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Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think
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Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  1,165 ratings  ·  237 reviews
We've needlessly turned parenting into an unpleasant chore. Parents invest more time and money in their kids than ever, but the shocking lesson of twin and adoption research is that upbringing is much less important than genetics in the long run. These revelations have surprising implications for how we parent and how we spend time with our kids. The big lesson: Mold your ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published April 12th 2011 by Basic Books (first published February 18th 2011)
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Average rating 3.51  · 
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 ·  1,165 ratings  ·  237 reviews

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May 12, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: own, parenting
This is a bad book. To summarize the author's point is this message - it doesn't matter what you do as a parent. The kids will grow up the way nature intended them to grow and nothing you do has any influence. So why bother? You, the parent, can just relax and stop investing all this time and energy in raising your kids. That way, you can have more kids. Its not a problem at all to put them in front of TV, feed them take-out food, and do whatever makes your life more convenient. Nothing you do m ...more
Eduardo Santiago
May 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'm a save-the-planet kind of guy: the way I show my children my love is by not bringing them into this world. So why in blazes would I read this book? Two reasons: 1) I respect Caplan based on his Myth of the Rational Voter, and 2) fuck confirmation bias. To my surprise, I enjoyed and learned from this book.

Caplan's main point, as others have mentioned, is “don't sweat it”. To a large extent, you don't have that much say in how your kids turn out: in the unsolvable nature/nurture debate, he pre
Apr 24, 2011 rated it it was ok
Interesting but not quite interesting enough. Some good ideas with lots of horrible flaws. This book is a mishmash. It also feels like one of those Atlantic articles that gets blown up to book length and suffers for it.

The subtitle tells you exactly what Caplan is going to attempt to convince you of. Unfortunately he does a pretty poor job. His basic thesis is essentially "parents in modern, middle class American spend too much time on 'child rearing'." His primary argument to convince you of th
Jan 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book is great. Some reviewers disparage it saying that it claims that parenting efforts are meaningless and that kids will grow up according to the dictates of their genes. This is not the author's argument. He argues (with adequate support) that EXCESSIVE parenting efforts are meaningless. The advanced preschools, all the music lessons, all the sports teams, and all the extracurricular activities that require so much time and commitment detract from your ability to enjoy your children and ...more
May 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book has changed my life. I think the title is unfortunate because it can give people the wrong idea, but I’m glad I saw past that misnomer. It came at just the right time, too. I have recently been thinking a lot about all the parenting books I’ve read and wondering just how effective their techniques really are. I mean, if “effective” means that they work to change the targeted behavior, then I would say most techniques that make it into a published book probably fit the bill. But I’ve fo ...more
Margaret Heller
Jul 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: babiesomg
I heard Bryan Caplan on the Freakonomics podcast and knew I had to read this book. He posits that, contrary to modern popular opinion, it is actually pretty fun to have kids, and it's more important in the long run to be nice to yourself and your kids (which includes making sure they behave themselves so they don't make you miserable) than to inflict a lot "for your own good" activities and rules. This is based on a body of twin adoption studies, and suggests that in the long run, nurture genera ...more
Jan 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
While I was looking to be persuaded that having more kids would be a great idea, I found Bryan Caplan's arguments and the scientific research he uses to back them up to be unconvincing. I am not schooled in statistical interpretation or in genetic research, but I looked at the numbers he presents as proof that nature completely overrides nurture and parenting has absolutely no effect, and I came up with somewhat different conclusions, from the exact same numbers. Although it also seemed to me th ...more
Apr 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
I was excited to read this book after hearing an interview of the author. The thesis of his book is that parenting style does not matter – at least not for a middle-class family in the developed world. Extensive twin and adoption studies show that parents have almost no effect on who their children become as adults. Genes have a small to moderate effect, while unknown variables (or “nonshared environment”) account for the rest. So instead of focusing on their children’s future success, the autho ...more
Skylar Burris
Jan 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: sociology, parenting
"Selfish Reasons to Have Children" more or less makes the following argument: (1) Modern day parents make parenting costlier than it has to be (in terms of time, energy, money, and worry). (2) They don't need to do this because, as the research shows, the way you parent doesn't really influence the way your kids turn out as adults. (3) If parents didn't do #1, more people would be willing to have more kids, and (4) More people should have more kids.

I agree with (1), though this concept was alre
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
The basic premise of this book is "most of your kids' outcome is genetic, so don't sweat it." Caplan draws on twin and adoption studies to prove that most of the things we want for our kids (health, success, happiness) is determined from birth.

(Incidentally, I think he should alter this book for a dating book, too. He has one off-hand comment where he says that women who are attracted to "bad boys" are setting themselves up for another dimension of disappointment when their kids share character
Steve Carroll
Jun 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. Best parenting book I've read to date. Even if you don't plan to have kids this book presents a simple compelling argument that you are probably sucking all the fun out of parenting for no reason. To summarize, twin research suggests that on most of the dimensions that parents actually care about and for any reasonable parenting style that wouldn't be interpreted as abuse, nature completely destroys nurture in the long run. Parenting does matter in the short term so modify your style ...more
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was intrigued by the title of this book and my friend Mary's review. One of the main takeaways is that as long as you provide adequate parenting (good enough that an adoption agency would approve), there's not a large benefit to going above and beyond in terms of extracurriculars and stressing about TV time. And if you can lower your standard of parenting (for average middle-class American homes), you might enjoy parenting enough to have more children.

I liked how the book was reassuring, but
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
One of the big maxims of parenting that I (we) took into this whole adventure came from a couple whose rationality and values we really respect—plus I just like the way they summed up a key idea: “the goal of parenting is to produce a successful adult.”

Heavily drawing on a fascinating review of genetics versus nurture studies, The author convincingly argues that while you can hyper-invest in parenting in the short term to affect your child, in the long term, genetics have an inordinate say in th
Sep 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book. I think it's interesting to think about deciding the number of kids, from an economic perspective. The title makes it sound like something it's not, which is a book that's trying to get you to have as many kids as physically possible. Rather, it's just trying to get you to think about your parenting differently- it doesn't have to be as painful as we sometimes make it. For example:

If your kid doesn't like to practice or play their instrument, you have to constantly nag
Aug 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Ahhh...I can breathe easier as a parent now and my kids will, too. This book has done more to cut down on the second-hand stress my kids and husband receive than anything else I've read or done lately. By cutting down on the second-hand stress, I'm not only making my life happier, but the trickle-down effect takes hold and their lives are happier as well.

Parenting doesn't need to be as painful or difficult as we make it. This book is about striking a balance and feeling good about it. Somehow, r
Sep 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
I heard the author interviewed and was intrigued with his ideas, but I didn't think they would change the way I saw the world. I checked it out as a fun read and for parenting inspiration, and because I basically agree with the title. I was surprised when I read it how disturbed I was by the twin studies that he used to assert that much of what we do as parents has little lasting effect. Most of how our children turn out as adults is due to genetics and their own free will. The best things we ca ...more
Jon Senn
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Caplan presents a bundle of data suggesting that in most ways that parents try to improve their children's lives, they have surprisingly little lasting impact by the time the children become adults (at least normal first-world parents). Basically "LOL nothing matters," so, he argues, today's parents should make their jobs much, much easier.

The data he presents is eye opening, though I think he slightly overstates his case (some of the effect sizes which he considers small, bordering on negligibl
May 27, 2012 rated it did not like it
I love the title and the synopsis of this book. Kids can me fun, don't stress about being a bad parent and just enjoy your children before they grow up in to the people they were going to be anyway. Great advice. But he alienated me the whole way through his argument. Example; one of his reasons to have more kids was essentially that your wife would be doing all the work anyway. I didn't trust his research and he sounds like a jerkstore. ...more
Mar 08, 2015 rated it did not like it
-This book is the man's version of the Three Martini Playdate. Three Martini Playdate is funnier though.

-Claims that shortness isn't contagious and neither is low income. Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Groups and How They Shape Our Lives shows the complete opposite and is much more convincing.

-Mindset--anyone can learn anything is far more convincing than this DNA determinism.

Here is the blog post I wrote about this book ( it takes this book more seriou
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I started writing the review and it got quite long and I noticed it had nothing to with the book but simply my own ideas of parenting. So I've split the "review" in two. The first part is the actual review. The second half outlines my idea of parenting.

This is a terrific book. I would suggest all expecting parents to read it. Even if you disagree with the thesis of the book (which I summarize in the bullet points below) the logical structure of the book makes it possible for you to determine at
Oct 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a pretty good argument that within a limited set of circumstances (middle class first world families) there isn’t much to be gained from the absurdly over intensive parenting of the past ~40 years, and that by relaxing expectations, it becomes reasonable to have marginally more children. He presents arguments that future-you would prefer to have had more children (probably valid for many people), but some of his arguments about the net utility of “left side of bell curve” people to socie ...more
May 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wish there were more books like this - picking a relevant, interesting topic, bringing together research from multiple disciplines (genetics, education, psychology and economics) in a non-dogmatic, well-written way.

I was familiar with the thesis and most of the results from twin studies, so this was more like a nice summary / refreshers.

I think there is still some room for parental effect studies on dimensions not captured here - but I also believe that on the metrics discussed here, the resea
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The truly interesting part of this book is the one about behavioral genetics, which allows future parents to feel relaxed about the outcome of their parenting (if they're not complete morons to their children). Definitely, it gives you a different perspective about being a parent, and truly encourages us to bring more kids to the world. ...more
Jul 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019
Different than I was expecting. I wouldn’t recommend it. I found the central argument compelling - twin and adoption research shows that moderate variations in parenting don’t have much influence on outcomes in adulthood. When the book reached beyond that central premise, though, I found the arguments a little thin, and many weren’t based on evidence. Another book that probably should have been an article.
Kater Cheek
Sep 30, 2011 rated it liked it
This is a great title, in that it enticed me to pick this up, and it's a bad title, because it would be more accurately titled "good reasons to have more kids." Most of this book is what you think it is--reasons why having more children is a good idea. Some of it, however, is a trickle of the much awaited (by me) backlash against hyper-vigilant paranoid overparenting. If you put this book and that Tiger mom book in the same room, they'd probably bind together with subatomic force, that's how opp ...more
Stacy Boyd
A very freeing argument: genetics and individual environment mean that kids will turn out how they will turn out and parents' efforts have little long-term effect.

Love the argument about the power of parenting. Parents can at least control what kids remember about them. Kindness and respect, enjoyment of family time, etc. will be the memories of your kid's childhood. Love the quote from Judith Harris: "People sometimes ask me, 'So you mean it doesn't matter how I treat my child?' They never ask
Tiffany Wacaser
Jul 08, 2011 rated it liked it
I gave this book five stars because I thought Bryan Caplan utilized far more interesting arguments than any author I've ever read to convince people that they CAN have more children than they think. I think books that are pro-family and in particular counter-act arguments about small families being better are important to read. (Of course I'm biased!)

First, Bryan Caplan, an economics professor, looks at the family in economic terms--applying economic principles to families.
Secondly, the author
Apr 14, 2011 rated it did not like it
Seriously! I couldn't make it past page 37! My husband heard part of an interview by the author on the radio and thought the subject matter sounded interesting. So did I. It's not that we need any convincing of the premise; we have 6 children (among which are a set of twins) whom we adore. But, for a man who has barely begun child rearing to try to promote a parental strategy merely from an economics standpoint is absurd. If I was nervous about having more children the first chapter would have s ...more
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: parenting
This book is supposed to be for everyone who is at least mildly interested in kids, but even though I generally agree with the conclusions, I think this is probably actually only useful to women who want kids and need help persuading their white libertarian male partners. It's also yet another book where the main points would be sufficiently conveyed in a blog post or two.

The biggest problem is that Caplan writes his argument as though his audience will accept it as a math proof. I am someone wh
Max Nova
Feb 26, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: parenting
I feel conflicted about giving this book 2 stars. On one hand, it's written in an awkward, pandering tone and many of the arguments are very hand-wavy. On the other, this book may be responsible for a huge increase in my quality of life if/when I have kids (now isn't that a terrifying thought?).

The book's basic premise is that modern parents "over-parent" their children and make both themselves and their children unhappy. Caplan tries to convince the reader that the nature/nurture debate has bee
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Bryan Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He received his B.S. in economics from University of California, Berkeley and his Ph.D. from Princeton University. His professional work has been devoted to the philosophies of libertarianism and free-market capitalism and anarchism. (He is the author of the Anarchist Theory FAQ.) He has published in American ...more

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“In 1984, Science published a study of almost 15,000 Danish adoptees age fifteen or older, their adoptive parents, and their birth parents. Thanks to Denmark’s careful record keeping, the researchers knew whether any of the people in their study had criminal convictions. Since few female adoptees had legal problems, the study focused on males—with striking results. As long as the adoptee’s biological parents were law abiding, their adoptive parents made little difference: 13.5 percent of adoptees with law-abiding biological and adoptive parents got convicted of something, versus 14.7 percent with law-abiding biological parents and criminal adoptive parents. If the adoptee’s biological parents were criminal, however, upbringing mattered: 20 percent of adoptees with law-breaking biological and law-abiding adoptive parents got convicted, versus 24.5 percent with law-breaking biological and adoptive parents. Criminal environments do bring out criminal tendencies. Still, as long as the biological parents were law abiding, family environment made little difference. In 2002, a study of antisocial behavior in almost 7,000 Virginian twins born since 1918 found a small nurture effect for adult males and no nurture effect for adult females. The same year, a major review of fifty-one twin and adoption studies reported small nurture effects for antisocial attitudes and behavior. For outright criminality, however, heredity was the sole cause of family resemblance.” 1 likes
“In the winter, strangers are often shocked to see me wearing shorts.” 0 likes
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