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.
Parentonomics was original published by New South (Australia) in August 2008 and then by MIT Press in February, 2009. It has since been translated into Japanese, Portuguese, Korean and Mandarin.
Media and Reviews
- Tim Harford (Financial Times) and here and here.
- Justin Wolfers (Freakonomics, NYT)
- Dan Akst, Wall Street Journal
- Andi Diehn, ForeWord Magazine
- La Tercera (Chile)
- Peter Martin (Canberra Times)
- Nicholas Gruen (Club Troppo)
- Andrew Leigh (Blog)
- Sacha Molitorisz (SMH) and here.
- Robert Merkel (Larvatus Prodeo)
- Eric Crampton (The Christchurch Press)
- Herald Sun (Melbourne)
- Life Matters (ABC Radio National) (Listen here)
- The Age (and here)
- Sydney Morning Herald
- The Courier Mail
- AFR Boss Magazine (also named one of the Best Books of 2008)
- BNet Interview
- BBC World Service Business Daily Interview
- NPR’s Planet Money
- NPR’s All Things Considered
- National Post (Canada)
- Vancouver Sun
“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 it will help you stay one step ahead of your kids.”
Professor Barry Nalebuff, Yale University, author of Thinking Strategically
“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.”
Professor Susan Athey, Harvard University, winner of the 2007 John Bates Clark Medal
"What distinguishes Gans’s approach is not just his regard for economics, but his disregard for social mores."
Tim Harford, Financial Times
"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."
Professor Justin Wolfers, Freakonomics Blog, 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