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Mirjam van Praag and Joeri Sol conducted research using a database with information on adopted children. What were their findings? Entrepreneurship is primarily learned from role models: fathers to sons and mothers to daughters.

Parents who are entrepreneurs have children who become entrepreneurs - that much was already clear, based on numerous studies of cross-generation entrepreneurship. But less is known as to whether this is the result of an inborn trait (nature) or if it is learned behaviour (nurture). From research carried out among adopted children, it now appears that it is nurture that plays a key role. This turns out chiefly the result of exemplary behaviour of the parent who shares the same gender as the child. Entrepreneurship appears to be passed on through role models: from father to son and from mother to daughter. Mirjam van Praag, professor of Entrepreneurship and Organisation at the University of Amsterdam and Academic Director of the Amsterdam Center for Entrepreneurship (ACE): “There are relatively few female entrepreneurs. It now seems that as more women become entrepreneurs, more daughters will later also become entrepreneurs. If you stimulate entrepreneurship it has an effect across multiple generations.” 

Entrepreneurship depends more on environmental factors than inborn aptitude. This proves that it is worthwhile to invest in entrepreneurship both in policy and education. All the more because entrepreneurship is considered to be an important engine for the economy with many positive economic and social effects. In spite of all this Van Praag was surprised that inborn aptitude also plays a role: “I wasn’t expecting that. I didn’t really think it was a factor. But research demonstrates that if one of the biological parents is an entrepreneur, there is a 20% greater chance the child will an entrepreneur as compared to a child without this genetic background. When both a biological parent and an adoptive parent are entrepreneurs, such as in the case of non-adopted children of entrepreneurs, there is a 60% greater chance that a child will become an entrepreneur. The influence of nurture is twice as great as the influence of genetics." 

Van Praag conducted the research with UvA colleague Joeri Sol and researcher Matthew Lindquist of Stockholm University. The research focused on a unique database of 4,000 adopted Swedish children where it was recorded whether biological parents and adoptive parents were entrepreneurs. It is the first time research was carried out in this field using data from adopted children. The data was compared to a database with information on 400,000 non-adopted Swedish children. 

In the research, an entrepreneur was defined as anyone working on their own account, regardless of the degree of success or income. Both independent self-employed persons as well as major industrialists fall under this definition. The researchers showed that using more rigorous criteria for entrepreneurship - including for example a minimum income or entrepreneurial investments – did not influence their findings. This suggests that the nature/nurture aspects of the intergenerational transfer of entrepreneurship do not depend on the definition used.