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Economist to Parents: Raising Kids Shouldn't Cost That Much

Remember our post from way back when about the cost of raising a child totaling about $250K? Well, economist Bryan Caplan decided to take a closer look as to exactly why (and how we can lower that cost). The Week summarizes:

So... we're spending too much on kids?
"In a nutshell," says Sierra Black at Strollerderby, "Caplan believes that parents are 'overcharging' themselves for their children." By committing to intense tactics like attachment parenting, which requires moms to carry newborns non-stop and respond to their every desire, they're unnecessarily robbing themselves of time. Parents also feel obligated to spend a fortune on lessons of every kind, and an endless stream of educational videos and toys.

And all that expensive attention is really unnecessary?
Yes. Caplan says the bottom line is that nature — the kids' genes — mostly determines who they'll be; the power of nurture, he says, is minimal. Research on twins and adopted children shows that kids raised by highly educated parents with big vocabularies, for example, tend to know more words when they're tiny. But by the time they reach age 12, "the effect of enriched upbringing on vocabulary was barely visible," Caplan says in The New York Times.

Link (Photo: Caitlin Caplan)


"Caplan says the bottom line is that nature — the kids’ genes — mostly determines who they’ll be; the power of nurture, he says, is minimal."

If that's the case then why is the largest statistical determiner of a child's performance, the salary of his parents?
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Jeff I think you might be looking at this the wrong way.

If the parents are wealthy they likely have genes for intelligence and responsible behavior. Naturally their children will inherit the same genes.

You might find surprising and educational facts related to this by researching studies of twins raised apart.
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So now economists are messing with the way we raise children. Raising a child is one of the biggest joys of the world, and it is worth spending anything. Also Jeff is right. The genes do not have time to adapt to the new world order, that is like a century old. It is mostly external factors, luck etc.
And economists, go aply your pseudo-science (like Feynmann calls)to something else. You messed with this world enough to the point of destroying its environmental balance for money. Enough.
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Someone needs to do a little reading on what attachment parenting actually is. http://www.attachmentparenting.org/principles/principles.php

And, I daresay, time spent with one's child is time well-spent. Time at work? Not so much. No one dies thinking they should've worked more.
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"the bottom line is that nature — the kids’ genes — mostly determines who they’ll be; the power of nurture, he says, is minimal."

That is certainly not the scientific concensus. While identical twins raised in different environments share more in common than fraternal twins, there are many factors for which a large percentage of ability cannot be accounted for by genetics. While genes may play a larger role than nature, the influence of nature is far from minimal.
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I agree that parents can spend too much on their children. But the effect of nurture on behaviour is far from minimal. As Jessss said, this man's views go against scientific consensus. He has cited one research paper - that vocabulary normalises by age 12, to support a claim that is not supported by the majority of data. The effects of having a large vocabulary may have disappeared by age 12, but what about age 13? 14? Do we have the longitudinal data to determine the nature of this relationship? What about learning that has nothing to do with words? Does that normalise by age 12? Finally, does the data support the idea that parents undergoing attachment therapy are wasting their time? Or is this an emotional response - an opinion unsupported by data? Most families who take part in attachment therapy are referred to this therapy due to objective observation of a poor relationship between mother and child. There is a clear link between positive parenting, the parental relationship and a decrease in child behavioural problems. As another commenter inferred, "holding your child non-stop" is generally not part of attachment therapy - does Caplan know this? Is he exaggerating for sensational effect?

Clearly we just have a snippet of a larger article here, but based on this summary I would wonder whether Caplan is commenting on something that is outside of his area of expertise.
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"If the parents are wealthy they likely have genes for intelligence and responsible behavior. Naturally their children will inherit the same genes."

Like Paris Hilton, right?
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Genes are important but actually nurture is more important. That is the census among most developmentalists. With the discovery of genes and genetic causes there has been a rising reliance on genetic determinism. But this is illusory. Evolutionary psychologists are not experts in neuroplasticity. And this economist is not an expert in developmentalism.

At roughly age 2, children begin wandering away from their mothers/fathers. If mom/dad is in the kitchen doing dishes, baby will linger around, but will eventually wander into another room. This is exploratory behavior that is also a healthy separation from the parent. However, 2 year olds generally lack object permanence and will begin to cry when they've lost sight of mom/dad.

As a parent, it is your job to raise an individual. Not some-one hopelessly dependent on a watchful eye, or on approval/disapproval. Your job is to raise a self-reliant individual and that means allowing them to explore and hurt themselves on occasion. Pain is the primary sensation by which we learn.
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Ryan S, early experiments by Piaget suggested that object permanence developed just prior to 2 years. Over time, developmental psychologists improved their experimental methodology so that it appeared object permanence developed at around 9-12 months. More recent experiments suggest that it may develop as early as 3 months, but until more experiments are conducted 9-12 months remains the generally accepted stage of development where object permanence develops.

2 year olds tend to have a fairly-well developed concept of object permanence. Developmental psychologists tend to argue that they way 2 year olds react when they lose sight of their parents relies generally on their their attachment style. You may already be familiar, but look up Mary Ainsworth's "strange situation" experiment for more details.
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ted, say what you want about her morals or relative responsibility, but Paris Hilton turned her well-to-do upbringing into a multi-million entertainment entrepreneurial venture in its own right. Clothes, perfume, music, acting ... she's raking it in. Of course the true test is whether or not any of that will be left in 20 years, but Paris Hilton isn't stupid. She knows full well what will sell and panders to her target demographic.
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I was commenting on her intelligence and responsibility. That was the point.

As far as "turning her upbringing into a multi-million dollar yadda-yadda-yadda", that's pretty easy to do when you have multi-millions of dollars to start with, plus advisors and employees doing most of the work for you.
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Since when is a person's life measured by how many millions they rake in? Oh I know, since the industrial revolution, Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays and the individualist-consumer-driven marketting mess we now live in. I think it used to be, your value was an inherent part of being human, and progress meant overcoming yourself for the collective welfare. What made men like Thomas Paine, George Washington and John Adams particularly respectable, influential and note-worthy was the major sacrifices to their own persons carried out for the sake of humanity. Anyone can do anything for themselves given the opportunity and resources. To do things for others completely alien to yourself, that is the real measure of strength.
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@Jesss

Please allow some room for error as I'm not a practicing developmentalist. I am familiar with most of the major works including Jean Piaget. I guess my thoughts were a little archaic, harkening back to Piaget's developmental stages which I knew to be obsolete. To me, it's a bit like referencing the triune brain-model, it's considered obsolete, but it is still extremely useful. I'm of the opinion that there are no "stages" that aren't arbitrary.

With that said, I think my point remains that, as Diana Baumrind might agree, authoritative parenting, that focuses on the child's growth into adult-hood is paramount to any other form of parenting that is geared toward pleasing the child or controlling the child.

Thanks for the update, I'm going to look into the experiment you mentioned ASAP.
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I urge anyone interested in free-thinking, patriotism, progress and inherent value to check into the writings of Thomas Paine. The man was good friends with George Washington before he started to comment on slavery and the oppression of women in American culture. At that point he became a target for ridicule and Washington ex-communicated him. Upon his death, only three people attended his funeral, and they were either black, slaves or women. The people whom he saw as oppressed in early American culture. The very people he sacrificed his reputaton to support. Sure, Thomas Paine is a hero by today's standards, but I assure you, today's heroes are dying much the same way Thomas Paine did, alone.

In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, feared, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot. - Mark Twain
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