Parentonomics
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Parentonomics

An Economist Dad Looks at Parenting

By Joshua Gans

What every parent needs to know about negotiating, incentives, outsourcing, and other strategies to solve the economic management problem that is parenting.

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Summary

What every parent needs to know about negotiating, incentives, outsourcing, and other strategies to solve the economic management problem that is parenting.

Like any new parent, Joshua Gans felt joy mixed with anxiety upon the birth of his first child. Who was this blanket-swaddled small person and what did she want? Unlike most parents, however, Gans is an economist, and he began to apply the tools of his trade to raising his children. He saw his new life as one big economic management problem—and if economics helped him think about parenting, parenting illuminated certain economic principles. Parentonomics is the entertaining, enlightening, and often hilarious fruit of his “research.”

Incentives, Gans shows us, are as risky in parenting as in business. An older sister who is recruited to help toilet train her younger brother for a share in the reward given for each successful visit to the bathroom, for example, could give the trainee drinks of water to make the rewards more frequent. (Economics later offered another, better toilet training solution: outsourcing. For their third child, Gans and his wife put it in the hands of professionals—the day care providers.) Gans gives us the parentonomic view of delivery (if the mother shares her pain by yelling at the father, doesn't it really create more aggregate pain?), sleep (the screams of a baby are like an offer: “I'll stop screaming if you give me attention”), food (a question of marketing), travel (“the best thing you can say about traveling with children is that they are worse than baggage”), punishment (and threat credibility), birthday party time management, and more.

Parents: if you're reading Parentonomics in the presence of other people, you'll be unable to keep yourself from reading the funny parts out loud. And if you're reading it late at night and wake a child with your laughter—well, you'll have some guidelines for negotiating a return to bed.

Hardcover

Out of Print ISBN: 9780262012782 256 pp. | 8 in x 5.375 in

Paperback

$15.95 T ISBN: 9780262514972 256 pp. | 8 in x 5.375 in

Not for sale in Australia and New Zealand.

Reviews

  • I'm sure parents will recognize many of the parenting dilemmas Joshua Gans has come across. Each of these vignettes is amusing, often touching, and always told in a very tender way. Yet the economist in Joshua can re-frame these stories to find the underlying economics, and perhaps some useful parenting insights as well.

    Justin Wolfers

    Freaknomics Blog

    The New York Times

  • Parentonomics brings a thought-provoking and sometimes laugh-out-loud perspective to the challenges faced by every mother and father.

    Sherrill Nixon

    Sydney Morning Herald

  • Parentonomics challenges conventional parenting by applying economic theories to the messy reality of raising kids.

    Susie O'Brien

    Victoria Herald Sun

Endorsements

  • A delightful read that shows how being a parent changed one economist, and how being an economist provided insight on being a parent. Now if only I could get my two-year-old to eat her peas.

    Susan Athey

    Harvard University, winner of 2007 John Bates Clark Medal

  • Dr. Spock meets Freakonomics. Parenting will never be the same. Forget about inflation and unemployment. Here Gans uses economics and game theory to tackle really important topics, such as toilet training and fussy eaters. Parentonomics lays bare what most sleep-deprived parents only dream about. Gans may not help you become a better parent, but he will help you to stay one step ahead of your kids.

    Barry Nalebuff

    Milton Steinbach Professor at Yale School of Management, coauthor of Co-Opetition