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Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think Paperback – Illustrated, May 8, 2012
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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.”
Even if Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids won't actually convince people to have more kids, it serves as both a brief and remarkably well-written introduction to genetic research, and a guide book for easier parenting. The Tiger Mothers of the world would be well served by reading it.”
Steve Silver, movie critic for The American Conservative
[A] delightful book, breezy in prose style, but reasonably rigorous in its handling of the nature-nurture statistics.”―-
Fabio Rojas, OrgTheory.net, Associate Professor of Sociology at Indiana University
Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids is a new book by economist and blogger Bryan Caplan. It makes a simple argument of extreme importance: you should probably have more children. Though this book is written by an economist, it's not another cute-o-nomics pop text. It's a serious book about family planning that's based on his reading of child development, psychology, genetics, economics, and other fields. It's about one of life's most important decisions, and this is what social scientists should be thinking about.”
[T]he author's mission is nobleencouraging individuals to parent two or more children.”
Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate
Original, lively, well-researched, and wise, this book could change your life.”
Lenore Skenazy, author of the book and blog, Free-Range Kids
Imagine this: Parenting doesn't HAVE to be a chore. Your kids are safer than you think, smarter than you think and besidesyou have less influence than you think! So sit back, relax, and read this book with your newfound free time. The sanity you save may be your own.”―-
Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist and Adapt
Provocative, fascinating, and utterly original, Bryan Caplan's book overturns the conventional wisdom about why parenting matters.”
Wall Street Journal
Despite its wickedly subversive premise, Mr. Caplan's book is cheery and intellectually honest.... And the bedrock of his argument is solid: Modern parenting is insane. Children do not need most of what we buy them. So, yes, the price” of children is artificially high.... The best argument for children isn't that they will make you happy or your life fun but that parenthood provides purpose for a well-lived life.”
Motoko Rich, New York Times
Mr. Caplan, who has already been dubbed the Un-Tiger Mom,' writes, While healthy, smart, happy, successful, virtuous parents tend to have matching offspring, the reason is largely nature, not nurture.'.... His argument may be refreshing in an era of competitive preschool admissions and hyperactive extracurricular schedules.”―-
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.”
Judith Rich Harris, author of The Nurture Assumption and No Two Alike
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.”
Robert Plomin, Medical Research Council Research Professor at the Institute of Psychiatry
I loved this book. Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids should be required reading for parentsas 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.”
Economist Brian Caplan: Kids can be cheaper than you think...so maybe you want more of them than you think you want. He makes the case for this controversial proposition at length in his fascinating and well-argued new book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think.”―-
About the Author
- Publisher : Basic Books; Illustrated edition (May 8, 2012)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0465028616
- ISBN-13 : 978-0465028610
- Reading age : 13 years and up
- Grade level : 11 and up
- Item Weight : 12.1 ounces
- Dimensions : 6 x 0.75 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #79,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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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."
I'm giving this book 4 stars because I wish that this book was more of a "parenting for libertarians" than a call for having more kids. I totally agree with the idea of having more, but I think Bryan pounded on that point a little too much.
The first ~60% of the book provides great details, and data to support the idea that parenting has very limited effect on long term outcomes. Bryan comes at the topic at every possible angle and systematically destroys all conventional wisdom about how to raise children to be healthy, happy, and successful.
If you are a parent or interact with parents, this book provides great information that will blow their minds. I love to tell people what I've learned in this book.
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.
Top reviews from other countries
This view is, however, almost entirely false. The life prospects of your children, their intelligence, personalities and even potential criminality are outside your control, consequences almost exclusively of their genes. If you're from good stock, then almost certainly your kids will turn out all right, whether you over-invest in them or not.
In a field full of diverse opinions underpinned by a library of popular books, it's important to state what's different about Caplan's entry into this crowded field. Quite simply, it's based on real empirical evidence and research (which we technically call `science'). The way to separate the effects of on-board genes and family-upbringing is to look at twins, especially those separated at birth and raised by different families. The other piece of the puzzle is provided by the fate of adopted children, where the child's outcome can be compared with the traits of the birth-parents and also with the adopting family.
What does all this tell us? The genes win hands down. Chapter 2 is the main meat in this book, reviewing numerous `behavioral genetics' studies with the following results:
1. Parenting has little to no effect on overall lifetime health of offspring. Parents don't affect height, weight or teeth-quality.
2. Mozart in the womb or no Mozart, parenting has zero long-term effect on a child's intelligence as measured by IQ tests (the gold standard). Separated twins correlate almost perfectly with each other; adopted children correlate with their birth parents.
3. Exactly similar conclusions hold for: life happiness, success in life, educational attainment, character, values, sexual attitudes and religion.
The only area where nurture seems to matter is whether your children will appreciate you later in life: it pays to be nice to them.
Why do so many parents believe otherwise? Their evenings are spent working over the homework and sponsoring life-enrichment classes for their little ones; weekends involve chauffeuring their offspring to sports matches or dancing classes; summers bring improving camps, while piano lessons occupy any remaining time.
The answer is that families, like the army, are a total environment with asymmetry of power. You can control the experiences of your little one and so you do, whether what you offer conforms to your child's likes and aptitudes or not. For a period you can force a child to go against its genes but be forewarned, it will not stick.
Chapter 3 re-iterates some of the points in chapter 2 and rebuts charges of `genetic determinism': we are not zombies controlled by a genetic `program'. Since the consequences of genes are so powerful, however, Caplan suggests that you `choose a spouse who resembles the kids you want to have': assortative mating implies you probably did, but if you applied this level of rationality to your romantic engagements you're probably in trouble anyway. Surprisingly, Caplan argues that `if you want to dramatically improve a child's life, adopt from the third world'. Good for the child perhaps, but did Caplan really review the solid, scientific work on ethnic differences in IQ and personality?
Chapter four shows, with statistics, that children are a lot safer today than they were in the 1950s (which themselves were a golden age as compared to 1900). The difference is almost entirely due to the fact we have largely conquered childhood diseases. Parents tend to worry more about abduction, kidnap and murder and these have, if anything, gone up but the actual rates seen by middle-class families are vanishingly small.
The rest of the book is devoted to arguments as to why having more children is good both for you and for the world. Briefly, your kids will enrich your old age even if they are a pain in the short term; and large populations sustain and nurture culture and the new ideas which drive progress. I agree with both these ideas but they're hardly earth-shaking or new.
One curious section in chapter 5 (p. 116) explores the reasons why - as a matter of fact - middle-class people are choosing to have fewer children today. After rejecting the standard economic argument (diminishing marginal returns to extra children) he comes up with three reasons: changes in values, self-imposed rules and changes in foresight. This comes down to the decline in religion, the time-consuming urge to over-parent and an alleged civilization of our basic urges.
I have never heard of a flimsier and less convincing set of reasons. The elephant in the room is the pill: contraception which is universally used and which doesn't impact the pleasures of intimacy (unlike the condom). So having children is now solely a conscious decision for any woman with enough `foresight' to take the pill. No wonder something with such a negative short-term impact on finances, career and recreation tends to be put off. Not so hard, is it?
So this book is a mish-mash of solid science, common-sense and Bryan Caplan's unsubstantiated opinions mixed in with too much information (Caplan wears shorts to work in the winter). Even at 184 pages it feels padded and it must be said that Caplan is not a good writer. He adopts the slightly folksy, informal style which most populist academics seem to like but his writing is dry, unstructured and far too repetitive. Caplan should have followed economist Steven Levitt (of `Freakonomics' fame) in signing up a real writer (like Stephen Dubner) to add the anecdotes and sparkle which keeps the reader glued to the page.
Caplan's previous book, `The Myth of the Rational Voter' was similarly overly-dry but that was targeted at his fellow economists and had a sizeable dragon to slay (the theory of Rational Ignorance). Here he's aiming at the general public: the arguments are fine but it could have been a far, far better book - the result is that it won't have the impact it deserves, something to bear in mind for the second, improved and expanded edition, Dr Caplan.