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Parenting doesn’t do what I thought

Turns out, there’s very little changing we can do to our kids. That’s both scary and freeing.

Every parent should read this article: Does parenting even matter?

Here are some money quotes.

On the things we think are important:

Things like which school your child goes to, whether they travel, how many books you read them when they’re small and how hard (or if) you push them into certain activities, aren’t likely to have much, if any, effect on who they fundamentally are now, or who they become.

On changing their personality:

If your child is defiant and strong-willed, they’re almost certainly going to spend their life challenging authority whether you run your household on a strict military timetable or unschool them in a yurt.

On setting them up for success:

Many character traits widely assumed to be the result of environmental factors and social conditioning—like curiosity, diligence, intelligence, fastidiousness, academic inclination and drive—are, in fact, highly heritable. 

On why parenting still matters:

Parenting does matter—of course it does—just not in the overly complicated, competitive, anxiety-ridden way most of us have been led to believe. Our kids are born who they are. As parents, it’s our job to love, support, accept and enjoy them. The rest is gravy.

The book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids is all about this concept. If you meet a very low bar for parenting then your kids are going to turn out how they’re going to turn out.

There are decades of identical twin and adoption studies to back it up. Those studies have only linked a few things to upbringing. Religious and political affiliation are two examples.

Everything else has little to no correlation. That includes salary, education level, health (smoking/drinking, cavities, etc.), grades in school, criminal behavior, etc. It’s genetics all the way down for those.

If you don’t believe me (and I don’t blame you), here’s a quote from the book about how much upbringing affects income specifically:

Parents have little or no effect on how much money their kids make when they grow up.

All this fretting is much ado about nothing. Yes, wealth and poverty run in families. According to twin and adoption studies, however, the main reason is not upbringing, but heredity.

In a Korean adoption study, biological children from richer families grew up to have much higher incomes, but adoptees raised in the same families did not. The results are strong to the point of shocking. The income of the family you grew up with has literally no effect on your financial success. Korean adoptees raised by the poorest families have the same average income as adoptees raised by the richest families. While adoptees’ moms have a small effect on their education, that extra education fails to pay off in the job market.

Twin studies also find small to zero effects of nurture on financial success. Identical twins’ incomes are much more similar than fraternal twins’. A recent working paper looks at over 5,000 men from the Swedish Twin Registry born between 1926 and 1958. Identical twins turn out to be almost exactly twice as similar in labor incomes as fraternal twins—precisely what you would expect if family resemblance were purely hereditary. A study of over 2,000 Australian twins finds the same thing.

You want your kids to succeed. But how much do you really help them? According to twin and adoption studies, not much. If your family is legally qualified to adopt, your parenting is good enough to allow your child to realize his potential. Whether he takes advantage of these opportunities is largely up to him.

Bryan Caplan, Selfish Reason to Have More Kidis

And it’s roughly the same for:

  • Overall health
  • Weight
  • Intelligence
  • Education level
  • Grades
  • Happiness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Criminal behavior
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Marital satisfaction
  • Childbearing/number of children

All of those things showed little to no relation to upbringing. It’s all genetics.

That’s disturbing, right? There’s nothing I can do to help my kids grow up to be healthy or well paid or educated? Yeah, but it’s also freeing. Our job is to love our kids and give them happy memories to look back on. We can focus on the fun stuff, because that’s the stuff that matters. The rest, as the article says, is gravy.