The Scientific Way to Raise Successful Kids (That Most Parents Won't Use)

Peter Kozodoy

Want to raise the next Mark Zuckerberg? It turns out there is a way you can help your kids get there.

Raising kids today means getting a competitive advantage wherever you can take it. Perfect GPA? Necessary. Extracurriculars? Check. Ability to stand on your head while performing jiu-jitsu? Well, that's about what it takes these days to prepare kids to get into top colleges and start out on the right foot in life.

But how do you prepare your kids to launch a startup and perhaps become the next Mark Zuckerberg? Is it even possible to increase the odds that your little tykes will grow up to be startup superstars?

A new study out of Sweden indicates that it is in fact possible to increase the chances that your kids will become entrepreneurs. The good news is that the correlation is stunning and the results conclusive. The bad news is that most parents will never use this strategy, no matter how much they want little Johnny to own a business someday.

The study, called "Why Do Entrepreneurial Parents Have Entrepreneurial Children?" was published by The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Society of Labor Economists and the NORC at the University of Chicago. To solve the nature vs. nurture debate on entrepreneurship, researchers conducted tests using Swedish adoption data that allowed them to quantify the relative importance of nature and nurture in a child's proclivity to become an entrepreneur.

Previously, studies about entrepreneurial kids had only been conducted using twins in order to control the genetics factor. But studying entrepreneurship this way only allowed for testing factors like mentorship, guidance and leading by example alone, and didn't allow for comparing that kind of nurture against the genetic (nature) control itself.

In turn, we have never before had the answer to the question, "what's more important -- nature or nurture -- in producing entrepreneurs?"

That's why this study compared the career choices of adopted Swedish children against both their biological and adoptive parents, to see the difference in correlation between having role models (nurture) and passing along an innate entrepreneurial impulse.

As many might guess, researchers found that adopted children were 20 percent more likely to become entrepreneurs if their biological parents happened to be entrepreneurs, which helps support the notion that entrepreneurs might be wired to strike out on their own. However, they also discovered that adopted children were 45 percent more likely to become entrepreneurs if their adoptive parents were entrepreneurs as well. That whopping 25 percent difference showed the stunning impact that entrepreneurial role models have on a child of any genetic makeup, making nurture far more important than nature in producing entrepreneurial kids.

To further vet the test, researchers controlled for the possibility of inheriting either a family business or money to start a new business, to prevent the data from skewing towards direct involvement from generation to generation (instead of simply an inspirational, lead-by-example factor). However, even with these controls, the net effect was nearly identical: Entrepreneurial parents provided the guidance, values and real-life example kids need to get the entrepreneurial itch and start a business.

As an entrepreneur myself, I've long supported the idea of teaching entrepreneurship in schools and infusing grade school education with startup classes. That in part is why I support Junior Achievement, and why I love speaking to students and inspiring them to start a business. It seems that all it takes is a spark of inspiration and a tangible role model to encourage kids to break from convention and start their very own mini-empire.

For all you parents out there, the science is in: If you want to raise successful future business owners, it's time to ditch the 9-to-5 and start a business yourself. Luckily for you, most parents will never start a business, giving your child a unique place in the slim 14 percent of Americans who own a business, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.

The other good news: you may not have to worry about all those extracurriculars after all.