If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re busy and driven to succeed. If you’re a parent and an entrepreneur, you’re wildly, incredibly super busy and driven for both you and your kids to succeed. That often means running around like a lunatic trying to optimize not just a million factors related to your business but a million factors related to your family.
What diet is best for your children? What preschool? What stroller? Are you reading them enough? Disciplining them correctly? And how much screen time is too much really? 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 new 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 children.
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, all the stuff you obsessed about during pregnancy 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 has a comparatively big impact on how well they do in life.
“The best cities can increase a child’s future income by about 12 percent,” Stephens-Davidowitz writes. At the time of the study, those were Seattle, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Reading, Pennsylvania, and Madison, Wisconsin.
Stephens-Davidowitz concludes later in the piece that “putting together the different numbers, I have estimated that some 25 percent–and possibly more–of the overall effects of a parent are driven by where that parent raises their child. In other words , this one parenting decision has much more impact than many thousands of others.”
It’s not just kids, either
A quarter of the total impact you have on your child is down to not just what city but what neighborhood you choose to live in? That’s a starting finding, but Stephens-Davidowitz isn’t the only one arguing that we overthink the minutiae of how to live and underthink the big question of where to live.
Writer Dan Buettner traveled the world for 15 years studying the places where people lived the longest and reported being happiest for his book The Blue Zones. He too concluded that people vastly underestimate how large an impact location has on their health and quality of life.
“The most important variable in that happiness recipe, the ingredient with the most statistical variability, is where you live. If you live in an unhappy place, the best thing you can do is move to a happier place,” he insists. And if geography has that much impact on adults, it would be a surprise if it didn’t have as great or an even greater impact on developing minds.
If you’re interested in the underappreciated importance of choosing where to live, consider not just checking out Stephens-Davidowitz’s article but also his book (it was one of Adam Grant’s summer book recommendations) or Buettner’s. You may also be interested in a site put together by the researchers behind the IRS data study showing which cities seem to increase outcomes the most. But the basic takeaway is crystal clear.
It’s easy to worry about the small everyday decisions that crowd the life of parent entrepreneurs. So easy, in fact, that these worries can distract from an important truth — few things really matter for both you and your kid’s success. Which community you choose to live in is the exception. Spend way more mental energy getting that right and way less worrying about one more episode of Paw Patrol or whether to serve chicken nuggets for the third night in a row. You’ll free up a ton of mental space for both your business and your family.