Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Economist says most parenting info is useless

Emily Oster writes in the NY Times:
Does anything you do as a parent matter? ...

We can stack up evidence from many fields — psychology, sociology, economics — suggesting that parenting, especially early parenting, affects whether children thrive.
I am not sure which of these fields is worse. They all give bad advice when they venture outside their expertise, including this author, who is an economics professor, and not someone trained in parenting science.
My new book, on data-driven parenting, argues that there are many good choices, and that parents should usually feel comfortable making the ones that work for them.
She explains how most parenting advice is not supported by actual data.
Better-off children in the United States do not benefit just from hearing more words, or having higher-quality day care, or having more stable family lives. They benefit from all these things together, and more. Better-off parents spend more money on their children, and this gap has been growing over time. They also make more nonspending investments, like reading with their kids, which is one of the few specific interventions that does seem to matter.
It is funny how she complains about how data do not support some practices, and yet she seems to endorse others that "seem to matter". Where is the data?

Of course wealthier parents spend more money on their kids. They have more money, so they spend more. This is like saying colder climates have more cold days.

I really doubt that kids get much benefit from hearing more words. I am sure higher vocabulary is correlated with higher intelligence, but that does not mean that there is a benefit to saying more words to a child.

This is the flaw in listening to an economist. Economists are preoccupied with money and correlations.But they look at parenting and just find that rich people spend more money, and some successes are correlated with other successes. It is not clear that any of this info discovers any causal parenting advice.

Psychologists are not any better. Most of the so-called parenting experts are psychologists of some sort. But their expertise is in talking about mental disorders, and none of that has any applicability to the 95% of kids who do not have such disorders.

Pediatrians are also full of advice. They have some expertise in treating diseases, but much of their advice concerns swimming, guns, and other subjects that they know nothing about.

So reliable parenting advice is nearly impossible to find.

Another NY Times article recommends:
On the strength of what I’ve learned, I think I’ll find it easy to stick to my guns as a Roger father.
I cannot argue with that!

Update: Here is a recent study that directly addresses the correlation issue. It found that children of divorced parents do better if the parents share custody, even if the sharing plan is ordered by the court.

No comments: