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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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“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.”
“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.”
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First: This book does NOT tell you that you should just put your child in front of the television all the time, because your parenting makes no difference. It also doesn't tell you that you should feed your kids fast foods, stop monitoring them altogether, or otherwise neglect them, because it won't matter. This is NOT what the book is about. The fast food and TV instances that (defensive sounding?) people seem to cling to like a last straw are given as examples in specific cases: If both you and your child are stressed out, and you're trying to force the kid to do something they don't want to do because YOU think it's important for their future (e.g. practice violin or go to ballet class), and you're stressed and screaming at them to do it, and no one's happy, THAT'S when the book suggests to relax, take an hour for yourself, and let the TV babysit. The idea is that a relaxed, happy parent, is FAR more important to a child's long term well being than an hour of ballet. And any parent who's ever been stressed (i.e., ALL parents), know that their stress does not rub off very well on the kids.
Second: This book doesn't say that parenting doesn't matter AT ALL. It says that REASONABLE parenting, with love, affection, attention, and fun times spent together is sufficient to let your child make the most of their potential. You do not have to be a SUPER parent, just a loving attentive normal parent, to achieve the same results.
Third: This book doesn't say everyone should have more children. The guy is very much a libertarian who believes in personal choices. What the book is saying is, if you think you might have liked more kids (or kids period) but ruled it out for very specific reasons, that he then outlines, THEN, you should rethink those reasons. Those reasons, among others listed in the book, include (1) if you think parenting is all about stress (it says you can be more relaxed, and explains why), (2) if you dread the early years (they pass quickly), (3) if you think that for a kid to be the best they can be, they need ALL of your free time and constant attention (they don't). If you hate kids, it doesn't claim you should have them anyway. If you've always only wanted 2 kids for whatever reason, it doesn't say you should have 3 or 4, it's just asking you to consider why you want 2, and if your reason is one of the ones listed, to rethink it.
Forth: The science stated in the book is SOUND. Those are REAL studies with REAL results. He also quotes twin/adoption studies that show small effects of nurture, but those effects are always small/not replicated in larger studies. You can look up the publications yourselves. ([...]
Fifth: Whatever variations are NOT accounted for by genetics, are probably driven by epigenetics (not mentioned), parental nurture, and social (outside the house) nurture. But those are the SMALLER part of the equation, the variations are driven MOSTLY by genetics.
Sixth and Last: This book does *not* claim, and I repeat, does *not* claim, that all you do as a parent doesn't matter. It absolutely states, gives personal anecdotes, and points out studies that confirm that what parents do DOES matter in the short run, where short run can be years, basically as long as the kids LIVE in the home, or just left it. If you teach your child to be polite, they'll be polite. If you don't, they probably won't be. What the book IS saying, is that in the LONG RUN, into their 30s and later, THAT is when your upbringing with begin to fade away. It doesn't matter how you bring up your kids, they're likely to end up with roughly the same earning power, roughly the same IQ, roughly the same level of happiness, and a couple of other measures, whether or not you insisted on taking them to ballet class when they objected, or to practice team sports even though they hated it. And THIS is why the book says (see point 1), RELAX. Have FUN with your kids, rather than stress them and yourself out over activities neither one of you is enjoying. Give them your attention when you're happy and relaxed, and if you need to let them watch TV for an hour to get some quiet time for yourself so that YOU can relax, and then spend QUALITY time with them, allow yourself to do that. You won't be hurting your kid's future income.
I am giving the book 4 only stars because I think the chapter of mock conversations is ridiculous and boring and feels like a space filler, because I think he didn't always do a great job of emphasizing some important points, and because I think he should have at least mentioned epigenetics, which likely explain most of the variations in personality between identical twins raised together (basically, conditions in the womb determine later gene expression, and twins never experience the same conditions, one is always more squeezed that the other).
Lastly, I'd like to mention that I also think his idea for how potential grandparents could maximize odds of getting grandchildren (or more grandchildren) is amusing and makes some very good points.
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.