2006.02.18: February 18, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Ethiopia: COS - Iran: Twins: Fort Wayne News Sentinel: Donna Shalala is a twin as was Paul Tsongas

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ethiopia: Special Report: Ethiopia RPCV, Senator and Presidential Candidate Paul Tsongas: February 9, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: RPCV Paul Tsongas (Ethiopia) : 2006.02.18: February 18, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Ethiopia: COS - Iran: Twins: Fort Wayne News Sentinel: Donna Shalala is a twin as was Paul Tsongas

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Donna Shalala is a twin as was Paul Tsongas

Donna Shalala is a twin as was Paul Tsongas

No one has studied how a childhood of sharing affects twins as they move into adulthood, Segal says. "But anecdotally I think that segues into just a sense of dividing things very equally, and always thinking of your twin as well as yourself ... (and) caring and sensitivity." The late Paul Tsongas, Senator from Massachusetts and candidate for President in 1992, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia in the 1960's.

Donna Shalala is a twin as was Paul Tsongas

Twins explosion: Boom in multiple births could shift politics, society
Chicago Tribune

Two years ago, I entered Twins Nation.

I don't just mean I gave birth to twins. I mean my obstetrician had twins, I attended a childbirth class exclusively for parents of twins, and not long after I came home to my Chicago three-flat, a family with twins three months younger than mine moved in downstairs.

A co-worker bought a condo a few doors down; now his wife is pregnant with twins.

This past fall I attended one birthday party with three sets of twins and another party with two sets and a woman with twins on the way.

Had I somehow slipped into a Twins Time Warp, a "Twilight Zone" episode populated solely by chubby-cheeked duos with a taste for mischief and mac `n' cheese?

As it turns out, the truth is almost as strange.

The twin birth rate, which stood at about 1 in 60 in 1971, has risen rapidly because of fertility treatments and an increase in the number of older moms, with almost 1 in 30 American babies now being born as part of a pair.

That's a figure that is unprecedented anywhere in the world, according to Dr. Louis Keith, an emeritus professor at Northwestern University's medical school.

"The real epidemic of twins didn't begin until the mid-1990s, so we are now in the epidemic," says Keith, president of the Center for the Study of Multiple Birth in Chicago.

Keith says it's too early to know what that might mean in the long term, but some experts say that the increase could have an impact on facets of society ranging from athletics to politics.

Already, the parents of twins have made their mark in the field of education, where schools have traditionally separated twins entering kindergarten. Minnesota recently became the first state to pass a law guaranteeing parents a say in separation decisions, and in December a similar bill was introduced in the Illinois General Assembly.

Parents of twins have turned to experts such as Nancy Segal, a psychology professor at California State University-Fullerton, who says that there is no scientific evidence to support always separating twins. In fact, says Segal, there is relevant data, regarding the effect of entering school with a close friend, which suggest that kids actually adjust faster in the company of a close companion.

Among the implications for the general population: If parents of twins can now increasingly request that their kids enter school together on the grounds that this will improve their academic performance, what's to stop parents of singletons from requesting a class placement with a best friend on the same grounds?

Other potential societal effects could spring from the unique characteristics of the twins themselves.

Twins tend not to be the very top achievers in their fields, many observers have informally noted, although no one has actually studied this. We have had no twin presidents, for example. Bill Gates isn't a twin; Picasso wasn't a twin, nor was Bach or Marie Curie.

On the other hand, twins do excel in athletics, perhaps even beyond what their numbers would indicate, with well-known examples such as gymnast Paul Hamm, an Olympic gold medalist, and his brother, Morgan.

"It's helped us a lot," Paul Hamm says of being a twin. "Just the fact that you have someone else there to kind of one-up each other, push each other to do new things."

There is also anecdotal evidence, according to Segal, that twins, because of their unusual side-by-side upbringing in which so much is shared, tend to be concerned with fairness and sensitive to the needs of others. These are qualities that at least one political scientist, Harvard professor Barry Burden, associates with support for welfare and education programs.

Will more twins mean more Olympic glory for America, fewer superstar entrepreneurs and more Democrats?

In search of answers, I traveled deep into the heart of twins country - which is to say, I went to Scullen Middle School in Naperville, Ill.

In a windowless conference room with a faux-wood table, I met with three sets of twins, one set of triplets and one set of quadruplets, all of them alumni of Wheatland Elementary, where last year 3 percent of students were twins and an additional 4 percent were higher-order multiples (triplets, quadruplets, etc.)

Such twin clusters have been attributed to factors ranging from coincidence to the proximity of fertility clinics, which implant multiple embryos in an effort to increase a woman's chance of childbearing. Overall, experts say, one-third of the increase in twins is because of a natural tendency toward twin births in older moms and the other two-thirds to fertility treatments.

Fertility treatments have contributed to higher triplet and quadruplet birth rates as well, but twins continue to account for the vast majority of "multiple" births - about 95 percent.

By some measures, the Wheatland twins are already living in Twins Nation, and, if Adam and Evan Bogart, 12, are any indication, it's a distinctive place with its own joys and aggravations.

The Bogarts finish each other's thoughts and, at one point during a group interview, one raises his hand on behalf of the other. They have the same haircut, similar clothes and the same suede Vans shoes, although they're quick to point out that Adam's are brown and beige while Evan's are all brown.

Not everyone here shares Adam and Evan's complaints of mistaken identity and stolen friends - some of the Wheatland multiples barely look like sisters and brothers - but almost everyone agrees with Evan's observation, "I have to share everything."

True, the children say, other kids have to share with their siblings, too, but it's not such a constant and intense experience. When you're the same age as your sibling, you're likely to want the same thing at the same time.

The actions and observations of the Wheatland Twins generally dovetail with the scientific research on multiples, with Segal saying that twins - identical ones, at least - really are different from singletons. That's not to say that, beyond the age of 6, they are different in terms of health or longevity, but that their bond with each other is different, even when compared to with the bonds between other siblings.

"It tends to be a very close bond, very non-judgmental - the feeling and comfort of being completely yourself and not worrying about acceptance," Segal says.

The bond between fraternal twins, the majority of the twin pool, isn't as well-researched, but even they show indications of an unusual bond, according to a few studies. For example, in Segal's research, fraternal twins rated the death of a twin as more painful than the loss of a non-twin sibling.

Another distinctive quality of twins is their finely honed sense of fairness, Segal says.

"Everything is divided, in a way, so parents have to become experts on fairness. If you give one child an extra grain on the cookie, you're going to be paying for it for a week."

No one has studied how a childhood of sharing affects twins as they move into adulthood, Segal says. "But anecdotally I think that segues into just a sense of dividing things very equally, and always thinking of your twin as well as yourself ... (and) caring and sensitivity."

Such qualities ring a bell with Burden, an associate professor of government at Harvard University.

Twins, he says, sound - from Segal's description - as if they may share traits with women voters, who, according to a popular theory in political science circles, favor "compassion" issues such as health care and education. Men are said to favor "justice" issues such as rewards for hard work.

"There might be more of an interest among twins in a social safety net, so (they'd be) supportive of - if you wanted to extrapolate pretty far - things like unemployment benefits or assistance to Katrina victims or health benefits."

And that mindset could make a difference in American politics, Burden says, even bearing in mind that the percentage of twins in the general population is only going up by a small amount.

"It depends on what metric you want to use," Burden says. "If it's 43 percent versus 45 percent saying yes to some survey question, that's not much of a difference. But if it's George Bush winning Florida versus losing Florida, that's a pretty big effect. It doesn't take much."

As for the low-achievement issue, it's important to note that Elvis Presley was a twin - his brother Jessie died at birth - as was "Our Town" author Thornton Wilder. Former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala is a twin, as was Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas. Rita Levi-Montalcini, winner of a shared 1986 Nobel Prize for medicine, is a twin. An identical twin named Charlie Duke walked on the moon.

In athletics, we have Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe, whose brother Charlie died at age 9, football players Ronde and Tiki Barber, race car drivers Aldo and Mario Andretti, baseball players Jose and Ozzie Canseco and Olympic skaters Kitty and Peter Carruthers.

Still, the very fact that Elvis Presley and Donna Shalala represent the pinnacle of accomplishment in Twins Nation reinforces the sense, in some quarters, that while twins scale the high peaks in politics, the sciences and the arts, they're less likely than singletons to reach the top.

"This is not something that's been studied systematically," Segal says of the achievement issue. "It's more of an impression. But it's an impression by enough people that it makes you wonder what's out there. It could be because twins tend to be biologically premature, then maybe they don't achieve as highly as non-twins."

For years, studies showed that twins' IQ scores lagged behind those of singletons by 5 to 10 IQ points, Segal says, but in a recent study out of Denmark, twins and singletons scored exactly the same.

One of the more interesting insights into the alleged achievement gap comes from Hamm, who said having a twin is an advantage for him, but one that may not translate beyond the world of gymnastics.

"When you're in athletics it's socially acceptable (for twins) to be in training together and working together, but in the real world it would be kind of a weird situation to see two twins in some corporation at the same level."

Such a sight would indeed challenge American ideals of individualism and self-reliance, but then again, 10 years ago the same might have been said of twins entering kindergarten side-by-side.

If our attitude toward kindergarten placements can change - based on the notion that sometimes togetherness is better for twins and those around them - can politics, the arts and business adjust in similar ways?

Already we have the Castro twins in San Antonio: 31-year-old Julian, who last year narrowly missed becoming the city's youngest mayor of modern times, and his identical twin, Joaquin, who is serving his second term in the Texas House.

Their tandem careers have attracted controversy, with foes alleging that Joaquin once tried to trick voters by subbing for Julian at a key event, an accusation the brothers deny, but the Castros also have attracted national media attention, much of it positive.

Will it someday be OK to have twins share a presidential ticket, credit for a famous painting, or the best office at Microsoft?

Stay tuned. Twins Nation is just getting started.

When this story was posted in March 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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