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Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids Hardcover – 5 May 2011


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (5 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046501867X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465018673
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.2 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 616,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Tyler Cowen, Holbert C. Harris Professor of Economics, George Mason University "This is one of the best books on parenting, ever. It will bring life into the world, knowledge to your mind, and joy into your heart." Judith Rich Harris, author of "The Nurture Assumption" and "No Two Alike""A lively, witty, thoroughly engrossing book. Bryan Caplan looks at parenting from the viewpoint of an economist, as well as a father. His conclusions may surprise you but he has the data to back them up." Robert Plomin, Medical Research Council Research Professor at the Institute of Psychiatry"I loved this book. "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids" should be required reading for parents--as it will be for my children, who are now having their own kids and getting caught up in the more-work, less-fun traps of parenting covered here. And as a geneticist, I can report that Bryan Caplan has the facts right. Even better, he interprets those facts in a way that will change our view of parenting." Reason"Economist Brian Caplan: Kids can be cheaper than you think ...so maybe you want more of them than you think you want. He makes the case for this controversial proposition at length in his fascinating and well-argued new book "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think."" Fabio Rojas, OrgTheory.net, Associate Professor of Sociology at Indiana University""Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids "is a new book by economist and blogger Bryan Caplan. It makes a simple argument of extreme importance: you should probably have more children. Though this book is written by an economist, it's not another cute-o-nomics pop text. It's a serious book about family planning that's based on his reading of child development, psychology, genetics, economics, and other fields. It's about one of life's most important decisions, and this is what social scientists should be thinking about." "Kirkus Reviews""[T]he author's mission is noble--encouragi

About the Author

Bryan Caplan is a Professor of Economics at George Mason University and blogger at EconLog, one of the "Wall Street Journal's" Top 25 Economics Blogs. He lives in Oakton, Virginia, with his wife and their three children.

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Nigel Seel VINE VOICE on 13 Aug 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Middle-class family sizes across the globe have been declining. Women are having children later, and are having less of them or none at all. In economist Bryan Caplan's view, this is mostly because prospective parents have been caught up in the view that their potential children are `blank slates' - they will underperform or turn to the bad side unless parents invest huge amounts of their own precious time in launching them on an optimal life-trajectory. No wonder kids are such a poor investment!

This view is, however, almost entirely false. The life prospects of your children, their intelligence, personalities and even potential criminality are outside your control, consequences almost exclusively of their genes. If you're from good stock, then almost certainly your kids will turn out all right, whether you over-invest in them or not.

In a field full of diverse opinions underpinned by a library of popular books, it's important to state what's different about Caplan's entry into this crowded field. Quite simply, it's based on real empirical evidence and research (which we technically call `science'). The way to separate the effects of on-board genes and family-upbringing is to look at twins, especially those separated at birth and raised by different families. The other piece of the puzzle is provided by the fate of adopted children, where the child's outcome can be compared with the traits of the birth-parents and also with the adopting family.

What does all this tell us? The genes win hands down. Chapter 2 is the main meat in this book, reviewing numerous `behavioral genetics' studies with the following results:

1. Parenting has little to no effect on overall lifetime health of offspring. Parents don't affect height, weight or teeth-quality.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As you will see I rarely publish reviews as most of the time someone has made the point i was going to make so I didn't see the point in adding anything. In this case I feel I can't NOT review this book. I thought it was incredibly interesting and insightful and original as well. I can understand why people are disappointed but I think if you read some of the reviews you will see the problem with this book, in that it has a very specific audience but that isn't really clear from the blurb.
I am an economist and thus more interested in the empirical evidence and, further, how these studies are formed and what their strengths and weaknesses are, and not just what the results are. From this point of view I thought this book was excellent. I wouldn't suggest this as a parenting book and I think this is where is may disappoint. Even looking at Amazon's other recommendations on this page I feel are not helpful.
Nonetheless, I found it thoroughly convincing and, yes, the author does drop in some of his opinions mixed in with the studies but then, for me, that stops this being a dry thesis and makes it very readable.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By MJ on 18 Jun 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
great book, really nice to hear a different perspective on parenting. I am only halfway through but am enjoying. easy to read and thought-provoking.
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Daisy on 10 Aug 2012
Format: Hardcover
I found this book truly shocking. It is a depressing confirmation of my belief that no life is given to another magnanimously and with unconditional love. This book is an anti-Kantian encomium of quid pro quo ethics and self interest. It teaches that it is morally acceptable to use other human beings to meet your own ends even to the point of advising would-be grandparents on how best to maximise their chances of having grandchildren by using money as an inducement. Does it get any lower than this? It is difficult for me to accept that such morally reprehensible advice is even allowed to appear in print though I remain a firm advocate of the uncensored publication of one's beliefs. What Caplan is proposing is the exertion of one's will on the reproductive freedoms of others. He might as well make the point that it is morally permissible to attempt to dictate another person's sexual orientation. It is particularly galling, given that a generation of "baby boomers", many of whom, I have no doubt, worked hard to accrue their wealth, were also well placed to capitalise hugely from house price inflation. Through this, they were able to provide their children with a standard of living which we can scarcely hope to emulate let alone perpetuate! Caplan appears to be suggesting that such people use this good fortune to dictate, or at least influence the existence and even quantity of their grandchildren. How sad that previously untold wealth has spawned a generation which thinks it has an entitlement, indeed a right, to manipulate and control those who come after it! To me, a married woman in her mid thirties trying to decide whether or not to have children, Caplan's message is disgusting.Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 63 reviews
215 of 224 people found the following review helpful
Clarifying some misconceptions about this book 4 Aug 2011
By Peas on Earth - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading the book, and then read through all the negative reviews. Basically, my sense is that all of those who wrote negative reviews misunderstood what the book is about, and instead focused on single statements taken out of context.

First: This book does NOT tell you that you should just put your child in front of the television all the time, because your parenting makes no difference. It also doesn't tell you that you should feed your kids fast foods, stop monitoring them altogether, or otherwise neglect them, because it won't matter. This is NOT what the book is about. The fast food and TV instances that (defensive sounding?) people seem to cling to like a last straw are given as examples in specific cases: If both you and your child are stressed out, and you're trying to force the kid to do something they don't want to do because YOU think it's important for their future (e.g. practice violin or go to ballet class), and you're stressed and screaming at them to do it, and no one's happy, THAT'S when the book suggests to relax, take an hour for yourself, and let the TV babysit. The idea is that a relaxed, happy parent, is FAR more important to a child's long term well being than an hour of ballet. And any parent who's ever been stressed (i.e., ALL parents), know that their stress does not rub off very well on the kids.

Second: This book doesn't say that parenting doesn't matter AT ALL. It says that REASONABLE parenting, with love, affection, attention, and fun times spent together is sufficient to let your child make the most of their potential. You do not have to be a SUPER parent, just a loving attentive normal parent, to achieve the same results.

Third: This book doesn't say everyone should have more children. The guy is very much a libertarian who believes in personal choices. What the book is saying is, if you think you might have liked more kids (or kids period) but ruled it out for very specific reasons, that he then outlines, THEN, you should rethink those reasons. Those reasons, among others listed in the book, include (1) if you think parenting is all about stress (it says you can be more relaxed, and explains why), (2) if you dread the early years (they pass quickly), (3) if you think that for a kid to be the best they can be, they need ALL of your free time and constant attention (they don't). If you hate kids, it doesn't claim you should have them anyway. If you've always only wanted 2 kids for whatever reason, it doesn't say you should have 3 or 4, it's just asking you to consider why you want 2, and if your reason is one of the ones listed, to rethink it.

Forth: The science stated in the book is SOUND. Those are REAL studies with REAL results. He also quotes twin/adoption studies that show small effects of nurture, but those effects are always small/not replicated in larger studies. You can look up the publications yourselves. ([...]

Fifth: Whatever variations are NOT accounted for by genetics, are probably driven by epigenetics (not mentioned), parental nurture, and social (outside the house) nurture. But those are the SMALLER part of the equation, the variations are driven MOSTLY by genetics.

Sixth and Last: This book does *not* claim, and I repeat, does *not* claim, that all you do as a parent doesn't matter. It absolutely states, gives personal anecdotes, and points out studies that confirm that what parents do DOES matter in the short run, where short run can be years, basically as long as the kids LIVE in the home, or just left it. If you teach your child to be polite, they'll be polite. If you don't, they probably won't be. What the book IS saying, is that in the LONG RUN, into their 30s and later, THAT is when your upbringing with begin to fade away. It doesn't matter how you bring up your kids, they're likely to end up with roughly the same earning power, roughly the same IQ, roughly the same level of happiness, and a couple of other measures, whether or not you insisted on taking them to ballet class when they objected, or to practice team sports even though they hated it. And THIS is why the book says (see point 1), RELAX. Have FUN with your kids, rather than stress them and yourself out over activities neither one of you is enjoying. Give them your attention when you're happy and relaxed, and if you need to let them watch TV for an hour to get some quiet time for yourself so that YOU can relax, and then spend QUALITY time with them, allow yourself to do that. You won't be hurting your kid's future income.

I am giving the book 4 only stars because I think the chapter of mock conversations is ridiculous and boring and feels like a space filler, because I think he didn't always do a great job of emphasizing some important points, and because I think he should have at least mentioned epigenetics, which likely explain most of the variations in personality between identical twins raised together (basically, conditions in the womb determine later gene expression, and twins never experience the same conditions, one is always more squeezed that the other).

Lastly, I'd like to mention that I also think his idea for how potential grandparents could maximize odds of getting grandchildren (or more grandchildren) is amusing and makes some very good points.
95 of 107 people found the following review helpful
Selfish Reasons to Buy This Book 5 April 2011
By Zachary Gochenour - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I recommend this book to anyone who has ever thought about having children.

The central message of this book is based in simple economics. Right now you have some sense of the costs and benefits of having children, and you use this idea to determine the optimal number of children for your family. The book explains how and why most people are wrong about these costs and benefits: children are almost certainly less costly than you think, and they are probably at least as beneficial as you think.

Whether or not you're convinced to have more kids, this book contains practical parenting advice. Key to idea that having children isn't as costly as you think is that most parental effort intending to change a child's long-term outcome is wasted. Caplan cites decades of research in behavioral genetics to make his case, to borrow one of the book's best metaphors, that children are much more like plastic that responds to pressure in the short term and eventually returns to its original shape than they are like clay.

The curious but skeptical reader should be glad to know that Caplan devotes a considerable portion of the book to anticipating and responding to criticism. In the months of pre-release debates about the book I have not seen one criticism that isn't addressed in detail within the text. So even if the idea of the book seems nearly implausible to you, I still recommend giving it a shot: it probably addresses your objection directly.

On a personal note, reading this book convinced me that I should want more kids than before. For that reason I think it will end up being among the most influential books I've ever read in my life, without exaggeration. I hope it does the same for you, because (as also noted in the book) your children aren't only good for you, but they're good for the world. So go forth, get the book, be fruitful, and multiply.
86 of 100 people found the following review helpful
Bryan Caplan Say Relax 6 April 2011
By Philip Maymin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you do nothing else, just read the introduction. It summarizes everything, and is excellent. The book goes straight to the premise and evidence without any dancing or pre-selling. And the book concludes with hypothetical conversations with various real-world critics, which are also fun to read. More books should be structured in this way.

And in the middle, you get one jaw-dropping result after another that can be basically summarized as: RELAX. Your day-to-day parenting may have some short-term consequences but in the long-run, your children will basically turn out just like you. Want proof? You turned out like your parents, didn't you?

The book can be summarized with two results: one is that parental nagging or reminding or anything else DOES NOT AFFECT DENTAL HYGIENE.

This is pretty remarkable.

If you can't control your kids dental hygiene, a process that you can monitor and schedule and confirm -- meaning, if no matter what you do, the health of their adult teeth will ultimately be determined by genes anyway, unless of course you knock them all out -- then what hope do you have of affecting their grades or their IQ or their future income? Turns out those things too are genetic.

So Caplan's conclusion is, since your actions matter very little at the margin, just relax. Have some more kids and just hang out. Don't stress out.

I've read Freakonomics and Parentonomics and The Idle Parents and a bunch more. This is the clearest evidence-based parenting book that your actions don't matter (though the last two chapters of the original Freakonomics make essentially the same point about the importance of parenting essentially ending at birth, they do not go to the next logical step of recommending you have more kids).

Which brings us to the second most important result: when asked what kids would change about their parents, the most unpredictable answer for the parents was that they would want their parents to have less stress, a better attitude, more fun, etc. So have some vacations without the kids, or at least date nights, and do things with the kids that you find fun, rather than "sacrificing" for their sake. If you're not really enjoying yourself, neither are your kids.

So bottom line: chillax. And procreate.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Good Basic Premise But Overlooks Nuances 25 Sep 2011
By CrimsonGirl - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Overall, I agree with Bryan Caplan's basic premise that babies are blessings and that the hyperparenting popular among middle-class Americans today is not necessary for the child to have a decent outcome. It very much saddens me to hear all the anti-child rhetoric today and worry about the possibility of a "demographic winter" in this country as is already happening in Europe and Japan. Many families probably should take seriously Caplan's advice to have just one more child than they were originally planning. He rightfully points out that for all the doomsaying about supposed "overpopulation" since the time of Malthus, human ingenuity has actually made our environment cleaner in many ways and also allowed us to increase living standards around the world.

Where I think Caplan's book falls short is in overlooking the primary reason I believe women today are having fewer children: they are starting much later than in the past. I got married one month shy of my 22nd birthday and had my first child at age 25. Because I started my family early by today's standards, I can have a larger family while still managing to spread them out such that it doesn't become overwhelming. My college friends who are having their first baby at 35 won't be able to have 3, 4, or 5 kids unless they are VERY closely spaced. That's hard on a woman from both a physical standpoint as well as an emotional one. I can't imagine being middle-aged and having a large number of very young children- talk about exhausting even if one is a laid-back parent like Caplan advocates. Honestly, I don't think Caplan has a clue the toll that pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding takes on a woman. He may think that women are being "myopic" in deciding not to put themselves through all that a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time, but that's easy for him to say as a man. I would love to know if Caplan's wife shares his sanguine view.

The other factor that I believe Caplan overlooks is the dramatic increase in the number of special needs children. Autism rates have skyrocketed from 1 in 1,000 children in the 1970's to 1 in 91 in 2009. While some of that is probably due to better diagnosis, much of that increase is real. Cerebral Palsy has similarly increased from 1 in 667 children to 1 in 278. Other disabilities are also on the rise, probably because there are so many more preemies born and modern medicine has been able to save a much higher percentage of very premature babies. The demands of having a special needs child and the risk of future children also being disabled weighs heavily on the minds of the parents and could tip the balance towards limiting family size. And even families with neurotypical children likely have friends, relatives, or acquaintances with a special needs child. The awareness of the risk could lead someone to decide not to roll the dice but just stick with the existing healthy offspring.

Despite these overlooked factors, I do recommend reading "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids". Caplan makes a good case for being more laissez-faire in one's parenting and to consider the long-term benefits of having additional children rather than just the short-term hassles. Recommended.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Interesting perspective but also lacking in some ways 16 Aug 2013
By Karbush - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I originally wrote this in response to another reviewer (H Wright) who was unhappy with the author's perspective on adopted kids. I was so certain I would see more reviews that shared his/her viewpoint...and am a little shocked, or perhaps disappointed to see they don't exist.( I think this means that people with more contrary perspectives, don't even bother to read the book!)I decided I wanted a larger audience and to rate the book myself, so have turned that response into a review of its own.

I have a biological son and an adopted son. They are both good kids but in different ways...and I can really see the ways that my adopted son (6yo) is more empathetic, compassionate and generous than my biological son (11 yo), who would have thought? My older son, who is white, is a great guy in his own ways, he is mellow, gentle and easy going---but not nearly as tuned into others as is my younger son, who, btw, is African American and whose mom was for many many years a drug addict and thief (though I think she is doing better now). One day I woke up and went into the LR and the tv was on, but I could barely hear it. My adopted son, who is 6, said--well I didn't want to wake you up. These little considerations happen frequently, and it isn't that my biological son is mean, it just seems like the nuances of someone else's possible needs don't come across his radar to nearly the same extent. He will rarely share a bit of candy with me, or let me have a french fry off his plate, things my adopted son says yes to without thinking or hesitation. And I love my older son to pieces, the two kids are just different. (The younger, because he reads and understands emotions so well, can use them to, occasionally, manipulate, whereas my older son never does--that is the other edge of the sword). I have noticed these traits in my two boys pretty much from toddler-hood on.

I don't know, I enjoyed this book--as a science teacher, science major and someone who likes arguments that are not fuzzy. But I was VERY disappointed that his chapter that went over all the intricate ways to have more children if you are infertile, never mentioned adoption. There are millions of kids with criminal parents who are great citizens, and millions of adopted kids whose parents were drug addicts, who grow up to be amazing adults. I am sure the author would agree--but what is statistically significant, translated into real numbers and real kids, is often meaningless. My older son, can also suffer from a lot of anxiety and in some ways seems a bit more fragile than my adopted son, though I suspect, intellectually, he will always outshine the younger. There are so many characteristics that go into making a 'great' kid. Which ones do you choose to value?

This is a good book in many ways, but something is definitely missing from the equation. Now that I am getting older (49) and see how much lonelier life can feel in a fast paced modern life where friends seem to come and go (I live in the SF Bay area--a playground of fun things to do but kinda impoverished when it comes to deep, long-lasting relationships) I do wish I had more than two kids. But, alas, I did find the early child-rearing years, from about 1-4 or 5, so, so painful that it was hard for me put the long-term ahead of my short term misery (which was interspersed with moments of joy and love). Seven is the golden age, kids become so much more independent while also still being incredibly loving and fun. My 6.75 year old is already there, for the most part. I also wish I had started building my family earlier.

In any case, read the book critically--it does make a lot of great points about over-parenting, but I don't think the author is the definitive authority by any means--an interesting perspective.
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