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March 30, 2010

The brothers Emanuel as behavior geneticists

Filed under: Behavior Genetics,Genetics,Rahm Emanuel — Razib Khan @ 4:21 am

I stumbled onto this New York Times Magazine The Brothers Emanuel, from 1997. Zeke, Rahm and Ari Emanuel have all become even more accomplished over the past 13 years. But I was surprised to discover that they had a younger sister, and that her life prompted the brothers to reflect on the influence of genetics and environment on life outcomes. Here’s the relevant portion:

Today, the brothers argue just as passionately about the role that environment and genetics played in the life of their sister, who in recent years has been on and off the welfare rolls that Rahm worked so hard to cut. Benjamin Emanuel met his daughter when he gave her a well-baby checkup and discovered that she had suffered a brain hemorrhage at delivery. The baby’s future was unclear; Shoshana’s birth mother, a young woman of Polish Catholic background, asked Dr. Emanuel if he knew someone who wanted her child. ”But I couldn’t find placement,” Benjamin Emanuel says. After a week of debate between both parents and sons – Marsha Emanuel had always wanted a girl – the Emanuels themselves took Shoshana in. ”What are you going to do?” Benjamin Emanuel says philosophically.

Intellectually, Shoshana developed normally – like her brothers, she graduated from New Trier, one of the most competitive high schools in the country – but she needed four operations and years of physical therapy to give her 85 percent use of her left side. She had a difficult adolescence, and today Marsha Emanuel, at the age of 63, is raising Shoshana’s two illegitimate children. (None of the Emanuels will talk about Shoshana in detail, and she declined to be interviewed for this article.)

The conversation the brothers continue to have about Shoshana is also, of course, a conversation about themselves. Were Zeke, Rahm and Ari simply successful products of Jewish middle-class parents who valued education and hammered them with expectations? How much of their drive came from their immigrant father? Certainly each Emanuel brother derives a large part of his identity that of the others. No one else, it seemed, mattered as much. ”The pressure is that you were judged by the family,” Ari says. ”Our family never cared about the kid down the block.”

Ari Emanuel also seems to have some opinions about I.Q.:

”Ari can carry on a conversation!” Rahm says at one point, noticing that his younger brother is talking with me about Los Angeles. ”What an accomplishment! A complete sentence!”

Ari retaliates when the conversation turns to money. ”I.Q. brings down – I’m not going to go into it,” Ari says impishly.

”Income?” shouts Zeke. ”Is that what you were going to say? I.Q. and income are correlated?”

”They should be!” counters Ari, who says he made between $1 million and $2 million last year.

”Inversely, that’s the thing,” says Zeke.

”This is all off the record,” says Rahm.

The discussion about genetics and environment apparently continues down to the present day. Here’s a profile from the spring of 2008:

Shoshana, who now has two children of her own—one of whom lives with Benjamin and Marsha—has not had the sterling success of her brothers. Zeke says all three, who were like older uncles to Shoshana when she was growing up, now have an “episodic” relationship with her, and he wonders about the genesis of her life’s troubles: “It’s a good question as to how much is environment, following three such brothers, and how much is genetic. It’s hard to know.” Marsha Emanuel says her daughter is extremely proud of her brothers “but keeps her distance.”

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