- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (April 12, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 046501867X
- ISBN-13: 978-0465018673
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 71 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #374,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think Hardcover – April 12, 2011
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“In a nutshell, Caplan believes that parents put too much pressure on themselves to raise perfect children, when there is very little evidence that hyper-parenting does much good and plenty of evidence that it does harm by stressing parents out. . . . [M]ost kids just need a calm house with parents who love them, he says. Deep down, most of us know that. And once you release yourself from the drudgery of perfect parenting, your kids will relax and probably flourish, too.”
“This is one of the best books on parenting, ever. It will bring life into the world, knowledge to your mind, and joy into your heart.”
“A lively, witty, thoroughly engrossing book. Bryan Caplan looks at parenting from the viewpoint of an economist, as well as a father. His conclusions may surprise you but he has the data to back them up.”
“I loved this book. Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids should be required reading for parents—as it will be for my children, who are now having their own kids and getting caught up in the more-work, less-fun traps of parenting covered here. And as a geneticist, I can report that Bryan Caplan has the facts right. Even better, he interprets those facts in a way that will change our view of parenting.”
“Provocative, fascinating, and utterly original, Bryan Caplan’s book overturns the conventional wisdom about why parenting matters.”
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"According to time diaries, modern parents spend an incredible amount of time taking care of their kids. As expected, dads do a lot more than they used to. Since 1965, when the average dad did only three hours of child care per week, we've more than doubled our efforts. Given how little dads used to do, though, doubling wasn't hard. What's amazing is the change in the typical mother's workload: Today's mom spends more time taking care of children than she did in the heydey of the stay-at-home mom [13 hours/week vs 10]."
The major argument of the book, backed up by many twin and adoption studies, is that parenting matters much less than we think- at least as far as children's long-term outcomes are concerned. A lot of kids' outcomes seem to be determined by factors outside parents' control; the biggest way parents do influence their kids long-term outcomes is through genetics. Adopted kids generally end up with education, income, IQ, and many other outcomes being much more similar to their biological parents than their adoptive parents.
In turn, Caplan draws two main conclusions from this argument. One, lay off the tiger parenting, since all it accomplishes is to make kids miserable. Two, for those who do want to influence their kids: "The most effective way to get the kind of kids you want is to pick a spouse who has the traits you want your kids to have."
Parenting efforts will have little impact in many areas: Happiness (it has a biological set-point), IQ (adoption gains disappear by adulthood), character (Wow!!), education (museum visits won't help), and more. Nurture matters most in how fondly your kids will remember you. They'll recall the good times and their parents' love and kindness. This is true of children in their 70s and 80s.
Freakonomics put together a terrific podcast on the parenting styles of economists. While agreeing with Caplan, even they couldn't stop themselves from over-scheduling and over-enriching their own children.
Caplan finds many reasons to procreate. Large families are cheaper than ever. Technology makes parenting easier. And money can buy happiness: a part-time nanny, for instance. Furthermore, most parental worry is unnecessary; kids today are 4 times safer than they were in the "idyllic" 1950s.
Caplan's take-away message is apropos an economist: A FREE LUNCH can be had by ending the hyper-parenting. Drop the stuff (piano, ballet) that you and your kids dislike. Instead, enjoy your time together.
The book just barely earns 4 stars. It's a bit dry. And the format is untidy; with headings and sub-headings haphazardly placed. A final thought: If you read Tiger Mother, you MUST read this.
In a nutshell, Caplan's case is this:
1. Parents today spend a lot more time raising their children than they did in the past.
2. A lot of this time is overinvestment, because genetics accounts for the vast majority of outcomes in nearly every case. Therefore, a lot of the activities could be foregone at great benefit to both the child and the parent in terms of time saved.
3. The marginal cost of having an extra child (or two, or three) is such that it is outweighed by the benefits of the joy of having children and grandchildren.
Who could this book be for? It's probably exactly for yuppies that have over-thought the cost of having children and have taken a course in Macro or Micro and can understand some basic Statistics. (The Statistics that he uses here are really minimal.)
What else did we learn (other than the information from the twins studies)?
1. Children today are safer than they were in the 1950s (contrary to what you might believe from watching "Law and Order"). He shows us the numbers to back it up. Apparently much of the safety has come from improvements in health care.
2. He demonstrated some excellent semi-formal economic reasoning when he talked about the benefits of having children (i.e.,you don't buy nothing when you go to the grocery store because you happen to be full and so you don't short yourself on children just because they happen to be a lot of work at the initial stages).
3. If you want to have control over what you children will turn out like, the best choice you can make is to select the best partners you can get at the initial stages. (p.87. Normal guys will take wry, angry amusement from the fact that "bad boys" turn out to be even worse investments over the long term than they seem.)
4. The last chapter was dedicated to something like a Socratic dialogue. (It is true that the best place that you learn about the holes in your arguments in when you actually talk them through with other people.)
5. There were some interesting arguments about the ethics/ economics of cloning and IVF toward the end.
What things do I leave with questions about? The author is a Jew and an economist. So, he surely must know some things.
1. Jews are all genetically the same thing, and yet there are some serious pockets of poverty among Jews. (Kiryas Joel, New York. Haredim in Israel.) I know that it is hard to imagine that there would be some studies done on twins raised in Orthodox homes and others raised in secular homes, but these are natural experiments that do make one wonder. Or do Haredim/ Orthodox Jews somehow mate assortatively (in such a way as to explain the income differential AND religious propensity)?
2. There are lots of asymmetries among even Whites with respect to income. Catholics vs. Episcopalians (or Mormons). If we go with what the studies Caplan quotes and say that it is all nurture, then does that mean that Catholics and Episcopalians and Mormons all mate assortatively?
3. For many, many centuries Chinese people made money everywhere except in China proper. You could take identical twins and have one of them stay in China during the Qing Dynasty and another move to Singapore about that time and see dramatically different results. But you would also conclude that nurture had everything to do with those cases. (And if we had researchers doing that type of research at that time, they could have generated MANY studies.)
4. How much of this does that author believe? The highest birth rates (and the lowest incomes) in the US are among the Hispanic (particularly the Mexican) population. If you go back to Kiryas Joel (the Orthodox Jewish city in New York), you can also find huge, low income families (except with Jewish genes). Is Caplan saying that such people would have had low incomes anyway, so why not have 5 or 6 low income children instead of only 1 or 2? How to prove that investing resources in 1 or 2 children might not have been a better strategy? But then since Ashkenazim (nearly all US Jews are Ashkenazim) are the same thing, how to explain this huge income differential?
Ultimately, I'm just not sure about his interpretation of the twin studies. And it could be because of restriction of range problems (the author himself did admit that they existed-- he only talked about the case of taking examples of people in first world countries). I also have questions about sample sizes. And I am willing to go against my pre-existing conceptions of reality (i.e., that parenting makes a big difference). But sometimes things are just too much to believe (even if I can't quite put my finger on why they don't seem right).
The book is a tight 184 pages, and can be read over the course of 2-3 afternoons. It's fun to think about.