American Lives Looking Back at the Children of the Great Depression

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9780029055359: American Lives Looking Back at the Children of the Great Depression

To what degree is the course of human life prefigured by the childhood and adolescent years? Clausen draws on 60 years of research from this long-term inquiry into human lives to answer this question. He demonstrates that "adolescent planful competence", a combination of self-confidence, dependability and an investment in intellectual matters has a significant and continuing influence on many aspects of our adult lives, even into old age. Over 300 youngsters born in the 1920s in California's Bay area were studied intensively through their school years and periodically followed up since then. Although the many developments in their lives could not have been forseen, classifications made from data available for their adolescent years enabled Clausen and his colleagues to make predictions of the paths their lives would take. Clausen shows how study members who, during their teenage years, displayed a high degree of planful competence, made more realistic choices early in life and were selected for more promising opportunities as adults than others. Other aspects of personality, appearance and social background also had long-term consequences, but adolescent planful competence proved far more potent than any other measure in indicating how lives would change, and who would experience essential stable, as opposed to crisis-ridden, lives.

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About the Author:

John A. Clausen is Professor of Sociology Emeritus and former Director of the Institute of Human Development at the University of California, Berkeley.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Six in-depth life histories--plus much ancillary material-- drawn from the Berkeley Longitudinal Studies and illustrating Clausen's theory that choices made in youth determine the courses of our lives. In 1960, upon becoming director of the University of California's Institute of Human Development, the author inherited three separate Bay Area studies begun in the late 20's and early 30's, each study having its own purpose and duration. The 300 subjects of "the largest long-term inquiry into human lives ever conducted" were almost all Caucasians and hardly representative of the population-at-large. Pooling data from the studies, Clausen formulated his theory of "adolescent planful competence"--defined here as a combination of self-confidence, intellectual investment, and dependability--as a predictor of life development. But there are inherent problems in the disparate methods of the studies: The six men and women discussed in depth here were interviewed at different intervals and, because of the original study designs, not at all during their 20s and 30s--and retrospective interviews, Clausen concedes, can't substitute for timely ones. Furthermore, each of the studies used different measurements, and--since during the Depression "wise" choices for male adolescents differed radically from those for females--sex-engendered bias abounds in the life histories. Yet all are fascinating to read, reflecting not only changing mores but also 60 years' worth of traumatic national events: the Depression, WW II, the Korean War, and--perhaps most devastating in its effects on families--the Vietnam War. The lives make up about two-fifths of this lengthy work and, except perhpas to other behavioral scientists, are much more readable than the voluminous commentaries, charts, graphs, and tables with which they're interspersed. -- Copyright 1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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