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This Is the 1 Factor That Matters Most for Raising Successful Kids, According to New Research

Jessica Stillman
4 min readJul 5, 2022

Being a parent these days often means running around like a lunatic trying to optimize a million factors related to your kids.

What diet is best? What preschool? What stroller? Are you reading to them enough? Discipling them correctly? And how much screen time is too much? Will you accidentally turn them into brats? Or center-less people pleasers? Or sad study drones?

No wonder so many well-intentioned parents are so burned out. But what if most of the questions you lose sleep and sanity over don’t really matter? And what if the one big question that actually does have a big impact on whether your kids grow up to be happy and successful rarely crosses your mind?

That’s the contention of a fascinating Atlantic article from data scientist and author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. In it, he argues that the research is clear: Parents are worrying about a ton of stuff that doesn’t matter and neglecting one factor that really does.

How to raise your kid’s future income by 12 percent

The whole piece is well worth a read in full, but (spoiler alert) Stephens-Davidowitz’s basic argument goes like this: Rigorous twin studies comparing twins separated at birth by random factors like administrative adoption decisions have found that much of what keeps parents up at night has little to no effect on the life trajectory of kids.

To breast or bottle feed, screen time limits, how hard to push your kid academically, or demanding they play an instrument all have little impact on kid’s health, test scores, cognitive performance, or other outcomes. (Though one or the other option may be more correlated with raising kids in poverty or other trying circumstances, which clearly does matter to their life prospects.) Basically, much of the stuff you’ve obsessed about barely matters.

So should you just aim to do your best and stress less? Well, yes, probably. But there is one decision that Stephens-Davidowitz contends parents tend to underthink. Drawing on careful research that looked at a huge trove of IRS data on families with kids that moved between metro areas, science has shown that where you raise your kids…

Jessica Stillman

Top Inc.com columnist/ Editor/ Ghostwriter. Book lover. Travel fiend. Nap enthusiast. https://jessicastillman.com/