Freakonomics
Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt
Contributed by Marshall Raine

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Chapter 5
Summary

The authors start the chapter admitting that parenting is a challenging responsibility which is not only made worse by peers but also mostly by messages presented by parenting experts. Throughout the chapter, Levitt and Dubner seek to answer the question, what makes a perfect parent?, using various research. Despite the conventional wisdom on childrearing shifting by the hour, both experts and parents have their viewpoints about parenting, and these views often conflict with one another (133-134). For an expert to ensure that their theory remains a conventional wisdom, Levitt and Dubner (134) assert that an expert engages public emotions, which is a great enemy of rational thinking. Apparently, fear is a primary component of the responsibility of parenting, and this makes parents more vulnerable to experts’ fear mongering (135). The authors posit that a parent is a custodian of another person’s life, a being who after conception is feebler than a neonatal of almost any other species. As a result, this culminates to more parents spending a lot of the energy being frightened.

However, Levitt and Dubner state that parents are “often scared of the wrong things” (135). To support their assertion, Levitt and Dubner provide a real example supported by data about a parent who in her parental thinking makes the wrong choice by keeping her child away from a neighbor’s house simply because they own guns but allows the same kid to spend a lot of time playing in another neighbor’s house at a swimming pool. Interestingly, the data reveals that the parent's choice is not right at all. In a particular year,  there is one child death for every 11,000 households with pools in the U.S implying that about 550 kids below the age of 10 drown every year. The same data reveals estimates that there are 175 gun related child deaths in one year (135). This justifies the authors’ argument that parents get worried over risks that are beyond their control.

Aside from protecting a child, the authors ask the key question in this chapter, how much does parenting really matter? (139) To respond to their question, Levitt and Dubner use various stories and research to support their assertions. For example, the authors examine a hypothetical case of two boys, whereby the first is a white boy raised in a Chicago community by both parents. The father works in a decent manufacturing job while the mother attains a bachelor degree in education. Not only is the boy content but he also performs well in school, so much so that he is believed to be a math genius in the making. The second boy is black and raised by a single drunkard father in Daytona Beach after abandonment by his mom. The boy's father faces jail term leaving the boy fending for himself. Compared to the black child, it seems clear that the white boy is likely to have a successful life. Thus, the authors question the extent to which one can attribute the two kids’ situation to nurture and genetics. How much fate should each kid attribute to his or her parents? (142).

Data according to Levitt and Dubner helps in understanding whether parenting really matters (143). By utilizing a statistical method referred as regression analysis, economists examine data and seek to find out the relationship/ correlation between particular factors. The authors use sixteen variables utilized and tested by Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) of which eight posit a strong correlation and other eight lacks correlation to the test. The authors reveal several factors that matter in a child's life. Thus, according to Levitt and Dubner, it matters whether a child's parents are educated, if the child comes from high social economic status, if the mother is over thirty when she has her first child, if both parents speak English, if the child's home is filled with books, and if at least one of the parent is an active member of the Parent Teacher Association (154-158). It is worth noting that according to Levitt and Dubner, the following factors had no correlation with a child’s score: the family was intact, lives in a better neighborhood, the mother stayed at home to raise the child, the child attended Head Start, the parents spanked the child frequently, the child watched TV, or the parents took the child to museums (160-161). Levitt and Dubner insinuate that most of the factors that matter when raising a child are often determined long before the child is born. Apparently, Levitt and Dubner argue that who the parents are matters in parenting more than what the parents do (161). Therefore, parenting really matters, however, not in the manner most individuals think.

Analysis

Due to various incentives, experts often portray the extreme of things with the core purpose of getting fame as well as instilling fear. Fear mongering as Levitt and Dubner put it is a successful strategy aimed at making people respond to different types of risks differently. Parenting is a challenging responsibility particularly since parents rely on experts’ information for parenting, thereby culminating to what the authors refer to as information asymmetry. As a result, experts proclaiming to know more about parenting while in reality, as Levitt and Dubner say, experts use information to deceive most parents for their own self-interest. The authors refute the conventional wisdom that white children outperform black children by stating that if given the same conditions, both  would appear equally competitive. Moreover, the authors argue that who parents are matters more in parenting than what parents do. It is therefore not surprising to find children with educated parents performing well in school not because parents raised their child well but more probably because the parents transferred their IQs genetically. Thus, most of a child's future outcome is determined long before a child's conception. Understandably, this might appear reassuring and terrifying to parents: consoling because their decision will likely have an insignificant effect on their kid, but disturbing since their child's future is beyond their control.

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