Bryan Caplan is the anti–Tiger Mom. “Calm down and have more kids” is his message. A professor of economics at George Mason University and a contributor to the EconLog, Caplan is author of the book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. He talks about the kids and the book with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: A child is like a rubber band? That hurts.
BRYAN CAPLAN: Many people take it that way, but I say the glass is half full. Once you accept your limited long-run influence on your child, you can focus on enjoying your journey and living every day together to the fullest.LOPEZ
: How can selfishness ever be good?CAPLAN
: As Adam Smith showed over two centuries ago, selfish behavior often
makes the world a better place. My claim is that having more kids is good for you, good for your extra kids, and good for the world. So why not go for it?LOPEZ
: Being a parent is work. Isn’t it just irresponsible to insist otherwise?CAPLAN
: I don’t deny that being a good parent is work. I just say that it’s less work than most people think.LOPEZ
: Is it because we don’t talk about the “fun” aspects of parenting that young people walking the streets of SoHo seem to be much more comfortable not getting married and committing at most to a dog?CAPLAN
: Maybe. Of course, many of these young people are just delaying marriage and children rather than deciding against them.LOPEZ
: You recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal
that “twin research has another far more amazing lesson: With a few exceptions, the effect of parenting on adult outcomes ranges from small to zero.” Surely you exaggerate.CAPLAN
: I do not exaggerate. But don’t take my word for it. With GoogleScholar, you can check most of my references from your home computer. My summary is not controversial among people familiar with the data; the problem is just that people familiar with the data rarely communicate with the broader public.LOPEZ
: Does that mean people need to stop blaming their parents in therapy for all their mistakes and bad habits?CAPLAN
: Absolutely. Parents do
have a substantial effect on the parent-child relationship — how their kids feel about and remember them. But parents have little or no effect on overall happiness or personality. If people in therapy had grown up with very different families, they would probably be blaming that
family for all their mistakes and bad habits,too.
This is actually widely recognized in modern therapy. There’s been a big shift away from “Tell me about your childhood” to “Tell me about the problems you face right now.”LOPEZ
: Are we not having more kids because we’re stressed by them or because we still think the world is overpopulated? Have you seen New York, Washington, or Los Angeles traffic?CAPLAN
: The stress is the main reason, but some people do feel guilty about contributing to overpopulation. I argue that parents should feel proud, not guilty. The benefits of population far outweigh the costs. And many of these costs are due to bad incentives, not population per se
. When you’re stuck in a traffic jam, you shouldn’t think, “There are too many people.” You should think, “Driving during rush hour shouldn’t be free.”