How much of life is choice? And how much luck?

Joanne Goldblum, of the National Diaper Bank Network, writes:

The trajectory of our lives is determined by a series of choices and luck, but it seems to me that many people discount how big a role luck plays. From the perspective of a baby, the family the baby is born into is a matter of luck. The child has no choice in this matter, and has done nothing one way or another to deserve one family more or less than the other. The child’s only action to this point is being born. As a study released by the Urban Institute found, children born into wealth tend to live life as wealthier adults.

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8 Comments

  1. That Urban Institute report employs the ridiculously low FPL, ($21,756 for a family of four/2009), and leaves the reader with the impression that being above that cutoff point means one has escaped poverty.
    The authors of the Kids Count Databook, in their report on child well-being, state “families need an income of roughly twice the official poverty level to meet their basic needs, including housing, food, transportation, health care and child care.” So rising above that ridiculously low FPL does not mean one has escaped poverty. It only means one has escaped an arbitrary classification that has no basis in real world experience.

    After reading the Casey Foundation report, the Urban Institute report, and the SSRC talking points, among other things, I would amend Ms. Golblum’s thesis thus:
    The trajectory of our lives is determined primarily by class, choices determined by class, and luck dictated by tokenism.

    Capitalism…what a concept.

  2. “As a study released by the Urban Institute found, children born into wealth tend to live life as wealthier adults.”

    And if the ones not born into wealth don’t live life as wealthier adults, it’s all because they haven’t worked hard enough. Right?

  3. What troubles me lately is that I come in contact with so many “lucky” ones who think they got it ll from hard work, and so many hard workers who suffer from the feeling that they aren’t “lucky.” I feel angry with the former and sad for the latter. I was born “not lucky” by some people’s standards–very poor–but I was very lucky to have a good family and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” to help me get out of the projects and into college. No Great Society now . . .

    1. It’s amazing how short are people’s memories when it comes to the lucky breaks they’ve gotten, and how long are their memories when they think they know of someone else’s. I’d love to see a chart that says: “Susan C., this is when something was handed to you, and this is when you worked for it,” because of course I’d like to think I did it all by myself. But no.

      1. I’ll bet that chart idea could be arranged, and I like it. It’s definitely needed! And, really, that’s what bothers me about the whole “American exceptionalism” thing: how much of that exceptionalism comes purely from the fact that you weren’t born in a foodless desert somewhere across the ocean?

  4. “…how much of that exceptionalism comes purely from the fact that you weren’t born in a foodless desert somewhere across the ocean?”

    Amen to that and to that which precedes it. I had a colleague who, at dinner once, talked about whatever “personal responsibility” was called then, and when I expressed something like what you just said, she said “but why CAN’T they get themselves out of there?” I gave up.

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