Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life course heterogeneity

David Brooks writes about the Study of Adult Development or the "Grant Study" of a Harvard College cohort, which is also profiled in depth in the Atlantic.

Today I had a discussion about this article with a biologist friend of mine, and we had two fairly different and equally valid interpretations of it. On the one hand, the study seems to provide a wealth of examples of how much innate uncertainty there seems to be in life, impinging differently upon individuals no matter how similar they may appear to be. On the other hand, one wonders how much unobserved heterogeneity there is among Harvard alumni of a particular cohort. As Brooks points out, for example, many of them had skeletons in the family closet, so to speak, as did the primary researcher in charge of the project.

What is the best design for research and policy? Identifying the background characteristics that can lead to adult outcomes, or the shocks that produce them, or figuring out what helps adults weather them best?