?


> "In fact, I hope and believe the majority of mental illness cases are not serious."

Then your understanding of mental illness is very poor. For example, from Wikipedia, "In 2015, ... [suicide] was the second leading cause of death for young people aged 15 to 34 and the third leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 14." And, in comparison to treatments for common cancers, the successful treatment rate for many common mental illnesses is often quite low.


>I hope and believe

Why write all this when you clearly don't know much about psychiatry and mental illness? This is some high lvl Dunning–Kruger posting.


This is classic survival bias. You worked hard and succeeded, congrats. People work hard and don't succeed all the time. Their children don't deserve mental illness because of it.

>Their children don't deserve mental illness because of it.

an outcome doesn't have to be deserved in order to be obvious.

They don't deserve it, of course, but it's obvious that someone with less resources available to them will have worse health. They will have to work more hours to meet their basic needs, and the money left over will be used at places available to them -- far from the best the world has to offer.

It's not something anyone deserves, it's a consequence of limited care being prioritized by economy. It's a damn shame, but that's pretty largely applicable to all facets of living life.

Higher quality lifestyle/housing/food/travel, less work hours, less stress, better medical care and opportunities to seek care leads to better health versus someone with none of those advantages.

It's a well known phenomena across the health spectrum, and it's nice that it was quantified and linked in yet another way as it was in the article.


Agreed, I wasn't criticizing the study. I was criticizing OPs argument that people should simply "get busy running."

Blaming individuals for a lack of success when the deck is stacked against them is likely to lead to more mental health issues, not more success.


"A consequence of limited care being prioritized by economy" is exactly the problem.

And it is not a fact of life. It can be changed.

Ultimately this is a moral problem. You either care or you don't. If you don't - well, fine.

But don't complain when your family is being bankrupted and/or made homeless when you in turn receive "limited care being prioritized by the economy."


> Is it unfair? Fuck yea it is, but what are you going to do? Stay there and complain? Or are you gonna get busy running.

Keep in mind this study was talking about mental disorders. Many of those mental disorders will interfere will inhibit a person's ability to "get busy running."

It is also worth considering that this paper is not about a race with a meaningful measure of success, regardless of how you define success. There are measured outcomes, whether a person ends up with a mental disorder or not, based upon preconditions. It is not even clear whether training more and running faster will even help a person reach the finish line (which is presumably good mental health throughout life).


Your parents worked hard and what they did was amazing. With that said, getting free lunch at school gave you the help you needed. Plenty of research shows that free lunch at school makes a huge difference in a child's development and academic achievement.

This article is showing what other children needs. We should help them just like we helped you.


> Or are you gonna get busy running.

Can you describe what this means in the context of someone who has schizophrenia?


Sure, I feel like this is an authentic question and since people are misunderstanding me. I'll answer this, but then I'll leave this thread.

I can't speak from the context of someone who has schizophrenia because as far as I know I don't have it. So I'll speak more generally.

"Get busy running" is a mindset. It was a reference to "Get busy living" from Shawshank Redemption (Great movie). I don't know your situation, or how horrible it is to live with schizophrenia. I just hope there are still things you can control in your life. No matter how small or minuscules they seem, focus on that. Focus on the things you can do better.

There is nothing wrong with wanting help or helping other people. However, from the perspective of an individual(who is suffering/disadvantaged) it's a safer bet to focus on things you can control. So, yes, I am putting the ownership of your life, in your own hands. Isn't that empowering? I find it is. Also, it doesn't have to be alone. Maybe, the way to help yourself is you find people that can help you. Allowing people to help and accepting help is big.

No one asked for life. You're just given it. All the beauty and suffering. I said a race, but there is no finish line. You try or you don't. To everyone who is trying to make the world a better place. Thank you. I support you. I want the same thing. I'm trying to help in my own way. You might not agree, but that's okay.

lol I hate how philosophical and cheesy I sound, but that's what I feel.


Would you say the same to people with late stage cancer?


> I know people are going to talk about income inequality, but isn't this obvious? That it's better to be richer?

What is not obvious is that being poor in your childhood will, specifically, increase your risk of mental disorders. I would probably expect a poor kid to get less access to qualified education and, ultimately, be poorer for the rest of their life with respect to their richer peers. But not to experience mental disorders.


>I know people are going to talk about income inequality, but isn't this obvious?

No it was not because one can name disorders like autism spectrum disorder where diagnosis is more likely with high socioeconomic status. In general this conclusion isn't that obvious because one would think a richer child would have more access to the medical resources to get diagnosed.


so what are you going to do? Stay there and shame? Or are you gonna get busy helping?

I am trying to help, having the right mindset is critical.

By your definition, your mindset is within the context of a "race", but why does the race exist in the first place? Why are you participating in this race? Does the race need to exist at all? I would argue that an ideal society would abolish the so-called 'race', and directly meet the needs of every individual.

I don't want life to be nursery school throughout adulthood.

> I was raised below the poverty line and had free lunch well into high school.

The irony here is that they couldn’t even feed you and you say:

> It worked.


One thing I can remember causing me quite a bit of anxiety as a kid was the clothes I had to wear. I was terrified of school events where it wasn't necessary to wear a uniform, because I knew the other kids would find out that I didn't own any nice clothes. I'd always pretend I got my days mixed up and show up in uniform anyway, but I'm sure I wasn't fooling anyone.

Can Danes comment on the availability of mental health care in Denmark?

A pernicious issue in the US is mental health, even with "good" health care plans, is quite rationed. So US citizens are heavily incentivized to avoid seeking help. In the US, this might exacerbate the effect the Danish study identified.


I am not Danish, but they have a socialized health care system covering 99% of the population that covers specialist visits with a general practitioner recommendation.

I'm specifically wondering if there are caps on utilization for those with chronic conditions. This is the part where the vast majority of US health care plans simply seize up and zero out.

From a pragmatic national economic perspective, I'd rather have someone with varying degrees of mental health challenges operating at below their productive potential, with some glimmer of hope of future recovery and/or self-maintenance, and consuming some fraction of mental health care workers' staff time, than absolute zero productive delivery, and causing net negative drain on resources from them eventually lashing out and us cleaning up after the mess from lashing out. There are huge ramifications to this kind of posture, not all good, so it isn't all roses, but I think developed nations are sufficiently advanced enough to shoulder this kind of burden, and I come at this from a kind of "no man left behind" type philosophy about it.


So I don't particularly doubt this studies results, but looking at the first chart it seems to be saying that the top quintile is more likely to be schizophrenic than develop a substance abuse issue.

That's a very surprising result to me, and I wonder if something like the private practice omission might explain that one small portion of the data.


This makes sense in the United States, where money is tied to things like childcare, meal preparation, and even seeing other children outside of structured school environments.

I wonder what the results are in societies where the grandparents regularly take part in child rearing, where kids have unstructured and unsupervised play with their neighbors, and where food is more often prepared for a larger community instead of a single family unit. In the USA these "priveledges" cost money, but they used to be free. I'm sure they also radically affect mental health.


> National cohort study of persons born in Denmark 1980–2000 (N = 1,051,265).

I'm just speaking from my experience. Maybe say "Western society" instead of USA

> In this cohort study of over a million Danish persons, we found that lower parental income, longer time spent growing up in financially poorer conditions and downward family income mobility during childhood were associated with higher risk for developing a secondary care-diagnosed mental disorder as a young adult. The greatest hazard ratios observed were for substance misuse disorders and for personality disorders, but similar patterns were seen across a broad range of mental disorder diagnostic categories.

Income inequality has and continues to cause detriment for societies.


...or that there is a relationship between income and parenting abilities.

The study does not attempt to answer the why. Speculation is kind of fruitless.


I think what you’re hinting at is: is there a tertiary common causal factor that causes both low parenting ability and low income? The relevance being that if we ‘solve’ the income portion then the parenting ability will be unaffected, leading to similar results. I think it’s a worthwhile question, but shouldn’t compel inaction on the income portion. Let’s work on that part and see what happens, how about?

I’m not actually hinting or suggesting. I am pushing back on coming to conclusions that are not supported by the research.

No one is denying that income inequality doesn’t exist.


Is the problem inequality or that the income is below a threshold that would guarantee safety and pray of mind?

Most likely inequality has an effect in addition to any problems caused by the absolute level of income. Remember that this study was done in Denmark which has a functioning welfare state (no doubt imperfect of course), so not very many of the people in question would suffer severe physical privation.

It would be interesting to see a similar study in a country where being in the bottom quintile also meant being absolutely poor.


Is it a real effect, or a mere correlation between relative low income and other kinds of social marginalization and/or lack of social capital? It's not always easy to measure the latter at an individual or household level (hence why relative SES is often used as a correlate), but there's plenty of research highlighting the importance of social capital provision at a broader community scale.

Or that bad parents also are bad employees and earn less money.

Are you suggesting that being "bad" is systematically causal for low income? The standard of evidence would be quite high for such a claim.

What? Why? How is it not self evident that people with poor decision making skills will, on average, have low incomes?

Anecdotally, I see many people with poor decision-making skills prosper because they were born into wealth, and conversely many who make the best decisions available to them yet fail to thrive because of situational challenges (or, for example, the decision to become a schoolteacher in the US).

Bad decisions may (may) lead you to financial ruin, but financial ruin is not an indicator of bad decisions.


I would expect the population-wide correlation between good decision-making and financial outcome to be positive. (Good decisions, all else equal, will tend towards better outcomes financially and I’d expect the converse would also hold.)

How much influence that has I’m not as sure about, but I would be shocked if there were zero or negative correlation.


> (Good decisions, all else equal, will tend towards better outcomes financially and I’d expect the converse would also hold.)

There's a study that does hint the converse is true.

> Childhood poverty: Experiencing or growing up in poverty affects people’s lifelong decision-making style. People living in poverty make decisions focused on coping with present stressful circumstances, often at the expense of future goals.

https://www.lse.ac.uk/PBS/Research/Research-archive/How-pove...


Because that ignores the complexities of the labor market, the economy and life

It's not just not self-evident it's completely wrong, as multiple studies have shown - because the causation works far more reliably the other way.

For example:

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/11/your-br...

https://review.chicagobooth.edu/behavioral-science/2018/arti...


Its not about the choises - its about the available options to choose from.

because some people earning very high incomes do so by indulging poor decision making.

this nonsense does a disservice to those children of bad parents who happen to make more money.

>> Is the problem inequality or that the income is below...

I'm not sure this is a valid (in a Popperian sense) QUESTION.

Income is interrelated to a motherload of other population factors that interact in complex ways. Things can be both cause and effect. You live in a cheap neighborhood because you're broke. Maybe this low income neighborhood or has worse jobs or worse schools. Maybe crime is high. Stress. Mental health. Relationship consequences. Financial consequences Etc.

These things are complex in practice and can span communities/societies.

I don't think we can understand these things fully or mechanically. There's plenty of evidence, theory, and common sense that such problems stack. No theory or measurement is definitive, IMO. Weather you theorize about the world or deal in data, you're probably not distinguishing between income and income inequality well. They're too tightly interlinked in practice.

That said, I doubt that middle-quintile income groups in much poorer countries than Denmark exhibit the same mental health patterns as bottom quintile groups in Denmark. So... "income threshold, not income inequality" probably isn't true in that sense.

I wouldn't jump to the opposite conclusion either, that absolute income thresholds don't matter either. I just don't think we can reach conclusions about social issues in perfect isolation from each other. Society doesn't work that way, so it's hard to reach conclusions about it that way.

In practice, income and income inequality within societies exist in an interlinked way. We don't generally affect one without the other. We can't easily study/measure it either.

Parsed as a strict-sih Popperian question, it just ends up being a moot question. Maybe in a human petri dish it's possible that mental health is totally unrelated to income. Does that even mean anything?


what a verbose way to say correlation isn't causality.

In my view, the problem is societal outcomes like the one we see in the linked article. The factor that compounds the problem is income equality. Your question is interesting but I'd like to rephrase it a bit.

What should the minimum income threshold be that puts reasonable guarantees on desired societal outcomes?


> the problem is income equality

Why should relative levels of income be determinative rather than absolute levels of income?


This should probably be expressed as a proportion of total economic output rather than a dollar amount. Because ultimately money represents a share of societies economic output.

Disproportionately large incomes also cause significant problems to capitalist societies, because our market system is predicated on the idea that we indicate our preferences by spending our money on the things we want. That system breaks down when a significant proportion of the wealth is controlled by only a few people, leading to many of the same problems you get in planned economies that have a similar concentration of power.

You switched from spending money to wealth. That exposed a weakness in the argument: it’s only when wealth is spent that the problem arises (if it exists at all).

No, because wealth is a monopoly over money, and holding on to wealth means someone else cannot make decisions about spending that money.

The problem doesn't just exist, it's very obvious and pressing.

And ultimately it leads to huge distortions in democracy and policy at every level.

There's a good case to be made for the assertion that any economy that prioritises the wealth of a very small number of individuals over eliminating poverty for most of the population is fundamentally and unavoidably unstable. At best it will be unable to operate as a functional democracy and at worst it becomes an oligarchy where inherited privilege trumps any real prospect of social mobility.

The fact that the US scores very poorly on objective measures of social mobility compared to more redistributive economies only reinforces this.


> No, because wealth is a monopoly over money, and holding on to wealth means someone else cannot make decisions about spending that money.

This implies that people become wealthy by taking money from others. This is not correct, people become wealthy (in a free market system) by creating wealth. The money supply automatically increases because of that.

There isn't a monopoly on money - anyone can create wealth.


This is more of an ideal than a reality. Anyone can create wealth, but it's not so simple to convince someone to give you money for it. A lot of value is generated and given away for free (Open source is perfect example. Other people might point to the work involved in raising children or running a home), and plenty of people manage to gain control of bootloads of money without providing any value (or even negative value).

A free market is an approximation of value at the best of times: at best it represents people's estimation of that value given the information available to them. But in real societies it's not even that good, it's distorted by power differentials. One of the most significant being wealth disparities. In a hypothetical society where everyone had equal wealth then a market does distribute wealth to at those people who others think are providing value. But as soon as there's a wealth disparity then people with more wealth have proportionally say over where money gets distributed and thus money accrues to what those people consider valuable. The greater the wealth disparities that exist the further away this gets from distributing money to those who truly create wealth.


Money is not distributed to people who create wealth. That's just not how it works.

If you create value, you can use that value as collateral for a loan. The loan is funded by money creation. The money is not "distributed" to those who create value, it is created and exchanged for that value.

Again, you're positing that economies depend on rich people spending. They don't. The market is almost entirely made up of goods for non-rich people.


The mere potential for spending would create a distortion/bias in favor of/in the direction of larger pools of accumulated capital prior to any expenditure and in spite of whether or not any specific potential expenditure were to take place.

> leading to many of the same problems you get in planned economies that have a similar concentration of power.

Yet it seems that the overwhelming bulk of products and services in the marketplace are designed for broad market appeal, not just to 1% of the population. For example, in Seattle, I don't even know of any stores that target the 1%.

McDonald's is one of the biggest (or the biggest) restaurateur, yet it clearly is targeted at pretty much everyone.


What you're talking about reminds me of the horseshoe model of politics. I've always found it fascinating how corporatism is so similar to aspects of communism, or how communist bureaus in some ways are very similar to corporations with huge market shares (de facto monopolies, with only token competition being allowed). A corporation of course works under the system of capitalism, which is often said to be the antithesis of communism. Yet the outcome of either model goven monopolist tendencies and largesse is strangely similar.

Having experienced both I confirm that there are a whole lot of similarities between the two

In political economy literature, the Soviet Union is often called a "state capitalist" type of economy rather than communist. It functioned as a giant corporation in global capitalism. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_capitalism

Aren't those the same?

If you raised everyone's income above a minimum threshold, that would reduce income inequality by almost any measure.

Gini coefficient (the most commonly used inequality measure) effectively uses logarithms in its calculations: so raising incomes away from zero is the most effective way of reducing inequality by this metric (and most other metrics, and, I think, in most people's minds).

[Edit: are y'all down-voting because I said something technically wrong, or because you disagree in your mind? I'd like to know.]


What if you did it in a way that makes Bezos even richer? What if you could increase low end incomes while simultaneously worsening inequality? Should we do it?

My vote is, of course. But I'm genuinely curious to hear the counter argument.


> What if you could increase low end incomes while simultaneously worsening inequality?

If you could increase them more than you would be able to by redistributing wealth, then I think you should. But I can't think of any scenario where this is evenly remotely close to being the case. In practice we have plentiful but finite resources, and by far the easiest and most practical way to increase lower end incomes would be to redistribute our existing wealth.


> finite resources

Resources are infinite under free markets. For example, software. There is great wealth in software creation, yet it does not exist in the physical world. Even for physical things, they can be re-arranged to make the new arrangement more valuable.


That is the beauty (sometimes cruel beauty) of capitalism. It's not up to you to imagine a way for this to happen. Anyone can imagine a way to increase their own wealth by creating value for other people.

Increasing income does not have to be increasing the number of dollars you make either. What if you made the same money, but it went a longer way? Like you could get cheaper healthcare, but good food for less, or have any other show up at your doorstep in two business days?

I'm not saying our system is perfect, and I actually agree that this is probably a good time to look at redistribution of wealth. But I think limiting others' creativity because of our own lack of imagination is a terrible idea that makes us all worse off.


Who said anything about limiting people's creativity. I do think we should limit how much we compensate people for their creativity (in order to balance compensating others for theres). But they are free to be as creative as they like.

On second read, I think we pretty much agree

The size of the cake is not fixed. Excessive redistribution somehow leads to less cake production.

It's not fixed, but neither is it unbounded.

> Excessive redistribution somehow leads to less cake production.

Indeed, but emphasis on excessive. I'd argue that we currently have an excessive lack of redistribution which is also leading to less cake production.


Agree, a balance has to be found, I would say most of Europe is in balance. Cake could be (practically) unbounded, since (real) value can increase with actually less consumption of resources.

> Cake could be (practically) unbounded, since (real) value can increase with actually less consumption of resources.

I don't think this follows. Yes we can make better use of resources, but there's a limit. And given the huge wealth differentials (two or three orders of magnitude) it's feasible and even likely that that limit is lower than the amount of wealth available for redistribution.


Go back 100 years and the way we have increased our resources would have been completely unimaginable. It would break any possible definition of boundedness that you could have thought of at the time. For all intents and purposes, trying to establish potential limits on economic growth is silly and destructive.

> What if you could increase low end incomes while simultaneously worsening inequality?

That it absurd. If you double the wealth and income of every person on the world, nothing changes. Same gini coefficient, same poverty.

The sum of all money and other financial objects might change in numerical value but still represents the current amount of goods and land that exist on the planet.


I'd argue that you haven't really increased incomes at all if you simply double the monetary amount. To actually increase wealth/incomes you'd have increase the amount of material goods, services, and realise improvements to their quality of life.

And that exactly happend with globalization for US cititin.

> I'd argue that you haven't really increased incomes at all if you simply double the monetary amount

That's what I wrote.


> Same gini coefficient, same poverty.

That statement is obviously false. The US and Haiti have about the same gini coefficient.

> If you double the wealth and income of every person on the world, nothing changes.

The commenter surely meant doubling material wealth (as you put it, the "current amount of goods and land that exist on the planet"), not just some abstract numerical value.


>> Same gini coefficient, same poverty.

> That statement is obviously false. The US and Haiti have about the same gini coefficient.

I'm comparing before the doubling and after, not across different countries. facepalm

> The commenter surely meant doubling material wealth

That post clearly reads "What if you could increase low end incomes".


If you increase their income by giving them jobs where they can be more productive, poverty decreases even if the rich also get richer. Consider building factories in a poor country. People can both contribute and earn a lot more in factory jobs versus back on the farm.

This suggestion is literally colonialism.

The fact that Bezos can get incredibly richer this year, while other people struggle harder is symptomatic of a system that allows inequality - it's not that Bezos getting richer in itself causes inequality.

Bezos's wealth is already effectively unbounded. He has the same wealth as ~50% of the population of United States altogether. That won't immediately change if you uplift poor people's income (since income is not wealth). Why is it important to consider his right to get even richer?


> Why is it important to consider his right to get even richer?

Because it has a correlation with making a lot of other peoples' lives better. For example, I needed to do some repairs two days ago, and ordered the parts necessary from Amazon, and received the parts yesterday. I didn't have to spend 2 hours driving somewhere to get those parts. That extra 2 hours is a benefit to my life. Amazon, in aggregate, has saved me a great deal of time. Another benefit Amazon provides is selection - I can find much more exactly what I want, rather than accepting whatever the store has.


This example is a specific benefit, but not one that Amazon has provided.

It's a benefit that online shopping has provided, which Amazon has monopolized, partly via suppressing competition and exploiting labour (which society has to pay for in other ways).


Amazon utterly revolutionized online shopping, a benefit Amazon provided. There's simply no way it could have otherwise grown to the biggest company in the world from a garage in Bellevue.

25 years later it's easy to assume that online shopping was always like it is today. No way. Nobody even conceived of what it has become. I remember, for example, when ordering by mail meant "allow 3 to 6 weeks for delivery". I'm still astonished by next day delivery - which Amazon created and made ordinary.


I agree. They revolutionized it in a way nobody else was prepared to do. I think there should be regulations to make sure labor is treated fairly, rather than any kind of specific measure to reduce inequality, which seems like a vanity metric to me.

Yes, nobody is arguing for unfair labor practices.

For another example, Sears used to be the king of mail order. Famously, you could even mail order a house! It was delivered on a pallet and you got to put it together. I used to buy lots from the Sears mail order catalog. It was fun just thumbing through it.

Amazon wiped it off the map, from a garage.


> partly via suppressing competition and exploiting labour

Seems to me that everything then would simply become more expensive to sustain Bezos's (or others') wealth?

Children learn so much by watching. The same behaviors modeled by parents that reduce their income are then learned by the children and repeated. This is how families become locked in generational problems. They can be escaped (obviously) by finding new people who set good examples to learn from.

Substance addiction has a inherited component, I don't doubt that people who are more likely to become addicted to something might have less income.

Given this study was done in a place with free healthcare it's hard to say how much causality there is here.


> Income inequality has and continues to cause detriment for societies.

No casual link has been established. Try it the other way 'round, it makes more sense.


*causal

True, we should just make everyone high income.

exactly. we should cut obscene, insane and downright inhuman incomes down to 'high'.

If that's what it takes to meet the needs of every individual, then yes.

These researchers also found that blue is linked to purple.

It's a sink or swim world.

when mental disorders will be seen as social disorders first and foremost?

>The Danish modification of the International Classification of Diseases, Eighth Revision (ICD-8) was utilised from 1969 to 1993, with the Tenth Revision (ICD-10) used from 1994 onwards

This kind of work just makes me angry.

Background: I find it highly plausible that low parental income causes increased risk of mental disorders. I also think it is extremely important to know whether low parental income causes mental disorders, and to have a good estimate of the effect size.

So I read through this and of course down at the end we get:

"It is important to note that rather than investigating the causal effect of parental income per se, we conceptualised parental income as an indicator for an array of measured and unmeasured monetary and non-monetary indices of family’s social environments that are typically interrelated. As our results indicate, controlling for a range of covariates attenuates the relative risk estimates observed, but such estimates would still only constitute partial adjustments as it would never be possible to control for all relevant correlates, and therefore completely disentangle these non-monetary influences from the direct monetary impact."

The first sentence is true. Dropping the pompous gobbledegook, it says "we don't know if this is a correlation or a causal link". Yeah, that's what I expected.

The second sentence is just bullshit. "it would never be possible to control for all relevant correlates..." - sure, if you do crappy 1980s-style observational research that is all you'll ever get. Meanwhile, for the past, oh, twenty years or more, there have been people doing actual experiments to find out the causal effect of poor people getting more money. I mean, say what you like about Jefffrey Sachs but at least he knew to run an experiment.

How does the medical profession continually get away with this garbage social science? Are they stupid? Do they not understand that this work adds zero value? Or are they just pretending not to know about the alternatives - i.e. they're liars? Which is it? Stupid? Or liars?

Another piece of flagrant dishonesty is their recommendation: "Interventions to mitigate the disadvantages linked with low income, and better opportunities for upward socioeconomic mobility, are needed to reduce social inequality in mental health". OK, so you just admitted that you don't know whether low income causes mental health problems. But now apparently we need to fix low income so as to stop causing mental health problems. Which is it?

If you're a left wing person, God bless you. Now, how about producing some decent social science instead of this worthless garbage?

Edit: here's a review of the causal literature on cash transfers from 2016. It includes an entire chapter on health. Relevant quote:

"All studies included under question one – examining the effects of cash transfers on the selected outcomes – had to use either an experimental design (i.e. randomised control trial (RCT) or cluster-RCT)57 or a quasi-experimental design that relies on a credible control group." (They did allow for diff-in-diff, which isn't perfect, but at least they are talking about causality.)

https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-document...


OK first draft. If you rewrite it to remove the flaming, more people will read it and take it seriously.

You're right. But I just had to vent. I see serious work being done and then this kind of stuff gets headlines.

Is the upshot of this comment "give me RCTs or give me death"?

No. I would say "take causality seriously or give me death". There are cases where RCTs are impossible, or would be overkill. There are plausible natural experiments. There are good regression discontinuity designs. Heck, there are cases where the independent variable just is plausibly exogenous. Heck, there are cases when you care about prediction not causality (cross-country analyses can fit this sometimes). But here none of these apply. We do want causality. Correlation just isn't good enough. And there's not just some research - there's lots of research - that does this to investigate poverty. I mean, there's literally a book called Poor Economics by Nobel Prize winners who run RCTs.

flame on, brother. They could have done some work that advances the world a little but did not. Instead they just threw keyword-bait into sciencey echo chamber.

"Parental income as a marker for socioeconomic position during childhood and later risk of developing a secondary care-diagnosed mental disorder examined across the full diagnostic spectrum: a national cohort study"

Full article headline, for those who read the title and thought "... obviously?"


Not me, I would have assumed that mental illness happens at the same rate, but is better cared for in families with higher incomes.

If it occurred at exactly the same rate, I'd still expect it to have a downward effect on family income. I mean, it would be extremely surprising if the additional burden of needing to care for a family member with any kind of illness increased income.

That's fair, and I should check myself. I got so caught up in everyone's solecistic discussion of causality that I missed the line in the paper where they specifically disclaim that this is a causal association.

A better HN title would be: "Parental income and later risk of developing a mental disorder"

correlation does not imply causation

Does this fall under the “No shit Sherlock!” category?



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