01/23/09 - Econlog.Econlib by Bryan Caplan
Good parents make their children happier, but they turn out about the same.
[edited] Twin and adoption studies have produced credible answers to the nature-nurture controversy. Nature wins. Heredity alone can account for almost all shared traits among siblings.
Steven Pinker is a professor of psychology at Harvard University:Adult siblings are equally similar whether they grew up together or apart. Adoptive siblings are no more similar than two people plucked off the street at random. Identical twins are no more similar than one would expect from the effects of their shared genes.
The normal range of parenting styles has little effect on how your children turn out. You can be strict or permissive, involved or distant, encouraging or critical, religious or secular. In the long run, your kids will resemble you in many ways; but they would have resembled you about as much if they had never met you.
Both nature and nurture play a role in divorce. Mild spanking does no lasting harm, but harsh punishment can leave lasting psychological scars.
Why does almost everyone think that the family environment is most important? Family environment has substantial effects on children, but these largely fade out by adulthood. Children are not like clay that parents mold for life; they are more like flexible plastic that responds to pressure, but pops back to its original shape.