Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids Hardcover – Apr 11 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.”
About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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.
> Like other posters have noted, this provides an economic context for having more kids. I was looking for something other than my gut telling me to have more.
> The book starts out heavily research-based.
> Research takes a back seat in the middle. After he concludes that your parenting can't mess your kids up too bad, he starts in on why families are smaller and getting started later. He doesn't actually cite studies which ask women why they are delaying having kids or only want one. This would have been hugely helpful and could help dispel/support some of the things we tell ourselves (e.g. it'll ruin my career, it'll delay my career, it'll ruin my body, we won't have any more fun, etc.)
> *Severely* downplays the risks of waiting to have kids on the basis that fertility treatments can always make it happen. His pie-in-the-sky treatment of this grossly misunderstood option is further harming women (and men) who delay having kids. Only 35% of IVF treatments result in a baby, and only 30% of treatments result in a live birth (on average). That's a lot of miscarriages. And, those numbers go *down* with each successive attempt. He doesn't even satisfactorily address fertility (i.e. that only 10% of eggs are capable of being fertilized at 40, versus 40% at 30).
> Makes a lot of libertarian-type statements, completely clueless to how laws like FMLA, anti-discrimination laws, breastfeeding rooms, and job-protection statutes have helped women, especially those who are the primary breadwinners in their families. His case would have been a lot stronger if he'd accepted the laws as necessary (after all, regulations are reactive to conditions) and researched the impact these have on women today. This is particularly galling given how elegantly he discredits the Idealistic Fifties.
Final judgment: If you must, read the first few chapters for the economic and child-safety research summaries. You could probably just get that on the internet for free. Definitely skip the rest.
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