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DUBNER: Can I just say, baby elephants are so cute that they should be able to stay baby for a long time.

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.

DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: Do we really need family?

DUCKWORTH: “I cannot come to Thanksgiving this year, and I cannot stand you.”

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DUBNER: Angela, a listener named Erin writes in to say the following: “My relationships with my parents and siblings have become very strained over the past few years. It has me thinking a lot about family relationships.” Take a seat now, Angela. Big, provocative question. “Do we need family?” Erin asks. “What causes us to place so much emphasis on relationships with people we didn’t choose to be with but happen to know by chance?” Well, by chance, and D.N.A., and environment, and so on. “Are these relationships worth the work? I love the times I’ve had with my family, but the relationships have become so toxic recently, it has me thinking I should just cut ties and move on.” All right. So Angela, obviously, this is a tricky question, but let’s start with the data. What does the psychological literature say to Erin? Do we “need” family?

DUCKWORTH: I think the psychology is relevant, but also evolutionary biology, which is a sister discipline. I think it’s pretty clear that every culture around the world — and throughout recorded history — has had some notion of family. And there’s been variation on that, and what is a family, but —.

DUBNER: So, you’re saying it’s old and tired and we should get rid of it. That’s what you’re saying.

DUCKWORTH: Well, well, well, well, well, I think when you find things that are, like, across time and culture, you start to wonder whether there was a reason for that functionally and even maybe, again, from an evolutionary perspective, that somehow survival is promoted by a family structure. Right? So, just to define what family is — and I’m sure scholars debate this, but at least you can make a distinction between kin and non-kin. If you are kin, you are genetically-related in some way, and of course, that can be a lot or a little. You’ve got fourth cousins, but you also have parents and children. The argument in, I think, the evolutionary biology circles has been whether we favor our families because of the selfish-gene hypothesis. It’s almost like the genes are in charge of the person, and the genes just want to propagate themselves. So, the thing to do is to get the person to be nice to other organisms that happen to have the same genes. 

DUBNER: And also, then you get into defending and, like, sacrificing for your kin that you would never do for someone else. “Kin selection,” it’s called, I believe. By the way, do you know spoonerisms? You know, where you flip the first sound of a two-word phrase? The best spoonerism ever, I think still, was spoken by some old, dead person in England who was complaining about members of Parliament, or maybe House of Lords, who called the offending speaker a “shining wit,” which, you could imagine if you flipped the first sounds of those —. So, “kin selection” is also a good one. “Sin collection.” Kin selection means, like, I would probably sacrifice my life for someone who is blood-related to me. And if you murder someone, then that might actually be collecting a sin along the way. But the biological imperative within family, even long after procreation, is incredibly powerful? Like, have you thought about, when your kids were little, if someone tried to hurt them, like, what you would do to that person — what you would sacrifice?

DUCKWORTH: The parental instinct in particular. Right? You know, I don’t know whether we feel the same way about our fourth cousins.  

DUBNER: Definitely not my fourth cousins.

DUCKWORTH: But the point is that we must have some evolutionarily-conserved — some kind of, like, “it’s in our D.N.A.” — desire to be affiliated with, and to rely upon those who have blood ties. Those who have, now we would say “genetic ties.” Now, that said, we all then know people who had adoption, like, in their life. Maybe they adopted kids, or maybe they were adopted. It’s a bond which seems to be as strong as a blood tie. And then, there’s, like, stepchildren, and stepmothers don’t get, you know, a great role in most fairy tales and most Disney movies. But, you know, Jason has a stepbrother and stepsister. We just had dinner with his stepbrother and wife last night. And they do feel like siblings. So anyway, the point is, like, families are a thing. They’ve been a thing across culture, across history. There seems to be an evolutionary reason —.

DUBNER: Cultural and economic reasons. I mean, we know those upsides. But just because we’ve done something for millennia doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do it.” Right? We also did slavery for millennia!

DUCKWORTH: You asked for descriptive first and then normative and prescriptive second. So, descriptively, all cultures have some notion of family, and I don’t think we’ve even fully explored that, but before we get to the end of that exploration, I mean, absolutely, that doesn’t mean it’s normative — as in optimal — or prescriptive.

DUBNER: So, if we do want to jump ahead a little to Erin’s question — like, she says, “Do we need family?” I mean, in a way, I think part of the answer is an obvious “yes.” Like, to be born and raised — humans aren’t very good as babies. Like, babies can’t drive, and —.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, we have one of the longest childhoods of any creature.

DUBNER: Who else has long ones?

DUCKWORTH: I think there are other animals — like, whales or something. Maybe elephants.

DUBNER: Can I just say, baby elephants are so cute that they should be able to stay baby for a long time. In fact, if I could buy a baby elephant that stayed a baby, I would have one.

DUCKWORTH: Well, that’s good to know, Stephen. I think the longer the childhood, the argument has been made by Alison Gopnik and others, the more it must be a species that its core capability is learning. If you’re going to kind of, like, have everything hardwired, you may as well just, like, go right to adulthood. Just grow as fast as you can, and just be mature. But we have this prolonged immaturity, it can be argued, for a reason, which is that, you know, we are the curious species. So, you want to jump ahead and say, like, “Do we really need a family?” I mean, let’s expand the notion of family beyond genetics. But I think we can agree that evolution does care about our genes. So, there has to be some evolutionary pressure to favor our own children — but also our sisters, and brothers, and our cousins, and then again, with diminishing favoritism, those who are related to us. I’m not saying that we can’t have care for other people, but, like, let’s just first establish that the evolutionary angle on this is, you know, is real.

DUBNER: And do you think that it matters anywhere near as much today as it did 10,000 years ago? 

DUCKWORTH: Good question. I think what evolution has given us is an inclination to have special relationships in our life that are often, like, my genetically-related sister or brother. But look, now that we have 23andMe, all kinds of discoveries are, are coming out. Not only, like, “Oh, my gosh, I didn’t know I had a half-sister,” but in some cases, “I didn’t know that the sister that I have is actually not genetically-related to me.” There are these discoveries where you are raised in a family together with somebody else that you have treated like a sister. You thought they were your sister. Turns out they were not. You know, those people don’t, like, then suddenly say, like, “Oh, now you’re not my sister. Like, I don’t care about you.” You love your sister. So, I think what we have — 10,000 years ago and today — is this genetic blueprint to have family relations, to have ties that are different from friendships and different from acquaintances. And I think maybe there we can say to Erin, “Do I think you need to have relationships in your life that are different from mere friendships or acquaintances?” And there I would say, yes. We need to have family relationships — whether they’re the ones that came with our family tree or our genetics, I think that, you know, maybe not, but what I want to say is that, like, the key difference to me between a family relationship and a friend relationship is contingency. Joking aside, when I think about my kids, I can’t think of anything they would do where I would truly, ultimately reject them. Now, you can come up with some bizarre things, but, like, there is this non-contingency to our relationship, and I think everybody needs to have those, like, “don’t worry, I got you no matter what” relationships in their life.

DUBNER: So, I appreciate that and see why you would say that. But I also hear Erin. Like, what I hear between the lines of what she’s writing is: “I was raised in the same house as these people. They’re driving me crazy — not short-term, but long-term. I don’t like them.”  

DUCKWORTH. In a serious way. Not just like, “Oh, my God, you’re driving me crazy!”

DUBNER: Yeah. She said, “The relationships have become so toxic recently.” So, maybe this is a recent development, maybe it’ll fade, “But it has me thinking I should just cut ties and move on.” So, you know, the data on family estrangement is famously slippery. People tend to probably not want to talk about it. There is this research by Karl Pillemer, who is a professor of gerontology at Weill Cornell Medicine, and he has found that 27 percent of Americans 18 and older had cut off contact with a family member. So, might be a parent, might be an offspring, might be a sibling.

DUCKWORTH. Twenty-seven percent? That is really high.

DUBNER: It seems high, but Pillemer says that this is probably an underestimate since some people are reluctant to acknowledge the problem. But if you look at politics, there’s a professor of politics and social science at Sarah Lawrence named Samuel Abrams. He wrote something recently for the Survey Center on American Life, which is a project of the American Enterprise Institute. It’s called “Polarization in American Family Life is Overblown.” But then, when he gives the numbers, I’m not sure I quite agree with the headline. Just over one in 10, or 11 percent, of Americans surveyed, I guess, say that they ceased relations with a family member because of their political ideas.

DUCKWORTH: That’s a lot.

DUBNER: I thought it was quite a lot, because that’s just politics. It also notes, it’s interesting — which side of the political aisle would you say is more likely to stop talking to a family member because of something that’s been said about government and politics?

DUCKWORTH: You know what? I’m going to go with the left being more like, “I’m walking away. I can’t stand you.”

DUBNER: Ding. Ding. Ding. Let’s see what the scale is here. The percentage of each group who say they have stopped talking to a family member because of something political: very liberal is 24 percent. So, one in four people out there have in, I guess, recent years walked away. Somewhat liberal: 11 percent. And then, when you get to conservative, it’s more like 7 and 9 percent. What do you think that’s about? 

DUCKWORTH: That’s so interesting. I was, um, in San Diego recently with a, a friend who — she would identify herself as moderately conservative. And she was complaining to me about how her more liberal friends were — I think she thought it was kind of ironic — kind of intolerant of her, you know, like, moderately conservative view. They didn’t want to hear it. They got really emotional. So, I wasn’t surprised when you asked me that question that it was maybe more the far-left members of a family who say, “I cannot come to Thanksgiving this year, and I cannot stand you.”

DUBNER: I’d love to hear from listeners about this. So, to our listeners, I would say: if you have a story or an opinion about choosing your family — whether that’s friends or others — versus sticking to the genetically-assigned family, let us know. Send us a voice memo. Just use your smartphone. Do it in a quiet place. Tell us your name if you want. Send it to us at, and maybe we’ll play it on a later episode of this show.

Still to come on No Stupid Questions, Stephen and Angela discuss whether good friends can ever really replace family.

DUBNER: I think Friendsgiving is when you hate your family, but you still want to have a turkey.

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Now, back to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about the significance of family.

DUCKWORTH: You know, somebody that we’ve talked about, Stephen, briefly, in a conversation that you may or may not recall is a, a good friend of mine named Austin.

DUBNER: He’s one that had the very bright lights in his kitchen, I recall.

DUCKWORTH: He was the one with the bright lights. Yes. I remember, I had to have spinal-fusion surgery, and this is now — oh, my gosh, I think going back more than two decades. So, I was an adult, but I was going in for scoliosis surgery — something you typically have when you’re a teenager. And, you know, when I thought to myself, “Who can I ask to come and basically, like, wipe my butt for, you know, a week?” Literally, because, you know, when you have spinal-fusion surgery, they, like, put —.

DUBNER: Let’s move on.  

DUCKWORTH: Put you into a cast, and, like, you can’t do anything. Surgery-fusion surgery is invasive. So, I first asked my parents. They were apparently already booked on a cruise. So, my dad pointed out that this was nonrefundable.

DUBNER: The moral of this story is: if you want to keep your family intact, always buy refundable tickets. 

DUCKWORTH: I think that’s good advice, generally. But now, let’s go back again. I think we’re, like, late ’90s, and I’m astonished, honestly.

DUBNER: Astonished that your family isn’t going to be there for you, you mean? 

DUCKWORTH: I’m astonished that my father and my mother were going to go on a cruise instead of coming out to San Francisco, which is where Jason and I were living, and taking care of me.  

DUBNER: Okay, wait. I need to know a few more things. First of all, where was the cruise to? Maybe it was once in a lifetime.

DUCKWORTH: I don’t know. I think, like, you can’t really say that about cruises. They don’t really offer once-in-a-lifetime, like, “we’re only going to the Caribbean this one time” cruises.

DUBNER: But wait, you had a husband, Jason. Why couldn’t he, uh —?

DUCKWORTH: I know. That is a very good point. I was thinking that as I was just beginning to relay this anecdote. I’m like, “Wait, what about Jason?” Now, we had just gotten married. He had just started this job in San Francisco.

DUBNER: And he had a no-butt-wiping rider in his contract, you’re saying.

DUCKWORTH: Well, you know, I didn’t know how long it was going to be that I would need somebody to, yes, attend to my daily functions. But also, like, when you have spinal-fusion surgery, like, it’s not clear how soon you’re going to be able to just, you know, heat up some soup and, like, feed it to yourself.

DUBNER: Do you think Jason even knows that you had spinal-fusion surgery? Or did Austin just take care of it? 

DUCKWORTH: He did take note of the fact that I was in the hospital, and he, he did come see me, by the way. And I also want to tell you what actually happened. And my parents come out, you know, they’re sort of exonerated from their initial cruise reluctance. So, I’m sure I got mad at my parents, and I’m sure I, like, slammed the phone down. And I told Austin about this in our next conversation, and he said, without hesitation, “I’ll come out there, and I’ll take care of you.” That is a family kind of thing to say. You know, there’s no benefit to me, but there is this, like, noncontingent loyalty that I have to you. Now, that ended up not being necessary, because my dad and mom did come out after all. I don’t know whether they got a refund on the cruise or not. But I, I think the idea that we have some family relationships — that you know that you can call your mom and dad, or you know that you can call your fourth cousin, or in this case, Austin — what this says to Erin is: whether or not that’s with your “kin” in the genetic sense or with somebody else, like, yeah, don’t we all need those kind of unconditional relationships? 

DUBNER: I hear you, and I don’t think Erin or I would argue with you, but you’re kind of making her point for her, which is that: yeah, Austin was not your family, and Austin was the one who came through. And I guess the bigger question is that: of all the functions that families serve — and some of them are purely biological, and caring, and so on — once you’re an adult, is there anything to say that friends or others can’t serve all those functions? That’s the question. 

DUCKWORTH: That’s interesting. And as you might have guessed, we don’t have random-assignment experiments on this. I mean —.

DUBNER: Well — no, we don’t.

DUCKWORTH: Do we? I was like, “Wait, what?”

DUBNER: You know, there was a very interesting phenomenon in Israel.


DUBNER: Yeah. Kibbutzim. When people lived on a kibbutz, their children were housed, often, collectively. There was the children’s house. You know, when I first heard it, I thought, “Oh, my God, they’re raised away from their parents.” It wasn’t really like that. In fact, the kids would spend a lot of time with their parents, but the fact is that the kids lived with kids and went to bed at night with other kids. It was a sort of enlightened, modern attempt of collectivism. But it was ultimately considered to be not very successful, if I have my memory right. 

DUCKWORTH: Is that right? Like, they still exist, but in smaller number? 

DUBNER: There are still kibbutzim, but I think there are very few, if any, that have a children’s house where the kids live together, then the parents will live in their own house. A big part of the intent of this experiment was to see what collective education looked like. I am reading here from — there’s an Israeli psychologist, Ora Aviezer, who said: “Collective education through this lens of the kibbutzim can be regarded as a failure. The family as a basic social unit has not been abolished in kibbutzim. On the contrary, familistic trends have become stronger than ever, and kibbutz parents have reclaimed their rights to care for their own children. Collective education has not produced a new type of human being, and any differences found between adults raised on and off the kibbutz have been minimal.” So, it’s not quite the randomized-controlled experiment you were talking about, but it’s an interesting wrinkle.

DUCKWORTH: It’s relevant. And I think what it says is that maybe we have a family instinct. I mean, that’s the point I want to make. We have this instinct to develop a small, small group of people that we say, you know, “I want to have this unconditionality.” There’s this research by Alan Fiske, the sociologist. He wants to say that there’s different kinds of human relationships. You know, some are kind of tit-for-tat. Like, you know, when you buy a car and you sign a contract, like, “I’ll do this, and you do that. You give me the car. I’ll give you the money.” It’s a transaction. Then we also have relationships that are hierarchical. Like, “I’m the boss. You’re the person I’m employing. I’m going to tell you what to do, and then, like, you do what I say.” But he, he says that a family relationship is different, because it’s as if you were, like, part of the same organism. You know, when you’re in a family, nobody keeps tabs of, like, who drank the milk, and how much you drank, and am I allowed to drink it because, you know, you’re higher than me? It’s the milk in the refrigerator! So, I think this family instinct we have — to have some small group of people in our lives who serve that function, and we feel like what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine, I’m pro-family instinct in that sense.

DUBNER: For the record, let me say, I am too. I would do anything for my immediate family members, meaning my wife and kids. I would jump in front of any bus, train, bullet, et cetera, et cetera. But when I observe my behavior in my, I guess, extended family — my original nuclear family, my siblings, you know — I would do a lot for them, but it’s not the same intensity by a long shot. If I were to ask you if the extended family has, to some significant degree, outlived its usefulness — we’re not a tribal society anymore. We don’t rely on our families for childcare as much anymore. The economic ties are weaker. Mobility has meant that many people live far from their families now. Would you say that, yeah, indeed, the family as it’s been conceived over most of history has really changed to a significant degree, and perhaps it should even change more? Because that’s where Erin is going.

DUCKWORTH: I don’t think I would ever make prescriptive, like, “I think this is the way family ought to be.” But I will say this: I think a little bit of reluctance is a good thing. I mean, shouldn’t we hesitate before we say, you know, “I’ve chosen to be estranged?” And I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, but it’s a little bit like divorce. Like, is divorce sometimes the right answer? Yeah, of course.

DUBNER: But it’s also a one-way street.  

DUCKWORTH: You should just have some hesitation. It shouldn’t just be like, “Should I have peanut M&M’s or plain M&M’s? I don’t know.” I think we should feel like there’s a cost.

DUBNER: I hear you. So, here’s the thing. I think it’s incredibly important to be asking this question, because I think the world has changed on this dimension a lot more than we like to admit it has changed. And sometimes, when you’ve got a cultural norm that you’re so accustomed to, you don’t really question it or challenge it. And so, I think Erin is doing that in some small way, and I really appreciate that.

DUCKWORTH: So, things have, perhaps, shifted. The question that I would like to ask you is — there’s a paper that — I kind of follow his work. So, Nick Christakis. And I know you know who he is. He’s a sociologist. He’s also a physician, and he’s at Yale. He studies altruism and social networks. So, there’s this paper with a lot of co-authors. I should say, the first author is Jayson Jia, who’s a professor of marketing at University of Hong Kong Business School. It’s about families, but I’m going to ask you a question that gets to, you know, what this paper is about, which is: how many people in your family, Stephen, in your nuclear family — so you and Ellen, the two kids — how many people do you know in common? In other words, there’s a person who’s outside your family, so they’re non-kin, but you and Ellen happen to both know them. Or, you know, you and Anya both know me, for example. That is what, you know, these authors would call “triadic embeddedness.” But it’s basically the idea that some families are more kind of, like, structurally-embedded in the larger society. They have all of these ties that multiple people in the family share in common. Do you have a sense? I don’t think you have a number for me, but like —.

DUBNER: I would say, not huge, but not tiny, but the ones that more than one of us do know, we met through one or the other. So, I’ve become, let’s say, very good friends with the father or mother of one of my kids’ friends. And that’s a nice triadic-ish relationship, but it didn’t happen separately. It’s only because of them.

DUCKWORTH: And that’s okay. I think that counts, by the way.  

DUBNER: But I don’t think we’re extraordinarily “triadically embedded,” if that’s the phrase that we’re supposed to use.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, that’s unlikely to go viral, by the way. You know, “triadic embeddedness.”

DUBNER: But the implication is that triadic embeddedness is a good thing —.

DUCKWORTH: Well, let me tell you what this paper found. They had data that was from China. There was an earthquake that I’m sorry to say I hadn’t heard of — the Ya’an earthquake. And this is now, I think, in 2013. But they had cell-phone data on the families in this area. And they were able to do all this, like, fancy-schmancy social-network analysis where they know who’s related to whom. And I think the take-home of the analysis is that the more structurally-embedded your family is, the better. And in particular, what was predicted by this structural embeddedness is that you actually do a lot more communication within the family. Like, right after the earthquake, people were calling each other like crazy. And they could track, like, who called whom. And basically, it’s a good thing to have this embeddedness, not only because you tend to call people within your own family in a coordinated way, but you’re able to mobilize your non-kin social connections. So, again, I don’t think families are going to go away, but I think understanding that, like, beyond that family relationship, even if it’s not genetic, but that kind of unconditional reciprocal relationship, there is a benefit of non-family.  

DUBNER: Yeah. Speaking of the benefits of non-family, I mean, look: I don’t spend half an hour, or 45 minutes, every week having this conversation with any of my siblings, or cousins, or whatnot. I’ve got four sisters. I like them all very much. I even love them. But if we’re talking about true preferences and how I choose to spend my time, you know, Angela, you’re the most sisterly sister I’ve got, for what that’s worth.

DUCKWORTH: Well, I think the idea that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family is, you know, like, it is what it is. And yet somehow we don’t have any traditions where we get together with our friends once a year to have turkey and stuffing.

DUBNER: Friendsgiving!

DUCKWORTH: Is Friendsgiving a thing? What is Friendsgiving? Is that, like, from “Seinfeld”?  

DUBNER: Oh, Friendsgiving is such a thing. I think Friendsgiving is when you hate your family, but you still want to have a turkey.

DUCKWORTH: That’s not from, like, “Seinfeld,” or “The Simpsons,” or something, right?

DUBNER: It could be from something.  

DUCKWORTH: You didn’t make it up.

DUBNER: I’ve never made anything up in my life, except for the word “penultamour.” 

DUCKWORTH: Which is like Baltimore, but the second-to-last Baltimore or something? Like —. 

DUBNER: No. “Penultamour” is the person you date before the person that you marry.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, amour! Not, like, as in “Baltimore,” but “amour” as in love.

DUBNER: If you had a penultamour in Baltimore, it would be a penultamourimore.

DUCKWORTH: Well, I don’t know where Friendsgiving comes from, but I think the idea of having friends that are like family is kind of awesome. And I do think having friends who have, like, kind of crossed the line —.

DUBNER: Like Austin.

DUCKWORTH: Like Austin. Honestly, Austin will be my family, like, forever. Like, I would do anything for him, too. And even if he gets, like, annoying, you know what I mean?

DUBNER: Wait, did you say even “when” he does, or even “if” he does?

DUCKWORTH: I said “if.” I hope I said “if.” He’s not annoying currently. But if he becomes annoying — you know, don’t you feel like this a little bit about your, like, oldest friends? There’s just an indelible kind of relationship there. It’s like, you’re just going to be friends forever.

DUBNER: Angela, I think the moral of the story that I’m drawing from this conversation for Erin is that she should proceed with caution, because leaving your family is not necessarily irreversible, but it can cause some real scars. But really, the better idea would be for you to send Erin Austin’s email address, because it sounds like he’s pretty substantial in the quasi-family department, and he could probably take care of anything that she needs from a familial perspective without being a blood relative. And if that isn’t going to work, I would suggest maybe we set up a cloning program of Austin.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Project Clone Austin. I like this idea. And from what I can educe about Erin from one short email and what I know about Austin from 30 years of friendship, I think it’s a match made in heaven.

DUBNER: You had me at “educe.”

No Stupid Questions is produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here is a fact-check of today’s conversation.

In the first half of the show, Stephen and Angela wonder which animals, besides humans, have the longest childhoods. The answer varies based on the animal’s life span and the age they reach maturity. Elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal — 22 months. Males leave the herd when they’re between 12 and 15 years old, and females stay for their lifetime — about 70 years. Female orcas likewise stay with their mothers for their entire lives — about 90 years. Great apes are also known for their extended childhoods. Female orangutans can live to age 50 and don’t usually begin reproducing until age 15.  Mothers nurse children until they’re about five years old. But the real standout here is the Greenland shark, an animal that doesn’t reach sexual maturity until it’s around 160 years old. Greenland sharks have been known to live to about 400.

Later, Angela refers to U.C.L.A. professor Alan Fiske as a sociologist. Fiske is actually not a sociologist, but rather a psychological anthropologist.

Then, Stephen says that divorce is a one-way street. This is true for most people who choose to end their marriages, but according to research by the late Nancy Kalish — a professor of psychology at California State University — about 6 percent of couples who divorce end up remarrying one another, and 72 percent of those reunited couples ultimately stay together.

Also, Angela wonders about the origins of the term “Friendsgiving” and recalls that it might be from the N.B.C. sitcom Seinfeld. She was likely thinking of Festivus — a holiday that Seinfeld character George Costanza’s father, Frank Costanza, creates as a reaction against the commercialization of Christmas. But the holiday actually predates Seinfeld. Dan O’Keefe, one of the writers on the show, says his own father invented the tradition when O’Keefe was about 8 years old, and he grew up celebrating the holiday. Friendsgiving, on the other hand, is not associated with Seinfeld. According to Merriam-Webster, the portmanteau became part of the public lexicon around 2007. It rose to prominence in 2011 when the idea was referenced in a Bailey’s Irish Cream ad campaign and became a plot point in the reality series The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Many people who celebrate Friendsgiving do so in addition to Thanksgiving.

And finally, near the end of this episode, Stephen asked Angela if she’d just said “when” or “if.” Angela replied, “I said ‘if.’ I hope I said ‘if.’” A close listen to the tape reveals that she did, in fact, say “if.”

That’s it for the fact-check.

Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear your thoughts on last week’s episode on first impressions. We asked listeners to send us their stories about first impressions that turned out to be wrong. Here’s what listener Justine had to say:

Justine BENJAMIN: Hi, I’m Justine from San Jose, California. And a first impression that I had was about a person, a man, that I met when I started entering the dating field. This gentleman was living at home, was working at his parents business because he was in between jobs, and drove a 1994 Ford Mustang. All red flags for me. But I proceeded to date him, just thinking it would be fun. Turns out the reason why he was living at home was cultural. You don’t leave until you’re married, and even when you get married, you might just stay with the family still. Turns out the reason why he was working at his parents’ business was because he quit his job when his father had a stroke to take care of the business so it wouldn’t fold. I can’t give any reasons or excuses for the 1994 Mustang, but nonetheless, we’ve been together for 14 years, married for nine of those, have two amazing children. So, sorry first impressions — you were wrong!

That was Justine Benjamin. Thanks so much to her and to everyone who sent us their stories. And remember, we’d still love your thoughts on genetic family versus chosen family. Send a voice memo to Let us know your name or if you’d like to remain anonymous. And you might hear your story on an upcoming show!

Coming up on No Stupid Questions: How important is it to have a role model who is “like you”?

DUCKWORTH: There is no one like me, except me.

That’s coming up on No Stupid Questions.

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No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and Freakonomics, M.D. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne and Jeremy Johnston. Our staff also includes Neal Carruth, Gabriel Roth, Greg Rippin, Julie Kanfer, Morgan Levey, Zack Lapinski, Ryan Kelley, Katherine Moncure, Jasmin Klinger, Daria Klenert, Emma Tyrrell, Lyric Bowditch, and Alina Kulman. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Thanks for listening!

DUCKWORTH: I think it’s actually, technically, “triadic-embeddedness structure,” which is definitely not going to go viral.

DUBNER: T.E.S., as we call it.

DUCKWORTH: That’s good. Good marketing.

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  • Samuel Abrams, professor of political science at Sarah Lawrence College.
  • Ora Aviezer, professor of psychology at Tel Hai Academic College.
  • Nicholas Christakis, professor of social and natural science at Yale University.
  • Alan Fiske, professor of anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
  • Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Jayson Jia, professor of marketing at Hong Kong University Business School.
  • Nancy Kalish, professor emeritus of psychology at California State University, Sacramento.
  • Karl Pillemer, professor of human development and gerontology in medicine at Cornell University.



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