Bryan Caplan  

The Economist on Overparenting

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Though I'm no fan of The Economist's editorials, their science coverage remains outstanding.  Check out their latest piece on overparenting.  You could say I'm biased because the piece draws so heavily on my work, but as a pedantic professor, you'd expect me to find fault with any third party's popularization.  Happily, there's no fault to find:
Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University, says it does not. In "Selfish Reasons To Have More Kids", he points to evidence that genes matter far more than parenting. A Minnesota study found that identical twins grow up to be similarly clever regardless of whether they are raised in the same household or in separate ones. Studies in Texas and Colorado found that children adopted by high-IQ families were no smarter than those adopted by average families. A Dutch study found that if you are smarter than 80% of the population, you should expect your identical twin raised in another home to be smarter than 76% but your adopted sibling to be average. Other twin and adopted studies find that genes have a huge influence on academic and financial success, while parenting has only a modest effect.
The Economist, unlike many of my critics, gets the limits of my position:
The crucial caveat is that adoptive parents have to pass stringent tests. So adoption studies typically compare nice middle-class homes with other nice middle-class homes; they tell you little about the effect of growing up in a poor or dysfunctional household.
The piece even manages to swiftly connect the dots between parental irrelevantism and natalism:
The moral, for Mr Caplan, is that middle-class parents should relax a bit, cancel a violin class or two and let their kids play outside. "If your parenting style passes the laugh test, your kids will be fine," he writes. He adds that if parents fretted less about each child, they might find it less daunting to have three instead of two. And that might make them happier in the long run. No 60-year-old ever wished for fewer grandchildren.
P.S. Hope to see you at the Open Borders Meet-Up on August 3.  Email me for details.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
nc law writes:

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Dain Fitzgerald writes:

Caplan's message is great news for bright, upper-middle parents. Stop stressing, tiger moms and dads! But for dim, lower class parents its bad news. Try all you want, your kids can't be helped.

But I suppose dim parents aren't familiar with Caplan's work anyway, sparing them the big letdown.

Steve writes:

I "let" my kids play outside, wish they'd go there, but they usually choose to watch TV or play games on the computer. So, I "let" them do that, too?

Michael writes:

Bryan, have you read The Nurture Assumption by Judith Rich Harris? If you haven't then you should. It's about the same topic and largely in agreement with your assessment. The author's life in an interesting story in itself...

There's an odd sort of forecast feedback at work here. The more uniform the environment, the greater will be the contribution of genetic differences to differences in outcomes. The more genetically uniform the population, the greater the contribution that environmental differences will make to differences in outcomes. The more parents whom Dr. Caplan convinces to adopt relaxed parenting, the greater will be the contribution of aggressive parenting to differences in career outcomes.

greg writes:

I don't think it's worrying about the current kids and finding more daunting that is the problem for middle class parents.

It's that they don't want kids and nowadays don't have to have them.


It's that middle class people choose not to have kids, or to only have one or two (to my mind no reason to have more than 2 the world is overpopulated already) is because they are smart, they realise their own life goals and ambitions will be hampered by more than one or two kids and often any kids.

We live in a world where people both realise this this is what kids mean and no longer do it just because it's the done thing. That's a really good thing.

Poorer people don't seem to really think that through as much, don't see the point in waiting for the sake of a career or seek fulfillment elsewhere in my life. They also get married younger (and are more religious) or whatever. They see things differently.

If we can make it to a world where women's career and life chances are not significantly reduced due to having having children then maybe the birth rate will raise.

However I think as we get more educated, the birth rate will fall globally as more people are educated, as they realise they have other options and that, ultimately when we can deal with it as a society, will be a good thing.

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