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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]

Bryan Caplan
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 12 2011
We've needlessly turned parenting into an unpleasant chore. Parents invest more time and money in their kids than ever, but the shocking lesson of twin and adoption research is that upbringing is much less important than genetics in the long run. These revelations have surprising implications for how we parent and how we spend time with our kids. The big lesson: Mold your kids less and enjoy your life more. Your kids will still turn out fine.<p> <I>Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids</I> is a book of practical big ideas. How can parents be happier? What can they change - and what do they need to just accept? Which of their worries can parents safely forget? Above all, what is the right number of kids for you to have? You'll never see kids or parenthood the same way again.

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Review

Tyler Cowen, Holbert C. Harris Professor of Economics, George Mason University
“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 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.”
 
Reason
“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.
 
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.”
 
Kirkus Reviews
“[T]he author’s mission is noble—encouraging 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 besides—you 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.”
 
Chattanooga Times Free Press
“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.”
 
National Review
“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.”
 
Washington Times
“Bryan Caplan’s book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think stands as a bridge across an economic and psychological gap.  This isn’t your average parenting book spouting psychologist-laden babble about the inner workings of the human psyche, inherent selfishness and bearing children.  Rather, Mr. Caplan… hopes to persuade interested parties that it’s not only better to have children in the first place, but to have lots, or at least more than the number you originally were planning to have.”
 
The Atlantic, Business Channel
“A direct blow to Tiger Moms around the world… The Caplan Theory is a bit like the Ferber method writ large: If you stop worrying and let the kid be for now, everybody will be happier tomorrow.”

 

Art Caden, Forbes.com
“George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan is one of my favorite thinkers… I agree with the back-cover blurb from Tyler Cowen: Caplan has written ‘one of the best books on parenting, ever.’ Caplan combines his mastery of the economic way of thinking, a thorough command of the best and most relevant scholarly literature, a passion for his subject, and most importantly, his passion for his children into a book that is truly unique. If you are going to read just one book about parenting, it should be this one.”

 

About the Author

Bryan Caplan is a Professor of Economics at George Mason University and blogger at EconLog, one of the <I>Wall Street Journal's</I> Top 25 Economics Blogs. He lives in Oakton, Virginia, with his wife and their three children.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous book on parenting Dec 15 2011
Format:Hardcover
While some people may take issue with the core theme of the book (have more kids) I found the book a wonderful reality check on parenting.

The author, Bryan Caplan, provides an extensive review of population based adoption and twin research which he uses to support the claim that normal parents have surprisingly little effect on the long run outcomes of children. He then concludes that since obsessive parenting has little to no gains for our children, we should just relax enjoy our children. If the "costs" associated with parenting are less we can then "afford" more kids. If you want a taste of the flavour of the book, there is an hour long interview on the podcast Econtalk on May 9, 2011 with the author (google econtalk and you'll find it).

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids has definitely had an impact on my own parenting. I have also purchased it for some friends.
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4 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Economists should stick to studying the economy May 27 2011
By K. Reid
Format:Hardcover
In his book, Bryan Caplan relies on twin studies to show that genetic influences far outweight a nurturing environment when it comes to how kids turn out. Therefore, he argues that spending more time and effort on your kids is a time wasting exercise. Somehow, he then concludes that we should have more kids.

Putting aside this nonsensical conclusion for a moment, any scientist who is familiar with twin studies would know that they are fraught with difficulties. To remove the effect of the environment, ideally scientists would study identical twins, since they have the same genetic code, who have been separated at birth (i.e. they do not share the same environment). Finding identical twins who have been separated at birth is prohibitively difficult so all large scale twin studies make the assumption that the environment for both children is the same. We now know that this assumption is flawed and therefore the results of these studies are flawed.

As for his bizaar conclusion that families should be larger, he doesn't even discuss the impact this would have on a world that already exceeds capacity. This maybe because Caplan is an economist and not a scientist and, to most economists, growth is good and anything that controls or caps growth is bad. However, since we (i.e. Caplan's target audience) consume far more resources than those in the developing world, having small families is important to minimise our impact as much as possible.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  57 reviews
206 of 215 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clarifying some misconceptions about this book Aug. 3 2011
By Peas on Earth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I just finished reading the book, and then read through all the negative reviews. Basically, my sense is that all of those who wrote negative reviews misunderstood what the book is about, and instead focused on single statements taken out of context.

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.
87 of 99 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Selfish Reasons to Buy This Book April 5 2011
By Zachary Gochenour - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I recommend this book to anyone who has ever thought about having children.

The central message of this book is based in simple economics. Right now you have some sense of the costs and benefits of having children, and you use this idea to determine the optimal number of children for your family. The book explains how and why most people are wrong about these costs and benefits: children are almost certainly less costly than you think, and they are probably at least as beneficial as you think.

Whether or not you're convinced to have more kids, this book contains practical parenting advice. Key to idea that having children isn't as costly as you think is that most parental effort intending to change a child's long-term outcome is wasted. Caplan cites decades of research in behavioral genetics to make his case, to borrow one of the book's best metaphors, that children are much more like plastic that responds to pressure in the short term and eventually returns to its original shape than they are like clay.

The curious but skeptical reader should be glad to know that Caplan devotes a considerable portion of the book to anticipating and responding to criticism. In the months of pre-release debates about the book I have not seen one criticism that isn't addressed in detail within the text. So even if the idea of the book seems nearly implausible to you, I still recommend giving it a shot: it probably addresses your objection directly.

On a personal note, reading this book convinced me that I should want more kids than before. For that reason I think it will end up being among the most influential books I've ever read in my life, without exaggeration. I hope it does the same for you, because (as also noted in the book) your children aren't only good for you, but they're good for the world. So go forth, get the book, be fruitful, and multiply.
82 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bryan Caplan Say Relax April 5 2011
By Philip Maymin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you do nothing else, just read the introduction. It summarizes everything, and is excellent. The book goes straight to the premise and evidence without any dancing or pre-selling. And the book concludes with hypothetical conversations with various real-world critics, which are also fun to read. More books should be structured in this way.

And in the middle, you get one jaw-dropping result after another that can be basically summarized as: RELAX. Your day-to-day parenting may have some short-term consequences but in the long-run, your children will basically turn out just like you. Want proof? You turned out like your parents, didn't you?

The book can be summarized with two results: one is that parental nagging or reminding or anything else DOES NOT AFFECT DENTAL HYGIENE.

This is pretty remarkable.

If you can't control your kids dental hygiene, a process that you can monitor and schedule and confirm -- meaning, if no matter what you do, the health of their adult teeth will ultimately be determined by genes anyway, unless of course you knock them all out -- then what hope do you have of affecting their grades or their IQ or their future income? Turns out those things too are genetic.

So Caplan's conclusion is, since your actions matter very little at the margin, just relax. Have some more kids and just hang out. Don't stress out.

I've read Freakonomics and Parentonomics and The Idle Parents and a bunch more. This is the clearest evidence-based parenting book that your actions don't matter (though the last two chapters of the original Freakonomics make essentially the same point about the importance of parenting essentially ending at birth, they do not go to the next logical step of recommending you have more kids).

Which brings us to the second most important result: when asked what kids would change about their parents, the most unpredictable answer for the parents was that they would want their parents to have less stress, a better attitude, more fun, etc. So have some vacations without the kids, or at least date nights, and do things with the kids that you find fun, rather than "sacrificing" for their sake. If you're not really enjoying yourself, neither are your kids.

So bottom line: chillax. And procreate.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Basic Premise But Overlooks Nuances Sept. 25 2011
By CrimsonGirl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Overall, I agree with Bryan Caplan's basic premise that babies are blessings and that the hyperparenting popular among middle-class Americans today is not necessary for the child to have a decent outcome. It very much saddens me to hear all the anti-child rhetoric today and worry about the possibility of a "demographic winter" in this country as is already happening in Europe and Japan. Many families probably should take seriously Caplan's advice to have just one more child than they were originally planning. He rightfully points out that for all the doomsaying about supposed "overpopulation" since the time of Malthus, human ingenuity has actually made our environment cleaner in many ways and also allowed us to increase living standards around the world.

Where I think Caplan's book falls short is in overlooking the primary reason I believe women today are having fewer children: they are starting much later than in the past. I got married one month shy of my 22nd birthday and had my first child at age 25. Because I started my family early by today's standards, I can have a larger family while still managing to spread them out such that it doesn't become overwhelming. My college friends who are having their first baby at 35 won't be able to have 3, 4, or 5 kids unless they are VERY closely spaced. That's hard on a woman from both a physical standpoint as well as an emotional one. I can't imagine being middle-aged and having a large number of very young children- talk about exhausting even if one is a laid-back parent like Caplan advocates. Honestly, I don't think Caplan has a clue the toll that pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding takes on a woman. He may think that women are being "myopic" in deciding not to put themselves through all that a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time, but that's easy for him to say as a man. I would love to know if Caplan's wife shares his sanguine view.

The other factor that I believe Caplan overlooks is the dramatic increase in the number of special needs children. Autism rates have skyrocketed from 1 in 1,000 children in the 1970's to 1 in 91 in 2009. While some of that is probably due to better diagnosis, much of that increase is real. Cerebral Palsy has similarly increased from 1 in 667 children to 1 in 278. Other disabilities are also on the rise, probably because there are so many more preemies born and modern medicine has been able to save a much higher percentage of very premature babies. The demands of having a special needs child and the risk of future children also being disabled weighs heavily on the minds of the parents and could tip the balance towards limiting family size. And even families with neurotypical children likely have friends, relatives, or acquaintances with a special needs child. The awareness of the risk could lead someone to decide not to roll the dice but just stick with the existing healthy offspring.

Despite these overlooked factors, I do recommend reading "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids". Caplan makes a good case for being more laissez-faire in one's parenting and to consider the long-term benefits of having additional children rather than just the short-term hassles. Recommended.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting perspective but also lacking in some ways Aug. 16 2013
By Karbush - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I originally wrote this in response to another reviewer (H Wright) who was unhappy with the author's perspective on adopted kids. I was so certain I would see more reviews that shared his/her viewpoint...and am a little shocked, or perhaps disappointed to see they don't exist.( I think this means that people with more contrary perspectives, don't even bother to read the book!)I decided I wanted a larger audience and to rate the book myself, so have turned that response into a review of its own.

I have a biological son and an adopted son. They are both good kids but in different ways...and I can really see the ways that my adopted son (6yo) is more empathetic, compassionate and generous than my biological son (11 yo), who would have thought? My older son, who is white, is a great guy in his own ways, he is mellow, gentle and easy going---but not nearly as tuned into others as is my younger son, who, btw, is African American and whose mom was for many many years a drug addict and thief (though I think she is doing better now). One day I woke up and went into the LR and the tv was on, but I could barely hear it. My adopted son, who is 6, said--well I didn't want to wake you up. These little considerations happen frequently, and it isn't that my biological son is mean, it just seems like the nuances of someone else's possible needs don't come across his radar to nearly the same extent. He will rarely share a bit of candy with me, or let me have a french fry off his plate, things my adopted son says yes to without thinking or hesitation. And I love my older son to pieces, the two kids are just different. (The younger, because he reads and understands emotions so well, can use them to, occasionally, manipulate, whereas my older son never does--that is the other edge of the sword). I have noticed these traits in my two boys pretty much from toddler-hood on.

I don't know, I enjoyed this book--as a science teacher, science major and someone who likes arguments that are not fuzzy. But I was VERY disappointed that his chapter that went over all the intricate ways to have more children if you are infertile, never mentioned adoption. There are millions of kids with criminal parents who are great citizens, and millions of adopted kids whose parents were drug addicts, who grow up to be amazing adults. I am sure the author would agree--but what is statistically significant, translated into real numbers and real kids, is often meaningless. My older son, can also suffer from a lot of anxiety and in some ways seems a bit more fragile than my adopted son, though I suspect, intellectually, he will always outshine the younger. There are so many characteristics that go into making a 'great' kid. Which ones do you choose to value?

This is a good book in many ways, but something is definitely missing from the equation. Now that I am getting older (49) and see how much lonelier life can feel in a fast paced modern life where friends seem to come and go (I live in the SF Bay area--a playground of fun things to do but kinda impoverished when it comes to deep, long-lasting relationships) I do wish I had more than two kids. But, alas, I did find the early child-rearing years, from about 1-4 or 5, so, so painful that it was hard for me put the long-term ahead of my short term misery (which was interspersed with moments of joy and love). Seven is the golden age, kids become so much more independent while also still being incredibly loving and fun. My 6.75 year old is already there, for the most part. I also wish I had started building my family earlier.

In any case, read the book critically--it does make a lot of great points about over-parenting, but I don't think the author is the definitive authority by any means--an interesting perspective.
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