Freakonomics Poll: Should Being a Parent Require a License?

Toward the end of our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting,” Steve Levitt points to the loads of social science research demonstrating that the one sure-fire way to have a bad life, is to have a mother who doesn’t love you. Which brings him to a rather radical point: should parenting be licensed? Here’s a bit from the transcript:

LEVITT:There’s a lot of research on un-wantedness and tremendous historical data sets from social science of the last fifty years that suggest that if your mother doesn’t love you, nothing good will happen to you in life. The lowest common denominator for having a kid who turns out well is the kid being loved. And if I were president for a day, maybe dictator for a day, one of the first things that I might do would be to make it harder to be a parent, to make the standards for being a parent more difficult. You should have to demonstrate some proficiency at parenting perhaps to be a parent.

DUBNER: So, you need to get licensed, let’s say?

LEVITT: Yeah. I mean, we make people prove they can parallel park before they can get a driver’s license, maybe we should make people prove that they can interact in a productive way in teaching their kid. Now there’s nothing more un-American than intervening in the family. People just hate the idea of big government looking over their shoulder and telling them how to be parents.

DUBNER: And you’re not a big government guy by any stretch.

LEVITT: No, I hate big government. But on the other hand, I could imagine there being a sensible set of things that you would want to do to make sure that people were ready to be better parents.

We thought we’d put the question to our readers with a Freakonomics Poll.

Should You Have to Get a License to be a Parent?

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  1. gadfly says:

    Absolutely restrict who can become parent. Tie those tubes or whatever. It is patently absurd that any abusive creep can father a child, which abuses the civil rights of those future abused children–better if they were not born to suffer.

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  2. Nikki says:

    Hold on what right do we have to say someone shouldnt exist

    What if someone had dicided you shouldnt exist then how would you argue about parental license and the population rate and unwanted children.

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  3. Jerry Steinberg says:

    I believe that many — if not most — people are poorly prepared to parent. We require education and testing to qualify for a license to drive a car, shoot a gun, fly a plane, catch a fish, or operate a ham radio. Yet, most people give very little forethought to parenthood, and are given very little, if any, training for one of life’s most demanding and important jobs.

    Many parents are shocked when they discover that their infants don’t keep the same wake-sleep schedule that they’re used to; that their toddlers have a propensity for finding ways to hurt themselves the moment the parent looks the other way; that their teenagers are not the sweet, obedient, gentle, respectful children they used to be; that, despite lectures to the contrary, their teenagers are still quite curious (and cavalier) about tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs; that their teenagers have “no fear” when they are behind the wheel of a car, diving into dangerous waters, or committing a crime. They are perplexed about proper nutrition of children of all ages, and discipline seems to frustrate most parents. They are also stunned when they discover how much time, energy and money are required to raise a child properly.

    I am convinced that there should be a “LICENSE TO PARENT.” Courses and tests (both theoretical and practical), created by and given by experienced and successful parents, teachers, nurses, daycare workers, doctors, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, family counsellors, police officers, etc. would have to be taken, with at least 80% needed to pass in order to receive your License To Parent (could you justify any less?). Such courses should be mandatory in every high school in the country. Even though, in a democracy, we can’t really prevent people from making babies irresponsibly, such courses would, at the very least, make people more informed, more responsible, and possibly less likely to make babies without sufficient forethought. It might even convince a few people that parenthood wasn’t right for them, and would save them, their potential children, and society at large from the catastrophic consequences of poor parenting.

    Parenting is a serious responsibility. It is the hardest job in the world to do, yet it’s the easiest job to get — no education, no training, no experience with kids (of any age), no tests, no interviews, no probation period, no periodic evaluations, and hardly any risk of being fired.

    It is the most irrevocable decision one will ever make in one’s life. It should be seen as a privilege, not a right — it shouldn’t be automatic or accidental, and it should certainly not be taken lightly. Children are too precious to be created without making a careful, conscious decision about them. Unfortunately, creating a child takes very little effort and even less intelligence. To be a good parent, however, is to achieve one of the most difficult and important goals of modern life.

    More time should be spent considering children than conceiving them.

    Jerry Steinberg
    Founding Non-Father of NO KIDDING!
    The international social club for childless and childfree couples and singles

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