Archives for children



Why Do People Keep Having Children? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

What are the factors that make a given person more or less likely to have children? How important are income, education, and optimism about the future? Is it true that “development is the best contraceptive,” as demographers like to say? And is the global population really going to double by the next century? (Probably not — in fact, one U.N. estimate finds that the population in 2100 could be lower than today.)

These are some of the questions we ask in this week’s episode, “Why Do People Keep Having Children?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) Read More »



Why You Should Bribe Your Kids: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast


This week’s episode is called “Why You Should Bribe Your Kids.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

Let’s say you’re trying to get a bunch of kids to eat more nutritious food. What’s the best way to do this — education, moral urging, or plain old bribery? That’s one of the questions that a pair of economists set out to answer in a recent field experiment in Chicago. In this podcast, you’ll hear from both of them: John List, a University of Chicago professor (and co-author of The Why Axis who’s familiar to readers of this blog); and Anya Samek, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Read More »



Think Like a Child: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “Think Like a Child.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) Why would anyone want to think like a child? Aren’t kids just sloppy, inchoate versions of us, who can’t even say “I Don’t Know”?

Hardly. As Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt describe in their new book, Think Like a Freak, thinking like a child can be very fruitful.

 LEVITT: I think the beauty of thinking like a child … is that sometimes doing things differently and simply and with a kind of joy and triviality leads you to a really special place that as an adult you don’t get to go to very often.

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The Coolest Child Care Program You’ve Never Heard Of

During World War II, U.S. women entered the workforce in record numbers — factories full of “Rosie the Riveters” producing planes and munitions for the war effort.  In response, Congress passed the Lanham Act of 1940, which administered and subsidized a large childcare system in 635 communities in the whole country except New Mexico from 1943-1946.  A new paper by Chris Herbst examines the effects of the Lanham Act; his research is particularly relevant in light of President Barack Obama‘s push for universal preschool.  “What’s intriguing about the Lanham Act is that it’s the U.S.’s first, and only, laboratory within which to assess universal child care,” writes Herbst in an email about the paper. “It may just be the coolest child care program you’ve never heard of.”  Here’s the abstract:

This paper provides a comprehensive analysis of the Lanham Act of 1940, a heavily-subsidized and universal child care program that was administered throughout the U.S. during World War II. I begin by estimating the impact of the Lanham Act on maternal employment using 1940 and 1950 Census data in a difference-in-difference-in-differences framework. The evidence suggests that mothers’ paid work increased substantially following the introduction of the child care program.

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Preschool for Everyone?

Earlier this year, President Obama announced a plan to provide public pre-K education to low- and middle-income children, a proposal that has provoked debate about the actual demonstrated benefits of early education.  As Freakonomics guest contributors John List and Uri Gneezy wrote here a few months ago, there’s a frustrating lack of information on how effective these kinds of programs are — although List and Gneezy are trying to rectify that gap with their Chicago Heights research project.

A new working paper (abstract; PDF) by Elizabeth U. Cascio and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach attempts to shed some light on the question by analyzing the effects of universal public preschool programs in Georgia and Oklahoma, two states that have already implemented such programs.  Their findings are interesting: the programs seem to improve some outcomes for lower-income kids, but also result in higher-income families shifting kids from private to public preschool.  Here’s the abstract: Read More »



Where Does “Character” Come From?

A new working paper (abstract; PDF) by James Heckman and Tim Kautz looks at the relationship between “character” and student achievement as measured by test scores. Long story short: achievement tests don’t necessarily measure what will often matter most once students hit the real world.

This paper reviews the recent literature on measuring and boosting cognitive and noncognitive skills.  The literature establishes that achievement tests do not adequately capture character skills–personality traits, goals, motivations, and preferences–that are valued in the labor market, in school, and in many other domains. Their predictive power rivals that of cognitive skills.  Reliable measures of character have been developed.  All measures of character and cognition are measures of performance on some task.  In order to reliably estimate skills from tasks, it is necessary to standardize for incentives, effort, and other skills when measuring any particular skill.

Character is a skill, not a trait.  At any age, character skills are stable across different tasks, but skills can change over the life cycle. Character is shaped by families, schools, and social environments.  Skill development is a dynamic process, in which the early years lay the foundation for successful investment in later years.

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If Your Parents Drove a Ford, Do You?

Most adults have vivid memories of the cars of their childhoods — the wood-paneled station wagons (with backwards-facing rear seats, no less) or the boxy minivans in which they were driven to school or church.  But how much do those memories affect people’s car-buying decisions in adulthood?  That’s the question asked in a new paper (draft PDF; abstract) by Soren T. Anderson, Ryan Kellogg, Ashley Langer, and James M. Sallee:

We document a strong correlation in the brand of automobile chosen by parents and their adult children, using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. This correlation could represent transmission of brand preferences across generations, or it could result from correlation in family characteristics that determine brand choice. We present a variety of empirical specifications that lend support to the former interpretation and to a mechanism that relies at least in part on state dependence. We then discuss implications of intergenerational brand preference transmission for automakers’ product-line strategies and for the strategic pricing of vehicles to different age groups.

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Why Are the Japanese No Longer Interested in Sex?

From the Guardian:

Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with sex. For their government, “celibacy syndrome” is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060.

And:

The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.) Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better. A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact.” More than a quarter of men felt the same way.

 The article contains a number of speculations as to cause, well worth reading. At least the Malthusians will be happy.