Economist dad talks down the price of parenting
A book called “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids” sends a
mixed message, and the American author’s ideas are a mixed bag. But he has some
Bryan Caplan is an economist at George Mason University. For
that reason, I suspect, he has to say something really controversial about
parents. So, he claims that research with adopted children and twins shows that
“parents barely affect their children’s prospects”. Somehow genes dictate your
future. For example:
…The Colorado Adoption Project found, for example, that
2-year-olds adopted by high-vocabulary parents had noticeably larger
vocabularies. But as the kids grew up, their vocabulary scores looked more and
more like their biological parents’. By age 12, the effect of enriched
upbringing on vocabulary was barely visible.
Something to do with television and video games?
Anyway, this father of three (the first two were twins) sounds
much more plausible when he talks about parenting. Asked about happiness
research which often shows that parents are less happy than their peers without
children, he points out that the “depressing” effect of children is small, that
childless singles tend to be far less happy, and that over 90 per cent of
parents say they would do it all again. Over two-thirds of childless adults
over 40 say they wish they had kids when they had their chance.
Here are his tips for making parenting more enjoyable:
1. While parents often lose sleep for years, getting kids to sleep through
the night is not hard. Real experiments confirm that the Ferber method — let
your baby cry in his crib for 10 minutes, briefly comfort him, leave, repeat —
2. Improving kids’ behavior isn’t hard either. Experiments confirm that
clear, consistent, mild discipline — like putting kids in the “Naughty Corner”
— works even on difficult kids. The problem is that if parents stop imposing
discipline, kids soon revert to their old tricks.
3. If neither you nor your child enjoys an extracurricular activity, stop
doing it. If the alternative is a little more TV or Xbox, that’s O.K.
4. Supervise less. Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids makes the case
better than I ever could.
His idea that using TV or Xbox as a babysitter to give
parents a bit more time to themselves won’t win general approval, but his view
that parents cannot be on the job all the time without getting cranky sounds
right. The small, isolated family seems to make this problem worse. Older
children and grandparents can do a lot of the play and supervision young
But parents do have to sacrifice themselves a lot, don’t
they? Caplan says this idea is one of the things putting people off parenthood;
the price is lower than you think.
Modern parents are far from miserable. But the parenting
experience can and should be improved. Instead of fruitlessly playing
Pygmalion, focus on enjoying your journey together. Raise your kids with
kindness and respect. Find common interests. Use discipline not to teach
lifelong lessons, but to persuade your kids to treat you and others decently
here and now. If you use these strategies, parenting and bigger families really
are a lot of fun.
Behind this is his notion that nurture matters less than we
think it does. Hmmm.
Still, it is high time the experts started encouraging New
York Times readers to have more kids. Latest Census figures show that the US population
of white children will
become a minority during this decade (“white” still being, on the whole, a
proxy for “better educated, economically upscale”). Children of Hispanic and
Asian families are boosting the child population.
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