The Philadelphia Inquirer has a long piece which reports on the reality that the ‘crack baby epidemic’ of mentally retarded or unstable individuals turned out to be unfounded. The experimental design is as simple as can be: compare individuals of similar socioeconomic background, and track them over their lives. The past generation since the 1980s crack wave has been an unfortunate, yet illuminating, ‘natural experiment.’ The researchers found that contrary to expectations there are basically no statistically significant differences between ‘crack babies’ and control individuals.* This is not a surprising result, as there were hints of this in the child development literature even in the 1990s. The author of the study focused on a sample of lower class black Americans, and noted that despite the lack of statistical differences in outcomes due to exposure to crack in utero, these individuals have been exposed to a lifetime of an underclass milieu, which is likely not conducive to human flourishing. In other words, the reality is much more banal and unsurprising when viewed in a broader light.
But for general social policy it is critical to point out that even as extreme a shock to the system as crack cocaine does not seem to have strongly inimical long term consequences for individuals. . . .
* This does not mean that crack might not be correlated with particular problems, but the author of this study seems to suggest that once you remove premature infants from the equation the differences disappear.From here.
The theory that kids exposed to crack in utero would be seriously physiologically messed up because of the exposure was very plausible. But, often, in complex situations, experience is more valuable than reason and plausible possible risks turn out not to be not nearly as bad as they seem. This is such as case.
Crack babies aren't a particularly successful group, but this is mostly because they have underclass druggie failures for parents and inherit their parents gene and receive a lifetime legacy of bad parenting, not significantly because they were exposed to crack in the womb.