Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Do genetics make you a harsher parent during recessions?

Forget time-outs. Recent cases of much more harsh punishments for kids have been capturing our attention, not to mention headlines, lately. This week, there was the Australian mom who made her 10-year-old son wear a sign that read, "Do not trust me. I will steal from you as I am a THIEF," as punishment for stealing chocolates.

While parenting experts have been quick to point out that humiliation is a poor disciplinary tool, other researchers may be eyeing these cases through the lens of genetics.

At a recent meeting of the American Sociological Association, one sociologist suggested that a particular gene variant may be connected to aggressive parenting styles. And that the trait may rear its head during economic hard times.

Story continues below advertisement

Sociologist Dohoon Lee of New York University told his colleagues that mothers who inherited either one or two copies of a particular form of "the dopamine D2 receptor gene, dubbed DRD2," reported a sharp rise in spanking, yelling and other aggressive parenting methods for six to seven months after the onset of the economic recession in the United States in December, 2007, according to Science News.

Those aggressive approaches then declined and eventually returned to pre-recession levels after 18 months. The study was based on survey data from about 4,900 U.S. mothers. DNA had been obtained earlier from mothers as part of a long-term investigation of parenting and child development, Science News reports.

The findings "reveal one potential genetic pathway by which large-scale economic developments affect child-rearing styles," sociologist Yang Yang of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill told the site.

This same gene variant has previously been tied to a propensity for violence, alcoholism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and several other psychiatric conditions, according to Science News, which also reported that other research questions whether any link exists between the gene variant and mental ailments.

There are certainly limitations to this kind of single-gene research and it can be very difficult to ascertain the role of a particular gene on a set of behaviours.

Do you think science will one day be able to connect the dots between your genes and your parenting style? Or are there just too many variables?

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.