May 8, 2011

Review of: " Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids"

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. New York, NY: Basic Books. 2011.
Blogs are the New World of the mind -- the land where science meets common sense, and logic meets life." Bryan Caplan.
It was in 2003 when Bryan Caplan, the author if Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, was my professor microeconomics II at George Mason University. It was then when he learned that his wife was going to have identical twins. He posted the sonograms in his website and gave updates on the evolution of the pregnancy. As an exemplar nerd he made some Bayesian calculations to analyze the behavior of fraternal twins vs identical twins, or something like that. The matter is that he seemed totally excited! That excitement plus tons of research gave bird to this book.

Bryan has also become a very popular, sharp, and wise blogger. Today's post in his blog is an example of the wisdom.

His micro II class was probably the most challenging of the PhD. As time passes I respect him more, as an intellectual, but even more as a kind and respectful parent. I was a pretty responsible student in his class but I wish I had paid even more attention. There is indeed a lot to learn from Bryan.

The main point of the book is that parents overestimate the cost of having kids, therefore they don't have as many as they should. Bryan claims that having more kids is more fun and less work. As any other product in the market, a lower price should translate itself into a higher quantity demanded (with some qualifications). 

The book presents a very compelling argument. It is carefully informed by research on behavioral genetics. A lot of future parents will be persuaded by his arguments (may be a lot of people already are). Having more kids gives pleasures (especially) when parents are older and kids have grown up (the utility that kids provide grows as time passes -- unfortunately, Bryan argues, some times couples do not take into account these future benefits when making their decisions ).

Having more kids also generate positive externalities, on average, for the wold as a whole. The influence of Julian Simon on Bryan's thinking and research is clear, as it is the theory of endogenous growth.    

His conclusions mainly apply to families in developed countries. But being from a developing country I kept wondering how the main conclusions would apply to Latin America, or Africa for example. They do not apply, and he is clear about this. A different body of research will be necessary -- but it seems that there is no data. 

The other important conclusion is that nature rules over nurture when it comes to behavior and other human traits (with the caveat mentions above).

Parents should relax more about their kids, should not feel that the future of their kids regarding personality, income, happiness, criminal behavior, etc, is up to the parents. Some freedom, or a lot of freedom, and less control an supervision is better. As a rule of thumb, if a couple is eligible to adopt a kid by an adoption agency, it is a good enough couple and their kid(s) will turn out just fine -- just enjoy the ride:

Instead of thinking of children as lumps of clay for parents to mold, we should think of them as plastic that flexes in response to pressure—and pops back to its original shape once the pressure is released. 
Don't forget, however, that parents can affect certain outcomes. For example, they can affect the way kids perceive parents, and the way kids will remember parents in the future. This is a call to treat kids with kindness and respect.

This is a video of Bryan explaining his theories.

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