Parenting: Anecdotes and Data

Tyler's post, What Can Parents Influence (below), uses anecdotes from his own family to try to rebut some findings from behavioural genetics. I don't think the rebuttal is successful. Moreover, Tyler's anecdotes are selective. A fuller description suggests a more balanced accounting of nurture and nature.

Yes, Yana speaks Russian which she learned from her mother. Yana also speaks French, German, Spanish and I believe several other languages. Tyler tells me that Yana has a gift for languages. Tyler also does not mention that his wonderful wife, Natasha, doesn't simply speak Russian she is an accomplished translator. Perhaps the gift runs in families?

But enough of anecdotes. On religion, I don't think Tyler has fully confronted the evidence from genetic studies. Of course, a child born to Orthodox parents is more likely to practice and be Orthodox. EVERYONE agrees with this. So how can Bryan say parents "have little long-run effect on intrinsic religiosity or observance"? Parents with blue eyes often have children with blue eyes but parents don't have much influence on whether their children have blue eyes.

More fundamentally, what Bryan is asking is how much does parenting influence religiosity? To answer this question we have to distinguish parenting from parents. How do we do this? Adoption and separated twin studies. What adoption and separated twin studies show is that once you have controlled for parents, parenting has very little influence on adult religiosity. These studies could be wrong but, contra Tyler, stamping your feet is not good enough on this issue because what we naturally observe (primarily parents raising their biological children) is not what we need to know to answer the fundamental question.

I could say more but instead let me say this, buy Bryan Caplan's book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. It's a remarkable book. I place it alongside Guns, Germs, Steel and The Selfish Gene as one of those books that, whether one agrees with the conclusions or not, everyone owes it to themselves to read in order to be informed, educated, and part of the conversation.


Comments for this post are closed