Freakonomics | Study Guide

Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

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Freakonomics | Chapter 5 : What Makes a Perfect Parent? | Summary

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Key Takeaways

Now that the reader understands that correlation and causality aren't necessarily linked—and that people will often choose the easiest explanations for events—the authors present the fact that most parents don't have real understandings of the statistical dangers their children face. They highlight the fact that although economics is a rational science, emotions often trump evidence, and that much of economic theory is about controlling information and power through the use of emotions.

  • In recent decades, an industry has been created around parenting experts, many of whom disagree with one another.
  • A parenting expert's best chance of gaining attention is to "engage" with the emotions surrounding parenting since emotions carry as much weight as rational arguments.
  • Fear motivates many new parents to seek out experts, but parents often fear the "wrong things" and can be poor risk assessors.
  • For example, parents are likelier to keep their child from a friend's home in which a gun is kept than from a friend's home that has a swimming pool, even though far more children drown in swimming pools than are accidentally shot.
  • People are less frightened of risks they think they can control versus those they think they cannot. And they are more frightened of immediate rather than distant danger.
  • Most innovations dealing with child safety involve marketing new products that capitalize on parents' fears of harm to their children, but most products have little effect.
  • While clearly bad parenting—that which is abusive and neglectful—has an impact, the effects of eager, or obsessive, parenting are a different matter.
  • Determining a child's success in areas such as personality or creativity are difficult to measure with data, but school performance can be quantified.
  • In 1980 the Chicago Public School system integrated its disparate student populations by offering parents school choices through a lottery system.
  • The data collected showed school choice was less significant than parents assumed—students who attended a more competitive school didn't necessarily do better than students who attended a less competitive school.
  • An achievement gap begins much earlier than high school and shows up when one analyzes the economic gap between black and white adults.
  • The economic gap seems to result from a black-white education gap, seen early on in the black-white test score gap.
  • The U.S. Department of Education initiated its Early Childhood Longitudinal Study in the late 1990s to measure the academic progress of more than 20,000 children from kindergarten through fifth grade.
  • Analysis of the data shows no significant gap at the point when black and white children enter school, but the gap begins to widen within the first two years because many black children come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Black children typically attend different schools from white children—black schools have a higher rate of nonacademic troubles, like gang problems and minimal parent support, creating a school atmosphere that doesn't foster learning.
  • All students in bad schools—black and white—don't do as well as students in good schools, implying it is this gap, not the white-black gap, that is significant.
  • A child whose parents are highly educated, have a high socioeconomic status, speak English at home, and are involved in the school tends to do well in school, whereas a child with a low birth weight or who is adopted tends to do poorly in school.
  • While having many books in the home can help a child's test scores, parents reading to children every day seems to have no effect, nor does attending Head Start or living in a single-parent home.
  • Although parenting techniques do matter, many determinants in how highly children will score on school tests are decided before they are born because of who their parents are—educated, older, wealthier, involved—not how they parent.
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