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.

The Divergence of Fatherhood: Feast or Famine

A recent report by Gretchen Livingston and Kim Parker at the Pew Research Center explores the ways that American fatherhood has evolved over the last 50 years, particularly as it relates to the time fathers spend with their children. Since the mid-twentieth century, fatherhood has split in two distinct directions, they say: fathers either spend significantly more time with their kids, or live totally apart from them.

Fathers who live with their children have become more intensely involved in their lives, spending more time with them and taking part in a greater variety of activities. However, the share of fathers who are residing with their children has fallen significantly in the past half century.

In 1960, only 11% of American children lived apart from their fathers. Today, that share has risen to 27%, while the share of children living apart from their mothers has increased only modestly, from 4% in 1960 to 8% in 2010.

Wolfers on Reuters TV: From a Lost Decade to the Economics of Fatherhood

I’m a bit late in posting this, but thought it worth posting a recent interview which I did with the brilliant and engaging Chrystia Freeland.

The main point is one I’ve explored here before: the fact that we are halfway to a lost decade. We also explore our longer-run malaise, and my concerns that long-term unemployment may impair our economic recovery.

A Reader Debate: Economists-Turned Parents Vs. Parents-Turned Economists

On Friday I speculated that perhaps becoming a parent changed how I approach economics. To broaden the discussion, I posed the following thought experiment: what kind of economists would we be if we learned our economics only after we were parents?

The always-interesting Robin Hanson responded:

I don’t need to speculate – I am exactly that kind of economist. I started econ grad school with two kids, ages 0 and 2, and had no undergrad econ… But none of that makes me doubt the value of neoclassical econ. How could it? First, econ makes sense of a complex social world by leaving important things out, on purpose – that is the point of models, to be simple enough to understand… Having an emotional parenting experience is as irrelevant to the value of neoclassical econ as having a mystical drug experience is to the validity of basic physics.

Will Today's Working-age Women Be Tomorrow's Grandparent Baby-Sitters?

A social norm in Italy appears to be grandparents spending the day taking care of their pre-school grandchildren. Even grandfathers can be seen pushing infants around in carriages and entertaining them in public squares, something very rarely seen in the U.S. But social norms don’t just happen—they can be created and later altered by purely economic incentives. Italy has now increased its retirement age substantially, at the same time that the labor-force participation rate of women ages 25-54 has increased by over 20 percentage points. When today’s middle-aged Italian women have grandchildren it is unlikely that they will retire from their long-time careers, and thus unlikely that they will be available to care for grandchildren full time. The social norm of grandparent care is unlikely to exist in Italy in 25 years.

Why Economics Falls Down in the Face of Fatherhood

I’ve been a dad now for a little less than two years, and I’m still trying to figure out how it is shaping my approach to economics. I think the answer is: A lot.

I learned economics in my twenties, before I became a dad. You know the drill: We learned hard math and complex models. Forget the Greek letters, they are just complicated ways of exploring the basic idea informing economics—that people are purposeful, analytic decision makers. And this idea just seemed entirely natural to me. I had always believed in the analytic self; I was rational, calculating, and tried to make smart decisions. Of course real people don’t use math, but I figured that we're still weighing costs and benefits just as our models say. Or at least that was my understanding of the world.

Today, I’m not so sure.

The Daughter Test and Why Steve Levitt is Angry About the Online Poker Crackdown

As an economist, Steven Levitt says he has an underdeveloped moral compass. In the past, the University of Chicago professor and Freakonomics co-author has tricked colleagues into drinking cheap wine and opined that drug dealers in Sao Paulo would do a better job keeping communities safe.

But his moral compass went spinning when the U.S. recently cracked down on the top three online poker companies, resulting in 11 indictments. The federal government accused PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker of running their operations illegally, including paying banks to secretly process transactions.

“I think it makes no sense at all,” Levitt says. “Most things that are made illegal, everyone agrees on: homicide, theft--there’s a general agreement. And then there are these other activities that fall into a gray area. I think poker is so obviously on one side of the gray area relative to legality that it just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Levitt says he doesn’t usually get riled up over such issues, but then he realized why he got so angry: his daughter.

Parents Are Less Happy. So What?

Bryan Caplan’s new book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, (which he blogged about for us here and here) has people talking about happiness and kids, again. Over at Cato Unbound, my better half Betsey Stevenson takes Bryan to task on some of his claims. It’s worth reading the full essay. Jeff Ely at Cheap Talk says you should take note of her views on the distinction between happiness and utility. Instead, I want to highlight an insight that comes from thinking through a formal framework:

The Nurture of Gretchen Carlson: A Guest Post by Bryan Caplan

Bryan Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University and a blogger for EconLog, has written a new book called “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think.” And he’s been guest-blogging for us about parenting. I had a chance to interview Caplan yesterday for an upcoming Freakonomics Radio show called “An Economist’s Guide to Parenting.” He had a great deal to say on the topic, all of it interesting and much of it provocative. I think you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Kids and Costs: A Guest Post on Twins by Bryan Caplan

Economists usually assume that doubling output more than doubles costs; or as textbooks say, there are increasing marginal costs. So economists naturally expect twins to be more than double the effort, stress, and out-of-pocket cost of a singleton.