"As wealth increases, adults play a much smaller role in determining the mental ability of their children."
How much do the decisions of parents matter? Most parents believe that even the most mundane acts of parenting—from their choice of day care to their policy on videogames—can profoundly influence the success of their children. Kids are like wet clay, in this view, and we are the sculptors.
As wealth increases, adults play a much smaller role in determining the mental ability of their children.
Yet in tests measuring many traits, from intelligence to self-control, the power of the home environment pales in comparison to the power of genes and peer groups. We may think we're sculptors, but the clay is mostly set.
A new paper suggests that both metaphors can be true. Which one is relevant depends, it turns out, on the economic status of families.
For a paper in Psychological Science, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Virginia looked at 750 pairs of American twins who were given a test of mental ability at the age of 10 months and then again at the age of 2. By studying the performance of identical versus fraternal twins, the scientists could tease out the relative importance of factors such as genetics and the home environment. Because the infants came from households across the socioeconomic spectrum, it also was possible to see how wealth influenced test scores.
When it came to the mental ability of 10-month-olds, the home environment was the key variable, across every socioeconomic class. But results for the 2-year-olds were dramatically different. In children from poorer households, the choices of parents still mattered. In fact, the researchers estimated that the home environment accounted for approximately 80% of the individual variance in mental ability among poor 2-year-olds. The effect of genetics was negligible.
The opposite pattern appeared in 2-year-olds from wealthy households. For these kids, genetics primarily determined performance, accounting for nearly 50% of all variation in mental ability. (The scientists made this conclusion based on the fact that identical twins performed much more similarly than fraternal twins.) The home environment was a distant second. For parents, the correlation appears to be clear: As wealth increases, the choices of adults play a much smaller role in determining the mental ability of their children.
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About this Study
Jacksonville Community Council Inc. (JCCI) is completing its latest community inquiry, Children 1-2-3: Early Learning for Future Success. This community engagement process has been examining the question, "How can Jacksonville best foster early learning success for children from birth to age 3 in our community?" Over the course of the process (October 2011 through April 2012), the meeting schedule, meeting summaries, key handouts and relevant articles have all been posted here. To find out more, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.