Dialogues with Richard Reeves

Emily Oster on COVID, kids and parenting

August 16, 2021

How should we approach decisions about children, especially our own? That's the question that motivates my guest today, Emily Oster. She is a Professor of Economics at Brown University and currently a visiting Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Through her books and newsletter, Emily has become something of a data guru to many parents confused by the torrent of conflicting advice and "studies show" headlines; she describes her work as "part memoir, part meta-analysis" 

We talk about Emily's new book, “The Family Firm: A Data-Driven Guide to Better Decision Making in the Early School Years”; how to go about decisions such as bedtimes, extracurricular activities, and of course, when to buy your child a phone. We spend some time on how to evaluate risks, opportunity costs and counterfactuals in the parenting enterprise, and in particular the trade-offs between risk and independence. We also discuss her recent work on the impact of COVID on children and education; Emily has assembled a unique dataset on this question, and became a strong advocate on the need to return quickly to in-person learning, not just for or even mainly for education reasons, but for mental health ones. 

I found this a thoroughly stimulating and enjoyable conversation - my only regret is that I wasn't able to read Oster's work when my own kids were younger! One of the things I like is the way she explodes lots of myths about the impact of various decisions on your children; which has the effect of lowering the stakes, and hopefully giving parents the chance to relax just a bit. 

Emily Oster

Emily Oster is a Professor of Economics at Brown University and currently a visiting Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Previously, she held a position at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Her expertise is wide ranging, but is best known for her work on the economics of family and parenting. Oster’s newest book, along with her book Cribsheet, are New York Times bestsellers, not least because of her expert ability to translate economic data to the public. 

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The Dialogues Team

Creator & host: Richard Reeves

Research: Ashleigh Maciolek

Artwork: George Vaughan Thomas

Tech Support: Cameron Hauver-Reeves

Music: "Remember" by Bencoolen (thanks for the permission, guys!)

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