Archives for parenting



How an Absent Father Affects Boys and Girls Differently

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the share of children living in mother-only households has risen from 8 percent in 1960 to 23 percent in 2010. Freakonomics has a long-standing interest in the role parents play in the lives of their children, and while we usually find no merit in helicopter parenting, a basic level of involvement is obviously important. Past research has shown that a father’s involvement with his children is linked to all kinds of beneficial outcomes, from higher academic achievement, improved social and emotional well-being, to lower incidences of delinquency, risk taking, and other problem behaviors.

A new working paper from authors Deborah A. Cobb-Clark and Erdal Tekin examines the relationship between juvenile delinquency and the role of a father in the household, particularly in terms of the different effects an absent father has on boys and girls. They discovered, among other things, that sons benefit far more from a father (or father-figure) than daughters do. From the abstract:

…we find that adolescent boys engage in more delinquent behavior if there is no father figure in their lives. However, adolescent girls’ behavior is largely independent of the presence (or absence) of their fathers.

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Get Your Free Sperm Here!

The Daily Beast reports on an interesting phenomenon: sperm donors who donate for free.  One couple, stymied by the $2,000-and-up cost of acquiring sperm the usual way (sperm bank), started exploring alternative options online… Read More »



The Heirs of Creativity

A short paper published this week by NBER from authors Albert N. Link and Christopher J. Ruhm takes a simple but oft-neglected look into patents and creativity; namely, how creative parents influence their potentially creative children.

The abstract states:

In this paper we show that the patenting behavior of creative entrepreneurs is correlated with the patenting behavior of their fathers, which we refer to as a source of the entrepreneurs’ human capital endowments. Our argument for this relationship follows from established theories of developmental creativity, and our empirical analysis is based on survey data collected from MIT’s Technology Review winners.

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The Testosterone Tradeoff: Hormone Decrease Makes Better Fathers

It’s official: having a baby will lower your testosterone levels. If you’re a man, of course. And while this may seem scary and vaguely emasculating, it’s actually a good thing, according to a new study by researchers at Northwestern University. While testosterone is good for some activities, like competing for a mate, it’s not great for other activities, like nurturing a newborn baby. Here’s part of the abstract:

In species in which males care for young, testosterone (T) is often high during mating periods but then declines to allow for caregiving of resulting offspring. This model may apply to human males, but past human studies of T and fatherhood have been cross-sectional, making it unclear whether fatherhood suppresses T or if men with lower T are more likely to become fathers. …Our findings suggest that T mediates tradeoffs between mating and parenting in humans, as seen in other species in which fathers care for young. They also highlight one likely explanation for previously observed health disparities between partnered fathers and single men.

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The Economist’s Guide to Parenting: Economist Kids Photo Gallery

For our latest podcast, “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting” (you can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player, or read a transcript here), we asked for parenting advice from a most unlikely group of people: economists. The roster of guests includes our very own Steve Levitt, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers; and also features economist parents Bruce Sacerdote, Melissa Kearney, Valerie Ramey, and Bryan Caplan.

As a bit of extra fun, we decided to make a photo gallery out of the cute family pictures they sent us. Take a look at these proud economist parents!



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.

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The Worst Mistake I Ever Made: An Economists’ Parenting Quorum

For our latest podcast, “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting,” (you can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player, or read a transcript here) we turned to some of our favorite economists for advice on how to raise children. It’s safe to say you won’t find much of what you hear in any “expert’s” guide to parenting (which was of course the point) but it was a thought-provoking exercise in applying economic principles to one of life’s most perplexing and stimulating activities. As a supplement to the podcast, we thought it would be fun to convene a Freakonomics Quorum and ask some of our contributors, not for their best moment as a parent, but for their worst. The specific question we asked was:

What is the worst mistake you ever made as a parent?

Good sports that they are, they obliged with some lighthearted anecdotes of how sometimes the best intentions of rational, unemotional economists often run face-first into something called kids. Read More »



New Freakonomics Radio Podcast: “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting”

Our newest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting.” This is the second of five hour-long podcasts we’ll be releasing over the coming weeks. Some of you may have heard them on public-radio stations around the country, but now all the hours are being fed into our podcast stream. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript here.)

I know what you’re thinking when you read the title of this podcast. You’re thinking what the **** — economists? What can economists possibly have to say about something as emotional, as nuanced, as humane, as parenting? Well, let me say this: because economists aren’t necessarily emotional (or, for that matter, all that nuanced or humane), maybe they’re exactly the people we need to sort this through. Maybe.

You may remember that we wrote a bit about parenting in Freakonomics; now we’ve put together an entire roundtable of economists to talk about a great many elements of child-rearing, with one essential question in mind: how much do parents really matter, and in what dimensions? So you’ll hear about parents’ effect on everything from education and culture cramming to smoking and drinking. Read More »