Freaky Evonomic Calculations Drive America’s Border Problems

Drugs, violence, and lots of scangry (scared+angry) people pretty much summarizes the “bad” in America’s border problems. The “solutions” on the daily shout-casts on TV and the Internet are unlikely to work, because they don’t conform to what I’d call freaky evonomics, which is the bastard child of freakonomics and evolutionary science. Now, before you roll your eyes and scream that I’ve taken leave of all sensibility, read some of the data assembled—even if you think evolution is the invention of the devil.

So why are all the really poor people in the U.S. and Central American making lots of babies and migrating? It’s about the gene calculator in our DNA.

Both Tea Party and extreme leftwing politics cannot really explain why people make babies in poor or dangerous environments. Conservatives want to blame people for poor morals, as if that will cause a change. Liberals blame poverty and violence, but with no real explanation. Freaky evonomics provides an explanation, though probably neither political group will likely find solace in the data.

So let’s consider the main predator or parasites of humans outside of single cell organisms: It’ not other carnivores; it’s other humans. Since the invention of stone tools, humans became the main predator or parasite of other humans—killing or enslaving them. Even if you don’t like Darwin, you’ve got plenty of support for this in the Old Testament, with the story of Cain and Abel for starters.

On the flip side of the coin, our major safety-net against predatory or parasitic humans are other humans who are prosocial with each other in groups. Thus, much of the evolution of the brain and the underlying genes turned off or on by the environment are related to this paradox: humans are predatory, parasitic and protective of each other, and we survive by developing more friends than foes.

Consciously or not, our genes compute the relative risk of human protectors versus human predators/parasites. That is, our genes compute the probability of whether we are apt to have long or short life, with chances that our genes will replicate.

“Aw, come on,” you object, “How can scientists possibly conclude that?”   The answer is fairly simple, by testing the hypothesis.

So what happens in states or countries with high rates of homicide? Make your hypothesis. Would it be better to have more babies or fewer babies? Would it be better to have puberty and sex earlier or later in violent areas?

Freaky Evonomics answer: Have more babies, and have them earlier [1]. The same trend is observed in U.S. states with high homicide rates, as well as countries with high homicide rates. So across countries internationally, “adolescent birth rates and general homicide rates [are] closely correlated with each other internationally (r= 0.95).” You might avow that could be true of other countries, but certainly NOT true in the U.S. The data are similar, with a co-efficient of correlation r=0.74 [1]. Buckle your seatbelts, because an r=0.74 with 51 data entries (50 states plus DC) is significant at less than 0.00001. Most scientists would pray for such a level of significance.

Now that is the effect of perceived risk of being killed on early sex and pregnancy. What about the perceived threat of human caused parasitic death? I don’t mean here tapeworms, etc. I mean here that whatever you do productively as a human sucked dry by other humans who exploit your labor or efforts so that you cannot get ahead. This is not a matter of absolute poverty but the perception that nothing about the fruits of one’s actions will yield a sense of safety and security. In other words, you’re doomed never to get ahead because of other humans controlling your life. Surely, Mother Nature would instruct you NOT have sex and babies early, right?

Well, place your bets on the table.

The findings? To state it as one expert says, the discouraged girls among the disadvantaged become young mothers.

It’s not just exposure to homicide that increases earlier pregnancies. Relative poverty, or income disparities—but not absolute poverty within a country—signals the evolutionary antennae for making babies earlier. There are some countries that have both violence and very large relative income disparities, and those are the areas or countries with the largest influx of people coming across the border.

None of this is new under the sun, except for understanding the role what is called epigenetic expression. The Biblical story of Exodus is about a group of people who were exposed to serious violence by their masters and parasitic extraction of their labor and wealth by the ancient Egyptians.

Today, we can even see the dopamine allele variation footprint of migrations around the world, related to earlier sex and risk taking [2-6]. This is not entirely new in science, as I published a paper dealing with some of these issues in a special issue of Brain and Mind in 2002 [7].

My 2002 paper argues that these gene differences caused by the social and physical environment ought not be considered pathological, which is what most people assume. Rather, they are the genius of genes trying to survive, or the game of life if you will. More violence, more relative inequality will not suppress the gene expression. To quote a famous line in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.”

The funny thing is that much of America’s modern population shares these genes, which is likely related immigrants leaving the Old World fleeing violence or parasitic inequality. (Note: the peoples from Asia who then settled Beringa—the vast land mass between Asia and North America—during the Last Glacial Maximum and then who migrated down to the tip of South America and much of North America rapidly had a different gene that has a similar function). In both cases of new peoples and ancient peoples to the Americas, the genes in question also relate to risk taking, novelty taking and sensation seeking—traits that the American economy tends to reinforce.

My next Freaky Evonomics post explores how that science of these traits—congruent with our Nurturing Environments papers—might be harnessed to reduce immigration and the problem of the inter-Americas drug trade that drives the violence and exploitation, using prevention science you can easily find in the National Library of Medicine (



  1. Pickett KE, Mookherjee J, Wilkinson RG: Adolescent birth rates, total homicides, and income inequality in rich countries. American journal of public health 2005, 95(7):1181-1183.
  2. Eisenberg DT, Apicella CL, Campbell BC, Dreber A, Garcia JR, Lum JK: Assortative human pair-bonding for partner ancestry and allelic variation of the dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) gene. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience 2010, 5(2-3):194-202.
  3. Kegel CAT, Bus AG, van Ijzendoorn MH: Differential Susceptibility in Early Literacy Instruction Through Computer Games: The Role of the Dopamine D4 Receptor Gene (DRD4). Mind, Brain, and Education 2011, 5(2):71-78.
  4. Matthews LJ, Butler PM: Novelty-seeking DRD4 polymorphisms are associated with human migration distance out-of-Africa after controlling for neutral population gene structure. American journal of physical anthropology 2011, 145(3):382-389.
  5. Paz Lagos L, Silva C, Rothhammer P, Carrasco X, Llop E, Aboitiz F, Rothhammer F: [Risk of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in Aymara and Rapa-Nui school children: association with dopaminergic system polymorphisms]. Revista medica de Chile 2011, 139(5):600-605.
  6. Chen C, Burton M, Greenberger E, Dmitrieva J: Population migration and the variation of dopamine D4 receptor (DRD4) allele frequencies around the globe. Evolution and Human Behavior 1999, 20(5):309-324.
  7. Embry DD: Nurturing the genius of genes: The new frontier of education, therapy, and understanding of the brain. Brain & Mind 2002, 3(1):101-132.

About Dennis Embry

Since 1979, Dennis D. Embry, now president/senior scientist at PAXIS Institute in Tucson, AZ, has been designing, testing and disseminating interventions that prevent or reduce the risk from mental, emotional and behavioral disorders among children and youth in the United States and other countries. All of these interventions have dealt with a variety of troubling problems: issues of inattentive, disturbing, disruptive or impulsive behaviors, military deployments, or the effects of such behaviors (e.g., injuries, substance abuse, tobacco use, school failure, child maltreatment). Since the late 1990s, Dr. Embry’s papers and projects have integrated behavioral science, brain science and evolutionary theory to create effective practices and policies, particularly testing large-scale strategies for prevention. He is one of the few prevention scientists in the world to have conducted multiple population-level prevention efforts for communities, counties, states/provinces, tribes, or nations. For example, one of Dr. Embry’s NREPP cited efforts (Reward & Reminder) is the only scientifically proven environmental policy documented to produced state level prevention effects using a controlled study across multiple states. In the 1990s, he developed the largest youth violence prevention study in the US, called PeaceBuilders, with an implementation in more than 80 schools in Tucson with an embedded randomized-control trial and a community-wide social marketing campaign. In the early 1990s, Secretary of Defense hired Dr. Embry to recommend and implement protocols to help children and families of deployed military during the Gulf War and the efforts in Somalia, and to prevent or reduce trauma effects. In the 1980s, Dr. Embry worked with Sesame Street and, later, the Government of New Zealand on the first scientifically proven strategies to prevent one of the leading causes of death to preschool age children: being struck by a car while playing outside. Today, Dr. Embry and his colleagues at PAXIS Institute: 1) deliver prevention services all over the country and help private and public entities set up prevention services, 2) teach public and private entities how to improve the quality of those services and measures results, 3) promote prevention strategies for the large and small business in communities, and 4) develop and map prevention to multiple systems in the public and private sectors internationally. Dr. Embry and his colleagues are also technical assistance and training providers for 38 SAMHSA sites using the PAX Good Behavior Game. Dr. Embry’s work is being widely implemented in the United States, Canada, First Nations (Native American Tribes) with new projects beginning in Ireland, Estonia, New Zealand and Australia.

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