Nature vs. Nurture Depends on Wealth

The debate over which is more important, nature or nurture, has been raging for decades - but a new study has hinted on the answer: it depends.

It depends, that is, on the wealth of the parents:

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.

Jonah Lehrer wrote about the intriguing study over at Wall Street Journal: Link


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The WSJ author is making a huge error when he says, "As wealth increases, the choices of adults play a much smaller role in determining the mental ability of their children". It is in fact the exact opposite. The kids from wealthier families show more generic determination precisely because their parents have the resources to express all if their genetics. Their genes make them WANT to send their kids to piano lessons and they can afford it so they do. The poorer parents lack the resources to give their kids the things they want to, so their environment accounts for more of the variance because they are not able to control many aspects of it.
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