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Amir Sariaslan, Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Social Sciences, Social and Public Policy Unit, University of Helsinki:
What does genetics have to do with sociological studies of social problems?
Systematic reviews have consistently found that indicators of early life social disadvantage predict subsequent risks for criminality, substance misuse and psychiatric morbidity across a wide range of different contexts. It is therefore believed, particularly among sociologists, that such associations reflect causal mechanisms in which the mere exposure to deprived circumstances exerts a causal influence on the adverse outcomes. However, nearly all of the studies to date have applied non-experimental research designs, which offer very weak controls for confounding factors. Given the nature of the exposures, it remains an impossibility to conduct experimental studies to assess the role of unmeasured confounding factors that select individuals into deprived circumstances.
A new body of research have nevertheless combined quasi-experimental research designs with nationwide registry data to re-examine these associations. The findings have left many social scientists puzzled as they do not support the causal interpretation of the observed population-level associations. In my talk, I will present a number of the latter studies and discuss them in the context of their implications for social interventions.