The Profound Impact of the Scarcity Trap


What is “The Scarcity Trap?”

I couldn’t help but read this article and think of all the children and youth we work with that have scarcities in family, nutrition, safety and a place to call home. I also couldn’t help but think of myself and our staff members—the adults around those young people and how we pass on our “scarcity traps” to children.

Sendhil Mullaianathan, an economics professor at Harvard University and Eldar Shafir, a psychology professor at Princeton, are leading the research and implementing studies around this concept and you can find more on the podcast linked to the article below, but here is their basic theory: “When you're really desperate for something, you can focus on it so obsessively there's no room for anything else.”

The authors of the article also point out that, “Scarcity takes a huge toll. It robs people of insight. And it helps to explain why, when we're in a hole, we sometimes dig ourselves even deeper.”

Obsessive Dysfunctions and Scarcity

It is not hard to understand the connection between obsessive dysfunctions and children/adults with ACE scores (Adverse Childhood Experiences) above four or more—this includes most of the children/youth in our foster system and adults in corrections.

We already know the profound link between a lack of love in adolescence and addictions, clarifying that addictions are a learning disability, not a character deficit.

But I think it is also important to ask ourselves, “What is my scarcity and how am I subconsciously passing that trap on to the young people around me?”


The Scarcity Trap: Why We Keep Digging When We're Stuck In A Hole, Jennifer Schmidt, Shankar Vedantam, Maggie Penman, Tara Boyle. April 1, 2018,


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