Bryan Caplan  

The Grateful Tiger Daughter

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Unlike most critics of Tiger Mother Amy Chua, I expect her kids to turn out fine.  Why?  Because their genes come from two Yale professors, and contrary to Tiger Mother and her critics alike, upbringing has little long-run effect.  I was amused to learn, then, that Tiger Daughter #1 is not just a very impressive 18-year-old, but appears eager to defend her mom from criticism.  Sophia Chua speaking:
No outsider can know what our family is really like. They don't hear us cracking up over each other's jokes. They don't see us eating our hamburgers with fried rice. They don't know how much fun we have when the six of us -- dogs included -- squeeze into one bed and argue about what movies to download from Netflix.

I admit it: Having you as a mother was no tea party. There were some play dates I wish I'd gone to and some piano camps I wish I'd skipped. But now that I'm 18 and about to leave the tiger den, I'm glad you and Daddy raised me the way you did.

Still, there are already clear signs of fade-out:
I pretty much do my own thing these days -- like building greenhouses downtown, blasting Daft Punk in the car with Lulu and forcing my boyfriend to watch "Lord of the Rings" with me over and over -- as long as I get my piano done first.
Tiger Mom is lucky that filial piety, like almost every other trait, has a genetic component.  Yes, upbringing has an atypically large effect on how your kids feel about you.  But as long as you revere your parents, your kids will tend to see you through rose-colored glasses.  Hey, who said life was fair?

HT: Jeff Horn


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COMMENTS (11 to date)
Richard A. writes:

Maybe Amy Chua and her husband got where they are because they had Tiger Moms too (and not because of genes).

Japan is a country dominated by Tiger Moms. US kids are really screwed up compared to Japanese kids.

fructose writes:

Richard: Japanese kids are also way more Japanese than American kids. To establish that it actually is the parenting that has that effect, you would need to demonstrate that Japanese kids raised by Japanese moms outperform Japanese kids adopted and raised by non-japanese, non-tiger moms.

If you look at the adoption studies, Asian kids raised by western parents are just as successful as Asian kids raised by Asian parents.

In any case, I'm not sure what standard you're using to judge how screwed up they are.

Chinese parent's child writes:

Hear, hear. Hopefully you will eventually realize that your attack on Chua is misguided even by your own lights.

"Hey, who said life was fair?"

So what you are saying is that, if there were any justice in this world, self-involved parents like your-i-would-love-to-have-a-clone-self should be the most loved of all?

Brian writes:

"See, there's this little thing called cognitive dissonance, or in plainer English, sour grapes. If people were hit on the heads with truncheons once a month, and no one could do anything about it, pretty soon there'd be all sorts of philosophers, pretending to be wise as you put it, who found all sorts of amazing benefits to being hit on the head with a truncheon once a month. Like, it makes you tougher, or it makes you happier on the days when you're not getting hit with a truncheon. But if you went up to someone who wasn't getting hit, and you asked them if they wanted to start, in exchange for those amazing benefits, they'd say no."

-Eliezer Yudkowsky

Bob Murphy writes:

From that linked paper:

The results indicate significant genetic influence on each of the FES scales. Maximum-likelihood model-fitting estimates of heritability suggest that on average 26% of the variance of eight primary FES scales can be explained by genetic differences among individuals.

I guess Bryan never claimed otherwise, but with all this "parenting doesn't matter, it's all about the genes" I expected the result to be higher than 26%?

tim writes:

@Richard

Spoken like someone who has never been to Japan

ziel writes:

Bob Murphy - At least according to Judith Rich Harris in The Nurture Assumption, non-shared environment (basically, peers) has a large effect in addition to genes, but parents not so much.

I find it a little hard to believe, as a parent, that I'm so superfluous to my children's development, but I'm definitely inclined to believe that parental influence is way less significant than most people believe.

Tracy W writes:

fructose - Japanese kids also, typically, go to school with other Japanese kids while non-Japanese kids typically don't. You'd need to control for that peer effect somehow in any study of tiger mums.

ziel - You probably already know this, but I think that Judith Harris would argue that parents are highly important to their children's development (after all, someone needs to keep the food coming in), Judith Harris's scepticism is about how much children learn from their parents' behaviour.

Steve Sailer writes:

Tyler Cowen made a good point that kids learn from other kids' parents, so while you can free-ride off other parents' good behavior for awhile, if everybody does that, everybody's kids will be in big trouble.

N. writes:

Richard A., I would love to know what made you single out Japan as not having screwed up kids -- evidence anecdotal or otherwise.

Richard A. writes:

If you look at such things as gang activity, it's much worse here in the US than Japan. Young people in the US are more likely to murder than young Japanese. Obesity among US kids is worse here than in Japan. Indeed, look at the picture of Amy Chua's daughter. I bet you Amy watches Sophia's diet.

Academically, Japanese Kids outperform US kids. And contrary to popular stereotype, US male youths are about twice as likely to commit suicide as Japanese male youths.

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