Applying the '80/20 rule' to social costs: Adults with the most costly problems could be spotted in preschool

Applying the '80/20 rule' to social costs
A long-term study of life history and government records reveals a disproportionately large set of social costs devoted to a relatively small sector of the population. Credit: Jon Fuller, Duke University

A detailed analysis of the lives of nearly a thousand people from birth to age 38 shows that a small portion of the population accounts for the lion's share of social costs such as crime, welfare dependence and health-care needs as adults.

Just one-fifth of the study population accounted for 81 percent of criminal convictions and 77 percent of fatherless childrearing. This fifth of the group also consumed three-quarters of drug prescriptions, two-thirds of and more than half of the hospital nights and cigarettes smoked.

The researchers found they could have predicted which adults were likely to incur such costs as early as age 3 based on assessments of "," giving them hope that early interventions could avoid some of these social costs.

The analysis, by researchers at Duke University, King's College London and the University of Otago in New Zealand, combined data from a long-term study of a group of people born in the same year in Dunedin, New Zealand with their and governmental databases on such things as health, welfare and criminal justice.

The research group wanted to test the "Pareto principle," which is also called the "80-20 rule." Italian engineer and social scientist Vilfredo Pareto observed a century ago that 80 percent of wealth is controlled by 20 percent of the population. This principle has subsequently been found a useful rule of thumb when applied to phenomena in computer science, biology, physics, economics and many other fields.

The composite statistical picture the researchers created of this group shows that the most socially "costly" 20 percent of the study participants also carried 40 percent of the kilograms of obese weight and filed 36 percent of personal-injury insurance claims.

"Most expenses from social problems are concentrated in a small segment of the population," said Avshalom Caspi, Edward M. Arnett professor of psychology & neuroscience and psychiatry & behavioral sciences at Duke. "So whatever segment of the health, social or judicial system that you look at, we find a concentration. And that concentration approximates what Pareto anticipated over 100 years ago. We called the group 'high-needs/high-costs'."

The researchers acknowledge that it would be difficult to replicate the Pareto principal in social costs without this rare life-long study and very good public records.

"Other researchers were skeptical about whether it is possible to make an accurate match between public records and individuals taking part in a life-long study, but New Zealand's national databases are very reliable and Dunedin Study members have given us great information for matching over the years," said Terrie Moffitt, the Nannerl O. Keohane University Professor in Duke's departments of psychology & neuroscience and psychiatry & . "We know every location they've lived, every name they've used. We're able to match them with pretty much 100 percent accuracy back for many years."

"The digitization of people's lives allows us to quantify precisely how much a person costs society and which people are using multiple different costly health and social services," Moffitt said. "Apparently, the same few clients use the courts, welfare benefits, disability services, children's services, and the health-care system. These systems could be more joined up."

The key information the researchers possessed was rich data about the study group in early childhood.

At age 3, each child in the study had participated in a 45-minute examination of neurological signs including intelligence, language and motor skills, and then the examiners also rated the children on factors such as frustration tolerance, restlessness and impulsivity. This yielded a summary index the researchers called "brain health."

In the latest study, low scores on the brain health index at age 3 were found to predict high healthcare and social costs as an adult. "We can predict this quite well, beginning at age 3 by assessing a child's history of disadvantage, and particularly their brain health," Caspi said.

The findings remind Rena Subotnik, director of the Center for Psychology in Schools and Education for the American Psychological Association, of a recent effort in New Jersey to put a medical clinic in the neighborhood with the greatest need for services.

Educators might be able to do the same sort of thing for these young children at risk of higher , she said. "These are all traits that can be controlled and improved upon with the proper interventions, so identifying them in young children is a gift," she said. And all of society would benefit. "You get the best bang for the buck with early intervention," Subotnik said.

Caspi and Moffitt stress that this ability to identify and predict a person's life course from their childhood status should be an invitation to intervene, not discriminate.

"Any time you identify a population segment, the next thing people do is stigmatize," Moffitt warned. But being able to predict which children will struggle is an opportunity to intervene in their lives very early to attempt to change their trajectories - "for everyone's benefit," Moffitt said. "This study really gives a pretty clear picture of what happens if you don't intervene."

"There is a really powerful connection from children's early beginnings to where they end up," Caspi said. "The purpose of this was not to use these data to complicate children's lives any further. It's to say these children—all children—need a lot of resources, and helping them could yield a remarkable return on investment when they grow up."


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More information: "Childhood Forecasting of a Small Segment of the Population With Large Economic Burden," Avshalom Caspi, Renate Houts, Daniel Belsky, Honalee Harrington, Sean Hogan, Sandhya Ramrakha, Richie Poulton, Terrie Moffitt. Nature Human Behaviour. Dec. 12, 2016, nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/s41562-016-0005
Provided by Duke University
Citation: Applying the '80/20 rule' to social costs: Adults with the most costly problems could be spotted in preschool (2016, December 12) retrieved 23 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2016-12-social.html
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Dec 13, 2016
The article appears to verify that the Normal Distribution Curve (Bell Curve) actually works. The problem is that if you eleminated that costly 20% and ran another analysis you would still have 20% that were the most costly. There will always be someone who is the most expensive of a group and there will always be a SJW who knows exactly what needs to be done to him to fix him whether he likes it or not.

Dec 13, 2016
The problem is that if you eleminated that costly 20% and ran another analysis you would still have 20% that were the most costly.

However, those 20% would not be AS costly. That's the point.
It's not about taking the lower 20% out of the equation. It's about where to spend money first (i.e. where you get most effect for every dollar spent)

Dec 13, 2016
"In other words: they are born that way and you can't fix them.

"To many people, the idea of a child psychopath is almost unthinkable. But the fact is, true psychopaths are born, not made. Oh, indeed, there is the psychopath that is "made," but they are generally different from the born psychopath in a number of ways.

"The fact is, clinical research clearly demonstrates that psychopathy does not spring unannounced into existence in adulthood. The symptoms reveal themselves in early life. It seems to be true that parents of psychopaths KNOW something is dreadfully wrong even before the child starts school. Such children are stubbornly immune to socializing pressures. They are "different" from other children in inexplicable ways. They are more "difficult," or "willful," or aggressive, or hard to "relate to." They are difficult to get close to, cold and distant and self-sufficient."

Dec 13, 2016
You can turn normal people into psychopaths. That gives reason to believe that you can do the reverse, too.
Behavior is not set in stone upon conception.

Dec 13, 2016
I remember the "special class" when I was in elementary school.... no matter what is done to identify a group with the purpose of treating it differently, others will know it immediately, key on it, and take action to drive out the "other". That is the way humans are.
Doesn't mean that we should never try to fix problems, but we are notoriously bad at acknowledging some of the darker parts of our nature.

Dec 13, 2016
You can turn normal people into psychopaths. That gives reason to believe that you can do the reverse, too.
Behavior is not set in stone upon conception
This comment only indicates you don't know anything about the subject and don't care to learn. As usual.

I suggest others drop my post into Google and read the source.

Dec 13, 2016
The first few years are very important, and if we do not get what we need then, we spend our lives looking for it.

We see psychopathy here, in the repeated references to it by someone exhibiting the sure-fire- symptoms of fixation and naked aggression.

Speaking of social dysfunction, we now will have one sufferer as president.

Dec 13, 2016
The first few years are very important, and if we do not get what we need then...
Sounds like the psychopath was demanding things from a very early age.

"Such children are stubbornly immune to socializing pressures. They are "different" from other children in inexplicable ways. They are more "difficult," or "willful," or aggressive, or hard to "relate to." They are difficult to get close to, cold and distant and self-sufficient.

"One mother said: "We were never able to get close to her even as an infant. She was always trying to have her own way, whether by being sweet, or by having a tantrum. She can put on a sweet and contrite act…"

"The fact is: childhood psychopathy is a stark reality, and failing to recognize it can lead to years of vain attempts to discover what is wrong with a child, and the parent blaming themselves."
we spend our lives looking for it
... george spends his life blaming others for his deformity. And many have believed him.

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