Chalk one up for nature over nurture: recent research shows that maths skills (or lack of them) are directly passed on from parent to child.
Findings of a University of Pittsburgh study show the first evidence of distinct transfer of math skills from parent to child of an unlearned, nonverbal competence in mathematics. Put simply: parents who excel at maths produce children who excel at maths. Lead researcher Dr Melissa E. Libertus says, "Our findings suggest an intuitive sense for numbers has been passed down - knowingly or unknowingly - from parent to child. Meaning, essentially, the maths skills of parents tend to 'rub off' on their children. This research could have significant ramifications for how parents are advised to talk about maths and numbers with their children and how teachers go about teaching children in classrooms."
Within the study, Pitt's researchers found that the performance levels for early school-aged children on standardised mathematic tests could be reliably predicted by their parent's performance on similar examinations. Specifically, they observed major correlations in parent-child performance in such key areas as mathematical computations, number-fact recall, and word problem analysis. Surprisingly, the researchers also found that children's intuitive sense of numbers - i.e. the ability to know that 20 jelly beans are more than 10 jelly beans without first counting them - is also predicted by their parents' intuitive sense of numbers. Researchers determined that such close result parallels could not have been produced through similar institutional learning backgrounds because their previous research showed that this intuitive sense of numbers is present in infancy.
The findings represent the first evidence of intergenerational transmission of unlearned, nonverbal numerical competence from parents to children. While separate studies have pointed to the existence of intergenerational transmission of cognitive abilities, only a select few have examined parental influences in specific academic domains, such as mathematics.