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15/10/2014

What kind of parents are grapevines?

Last November, a pair of American economists published a paper with the National Bureau of Economic Research stating that first-born children earn higher grades than kids born into more crowded families. Asking questions about family size and child success is dangerous. Bring it up in a crowded room and you’ll hear that only children are antisocial or deprived, that kids with lots of siblings don’t get enough parental attention, and that first-born children are bossy.

Start asking the same questions about what kind of parents grapevines are and the barrage is just about as bad. Does a high-bearing vine with lots of clusters feed and shelter each of them just as well as one with fewer clusters? Or are grapes from low-yielding vines naturally higher in quality, like straight-A-earning only children? Like the only child/big family debate, we have statistical data. Like the only child-big family debate, the data aren’t always the last word.

Grape yield isn’t directly related to wine quality. Lower yields often do mean higher quality, but that’s not because one causes the other. It’s possible, given a whole lot of other factors, for high-quality grapes to come in big lots or in small ones. But grape yield is indirectly related to wine quality; in other words, our data say that a lot of factors often associated with yield affect quality.

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