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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
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
“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."
The dialogues are a bit hokey and forced, but the studies on twin and adopted siblings are interesting, and Caplan's conclusions are thought-provoking.
I'm still uncomfortable with the notion of reproductive technology getting to the point where parents can choose their children's attributes a la carte--while I acknowledge potential upsides for society, there's something to be said for playing the hand you're dealt. I'd hate to see a new kind of prejudice emerge between "designer" and "random" kids.
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.
While "Selfish Reasons To Have More Kids" is a book worth reading, it's not a book without flaws. I didn't find Caplan's arguments in support of genetic engineering and cloning to be very convincing. Just because we have the technology to do something doesn't mean we ought to. Caplan fails to consider the possibility that there may be devastating unintended consequences from such technology that we cannot predict.