Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Heredity, Family, and Inequality: A Critique of Social Sciences

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Heredity, Family, and Inequality: A Critique of Social Sciences

Article excerpt

Michael Beenstock. Heredity, Family, and Inequality: A Critique of Social Sciences. Cambridge, MA: The MITPress (2012). 474 pages, ISBN: 9780262016926.

Reviewed by: Jay Teachman, Sociology Department, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WAUSA.

This is an interesting, and ambitious book. The title alone, "Heredity, Family, and Inequality: A Critique of Social Sciences," reflects the ambitions of the author. In reality, the book attacks a much more limited set of issues; specifically, intergenerational and intragenerational determinants of inequality, including heredity, families, and the social environment. Despite its title, there are many fields of social science research that are not mentioned in this book. In addition, the author only makes passing reference to sociology and related disciplines (such as anthropology and political science), paying much more attention to behavioral genetics and developmental psychology. This limitation is understandable given the book's focus on intergenerational and intragenerational inequality, and the author does a nice job of outlining various approaches to studying the roles of heredity, the family, and the larger social environment in a number of important outcomes such as income, health, cognitive ability, and so on.

Chapter 1 outlines the topics that the author seeks to address and makes a few sweeping comments about the relative utility of various disciplinary approaches to studying inequality. Chapter 2 is an impressive survey of intergenerational and intragenerational correlations for a wide range of outcomes. Chapter 3 looks at various theoretical models for examining inequality both across and within generations. Chapter 4 deals with the role of the family in generating inequality. Chapter 5 addresses the types of data that are needed to examine the role of various factors in determining inequality. Chapter 6 tackles the role of causation and attempts to move beyond simple correlations. Chapter 7 looks at what the author thinks the fiiture of research into inequality will look like, including genome-wide association studies. Chapters 8-10 are much more technical than earlier chapters and generally develop more thoroughly statistical concepts introduced in earlier chapters. Indeed, most readers of the book will likely focus on the first seven chapters, leaving the final three chapters for readers interested in a review of some basic economic tools and their extension to the study of intergenerational and intragenerational inequality.

For me, the heart of the book falls in Chapters 3-6. I very much enjoyed reading these chapters, even though I do not agree with some of the author's contentions. In these chapters the author is refreshingly brutal in his critique of social sciences other than economics. …

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