Online Reading Onpaper

We have six weekly contributors here at EWED and I try to read every single post. I don’t always read them the same day that they are published. Being subscribed is convenient because I can let my count of unread emails accumulate as a reminder of what I’ve yet to read.

Shortly after my fourth child was born over the summer, I understandably got quite behind in my reading. I think that I had as many as twelve unread posts. I would try to catchup on the days that I stayed home with the children. After all, they don’t require constant monitoring and often go do their own thing. Then, without fail, every time that I pull out my phone to catch up on some choice econ content, the kids would get needy. They’d start whining, fighting, or otherwise suddenly start accosting me for one thing or another – even if they were fine just moments before. It’s as if my phone was the signal that I clearly had nothing to do and that I should be interacting with them. Don’t get me wrong, I like interacting with my kids. But, don’t they know that I’m a professional living in the 21st century? Don’t they know that there is a lot of good educational and intellectually stimulating content on my phone and that I am not merely zoning out and wasting my time?

No. They do not.

I began to realize that it didn’t matter what I was doing on my phone, the kids were not happy about it.

I have fond childhood memories of my dad smoking a pipe and reading the newspaper. I remember how he’d cross his legs and I remember how he’d lift me up and down with them. I less well remember my dad playing his Game Boy. That was entertaining for a while, but I remember feeling more socially disconnected from him at those times. Maybe my kids feel the same way. It doesn’t matter to them that I try to read news articles on my phone (the same content as a newspaper). They see me on a 1-player device.

So, one day I printed out about a dozen accumulated EWED blog posts as double-sided and stapled articles on real-life paper.

The kids were copacetic, going about their business. They were fed, watered, changed, and had toys and drawing accoutrement. I sat down with my stack of papers in a prominent rocking chair and started reading. You know what my kids did in response? Not a darn thing! I had found the secret. I couldn’t comment on the posts or share them digitally. But that’s a small price to pay for getting some peaceful reading time. My kids didn’t care that I wasn’t giving them attention. Reading is something they know about. They read or are read to every day. ‘Dad’s reading’ is a totally understandable and sympathetic activity. ‘Dad’s on his phone’ is not a sympathetic activity. After all, they don’t have phones.

They even had a role to play. As I’d finish reading the blog posts, I’d toss the stapled pages across the room. It was their job to throw those away in the garbage can. It became a game where there were these sheets of paper that I cared about, then examined , and then discarded… like yesterday’s news. They’d even argue some over who got to run the next consumed story across the house to the garbage can (sorry fellow bloggers).

If you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, then I’ve got nothing for you. It turns out that this works for us. My working hypothesis is that kids often don’t want parents to give them attention in particular. Rather, they want to feel a sense of connection by being involved, or sharing experiences. Even if it’s not at the same time. Our kids want to do the things that we do. They love to mimic. My kids are almost never allowed to play games or do nearly anything on our phones. So, me being on my phone in their presence serves to create distance between us. Reading a book or some paper in their presence? That puts us on the same page.

College Major, Marriage, and Children Update

In a May post I described a paper my student my student had written on how college majors predict the likelihood of being married and having children later in life.

Since then I joined the paper as a coauthor and rewrote it to send to academic journals. I’m now revising it to resubmit to a journal after referee comments. The best referee suggestion was to move our huge tables to an appendix and replace them with figures. I just figured out how to do this in Stata using coefplot, and wanted to share some of the results:

Points represent marginal effects of coefficient estimates from Logit regressions estimating the effect of college major on marriage rates relative to non-college-graduates. All regressions control for sex, race, ethnicity, age, and state of residence. MarriedControls additionally controls for personal income, family income, employment status, and number of children. Married (blue points) includes all adults, others include only 40-49 year-olds. Lines through points represent 95% confidence intervals.
Points represent coefficient estimates from Poisson regressions estimating the effect of college major on the number of children in the household relative to non-college-graduates. All regressions control for sex, race, ethnicity, age, and state of residence. ChildrenControls additionally controls for personal income, family income, employment status, and number of children. Children (blue points) includes all adults, others include only 40-49 year-olds. Lines through points represent 95% confidence intervals.

Many details have changed since Hannah’s original version, and a lot depends on the exact specification used. But 3 big points from the original paper still stand:

  1. Almost all majors are more likely to be married than non-college-graduates
  2. The association of college education with childbearing is more mixed than its almost-uniformly-positive association with marriage
  3. College education is far from uniform; differences between some majors are larger than the average difference between college graduates and non-graduates

Farewell to the First Normal Semester in 3 Years

Today as I gave my last final and took my kids to a huge school party, it struck me that things are finally back to something like 2019 levels of normality.

2020 was a lost cause, of course. I had high hopes for 2021 that vaccines would immediately get us back to normal. They did get my school back to fully in-person by Fall 2021, but not really back to normal, partly thanks to the variants. My students were out sick more than normal, and I was out watching my sick kids more than normal, as every cold meant they would be home until the school was sure it wasn’t Covid. Toward the end of the Spring 2022 semester worries were subsiding, and my state was pretty much fully re-opened, but things still weren’t really back to normal. Student attendance and effort were still way below normal, partly from the lingering effects of Covid, and partly from celebrating its end- partying to make up for lost time (and cheering on a great basketball team).

Fall 2022 finally felt like a basically normal semester. I still see the occasional mask, still hear from the occasional student out with Covid, and still have one kid missing 2 school days with every cough (policies stricter than 2019, but much relaxed from the days when both kids were at schools that could have them miss 5+ days with every non-Covid cough). Overall though student attendance and effort are back to what seem like normal levels. Up to Spring 22 I’d have students just disappear for a few weeks, not in class, not answering e-mails about why they weren’t showing up or completing work, needing lots of help to get on track once they finally reappeared. This Fall that didn’t happen; in my Senior Capstone everyone turned in a quality paper basically on-time and without me having to chase anyone down for it. Also, everyone just seemed happier now that their stress levels are back down to the baseline for college students.

This semester was nothing special- and that was beautiful.

EWED Recommends Gifts 2022

Every year I request posts about stuff the writers actually use. My logic is that a great wave of stuff-buying is coming, so let’s try to highlight the good items and reduce holiday waste.

For Children

James recommends buying a whole bounce house. It might seem like something you could only afford to rent once a year, but the price of buying one you can use at home is now less than $300. In a big room, you can even do this indoors. Be the Christmas hero. Check on the space requirements.

I recommend two games that help kids learn to read. These are a great complement to Kindergarten or 1st-grade reading assignments. With enough confidence, you can convince kids that these games are toys and not “a book?”.

Sight Word Swat

Zingo sight words

SPOT IT is a card game that takes up almost zero space in the house or car. No reading or numeracy required and yet fun for adults!

Phantom Toll Booth A book for school-aged kids.

Little Tikes Easy Store Picnic Table with Umbrella, Scott says it’s worth the price if you have young kids around the house. Let them do messy food or activities there.

Food

Sounds like a good gift for adults who like to cook. Scott found a relatively affordable Black Rice.

Office to Garden

Compressed gas for computer maintenance. See Scott’s explanation on PC care.

Velcro Cut to Length – Zachary suggests: “Do you have a phone charger beside your bed that keeps falling on the ground? Just Velcro it to the nightstand lamp and it will stay exactly where you want it.”

Minute Soil is better than the dirt you have. This makes growing plants more fun and easier. Sounds like a great gift to wrap up for someone who likes gardening.

Set for Life

I agree with Zachary that cordless men’s hair clippers are a great investment.  

Barge All Purpose TF Cement Rubber – Praise from Scott: “Unlike most “superglues”, it will work on rough or porous surfaces, including situations like leather where flexibility is needed.”

Qwix Mix windshield – Windshield wiper fluid concentrate that is easy to store at home for when you need it.

Stoner Car Care 91154 10-Ounce Tarminator Tar, Sap, and Asphalt Remover Safe on Automotive Paint and Chrome on Cars, Trucks, RVs, Motorcycles, and Boats

Lastly, Mike has some correct life advice. Give yourself what your future self would want. For example, if you enjoy video games but don’t exercise enough, then try setting up an exercise bike right in front of your video games. That way you’ll get your cardio in and not have regrets the next week.

Bounce Houses are Surprisingly Cheap

Last year was the first time I saw a family that owned their own bounce house and just set it up in their living room. At the time I thought, what a lucky rich kid, that must cost at least a thousand dollars. But my wife looked into it and found out that bounce houses are surprisingly cheap these days. She got our kids this one last Christmas, its currently going for $234 on Amazon:

The kids love it and its still going strong ten months later, despite substantial use from kids and the presence of two sharp-clawed cats. It was certainly a bigger hit than the other major gift we tried last Christmas- telescopes are surprisingly hard to use.

Joy Recommends Stuff for Kids 2022

I recommend two games for teaching kids to read their “sight words”. In early school grades, learning sight words can mean doing boring homework or rote memorization of flash cards. Instead use

Zingo Sight Words

and

 Sight Word Swat 

These are both fun interactive games that will get kids reading and talking about sight words. Zingo Sight Words is easier, so I recommend starting there. It’s a lot like bingo with a fun plastic dispenser. Kids can do the matching task to win the game even if they are not yet confident with reading.

Sight Word Swat is a little more advanced but good for expanding vocabulary past the first 50 words. It’s fast paced and fun. Someone yells out a word and then two players compete to “swat” with a plastic mallet the correct “fly” that has the word. Also, if the kid isn’t competitive, they could swat the correct word without time pressure.

Next, I’ll recommend a game that will not remotely feel like an educational exercise. “Spot It” is a genius card game. The tin is small, so you can store it easily and travel with it. The game is easy to teach to new friends because it’s just matching visual patterns. Spot It requires zero reading – not even reading numbers. So, a kid as young as 4 could potentially jump in and start trying to get matches. One of the great things about Spot It is that you play a series of mini games. It’s not the nightmare of a Monopoly game that could take multiple days to finish. So, if you are a parent with limited time to spend on card games, you can parachute in and out quickly.

All of these items are under $20 and potentially all of them could make fun holiday gifts, although your mileage may vary for gifting books and getting smiles. Personally, I bought the sight word games when we needed them for learning instead of trying to make them Christmas gifts.

I had been looking forward to reading the Phantom Tollbooth with my kids for a long time. This is the kind of book that you should read as soon as they are ready to understand most of the action, but not before. If too much is going over their heads, then it isn’t fun. In my case, this book prompted a lot of questions and great conversations with the 7-year-old. The book will teach kids a lot, but if you keep your tone light it feels like just another adventure story.

6 Tips for Taming Your Inner Spock

The younger, high school and undergrad version of me was not the best person. My sense of humor was too dark and I didn’t much care about the experience of other people. When I went to grad school, I was so excited. I would finally be around other economists and I would be able to drop all of the niceties, empty social signals, and fuzziness that I thought non-economists employed. And I was oh so very wrong.

It turned out that economists are also human beings and that no amount of self-congratulatory Spock-praising would stop that from being the case. Indeed, with some candid feedback, I became convinced that I was in desperate need of the kind of prosocial norms that could help me to better produce social capital. In other words, I needed to figure out how to get along. Below is some advice that I’ve found pivotal. Maybe you can share it with another person who might be well-served by reading it too.

Below are six norms that are good to employ in order to improve social cohesion, agreeableness, and, frankly, better mental health. And these aren’t just for economists. I suspect that there are plenty of people (maybe young men) who can benefit from what took me too long to learn. So here we go!

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The Cost of Raising a Child

Raising kids is expensive. As an economist, we’re used to thinking about cost very broadly, including the opportunity cost of your time. Indeed, a post I wrote a few weeks ago focused on the fact that parents are spending more time with their kids than in decades past. But I want to focus on one aspect of the cost, which is what most “normal” people mean by “cost”: the financial cost.

Conveniently, the USDA has periodically put out reports that estimate the cost of raising a child. Their headline measure is for a middle-income, married couple with two children. Unfortunately the last report was issued in 2017, for a child born in 2015. And in the past 2 years, we know that the inflation picture has changed dramatically, so those old estimates may not necessarily reflect reality anymore. In fact, researchers at the Brookings Institution recently tried to update that 2015 data with the higher inflation we’ve experienced since 2020. In short, they assumed that from 2021 forward inflation will average 4% per year for the next decade (USDA assumed just over 2%).

Doing so, of course, will raise the nominal cost of raising a child. And that’s what their report shows: in nominal terms, the cost of raising a child born in 2015 will now be $310,605 through age 17, rather than $284,594 as the original report estimated. The original report also has a lower figure: $233,610. That’s the cost of raising that child in 2015 inflation-adjusted dollars.

As I’ve written several times before on this blog, adjusting for inflation can be tricky. In fact, sometimes we don’t actually need to do it! To see if it is more or less expensive to raise a child than in the past, what we can do instead is compare to the cost to some measure of income. I will look at several measures of income and wages in this post, but let me start with the one I think is the best: median family income for a family with two earners. Why do I think this is best? Because the USDA and Brookings cost estimates are for married couples who are also paying for childcare. To me, this suggests a two-earner family is ideal (you may disagree, but please read on).

Here’s the data. Income figures come from Census. Child costs are from USDA reports in 1960-2015, and the Brookings update in 2020.

Continue reading

Ambitious Parenting

Things go by online about moms and kids that bother me. Here I will Be Like Pete and try to articulate a positive vision. We could talk more about parenting small children.

Ambitious people, both men and women, might want to be parents. Time spent on parenting takes away from other projects, so the earlier you start planning the better. Hearing about the experiences of other parents is both instructive and inspiring.

Parenting, like modern creative careers, is an unpredictable enterprise. Maybe one reason people are not encouraged more to plan is because the disappointments can be so devastating in this arena. There is a risk that I will sound insensitive if I am too positive. That said, I feel like discussions I see in public miss the point too often and fail to use the “billboard space” we have effectively. There is an ocean of thoughtful honest free content for How to Achieve Your Writing Goals, but there is very little on how to achieve your parenting goals that resonates with ambitious young people. The writing advice can be ignored by those who don’t want to write; parenting advice can be ignored by those who don’t want kids.

Economists talk a lot about parents and children, especially now that the US is near population decline. One particular point I have heard is: “Data shows that piano lessons do not have a causal impact on lifetime earnings, so your problems are solved. Everyone sit back and enjoy your kids.”

This message may be helpful to some people, but it seems like primarily a lie to me. “Enjoy your kids” assumes a lot. I’d prefer an honest approach about the sacrifice involved, or the “opportunity cost”. I think that the benefits of parenting outweigh the cost, but it’s not inspirational to say “selfish lazy people will enjoy parenting.” Raising kids who you enjoy being around is not easy, but there are tricks and proven methods to help.

The economist who gets it is Emily Oster. Her books go more like this: “You probably aspire to having family meals that you can enjoy. Sit down with your co-parent 6 months ahead of time and plan out how you are going to achieve such a wonderful ambitious goal while also being able to schedule other events and pursuits.”

Emily Oster books/newsletter is a great place to start. She’s not for everyone, but if you are reading an econ blog then she might be for you. The good news for ambitious parents is that many books have been written that explain how to achieve certain results. Ambitious smart people can figure out good techniques, although as I said earlier be prepared for things not to go as planned. It helps to start on the learning process before you have kid to care for. Once you become a primary caregiver, you will have less time to read, so read widely and often whenever you can.  We have a /Parenting category in this blog, to curate some of the good stuff.

This boy’s ambition was to dig a trench from a tidal pool all the way to the ocean.

Kids could come up in conversation about ambition more, as a possible complement not just as a substitute.

This Elon tweet has layers: “Being a Mom is just as important as any career” What do you think the subtext is? How would a college student would understand this?

Why use this hackneyed phrase when he could say something to actually inspire both his male and female Gen Z fans to become parents? If Elon is a good parent, then teach us how he combines it with an ambitious life. And if he’s a bad parent, he should say less about it. If he’s trying to elevate mothers, then retweet a mother.

Similarly, a male economist who writes books about how easy parenting is should explain how he got through the first 5 years. Either someone else raised his children or he worked hard to maintain a routine and boundaries. Did he create his own routine from scratch or did he borrow from someone else’s model? Were his children in daycare 40 hours a week?

It can be hard to write about these topics honestly, because of privacy issues. So, we are back to Emily Oster, because she has been willing to tell the world what really goes on in her own family. Elon should just tweet out her newsletter every week if he’s such an advocate for mothers.

Dr. Oster is not the only one. There are millions of mothers creating content who would value the exposure. What if Elon (or some other ambitious person with a large platform) retweeted a trick for getting children to try carrots. “Wow, genius technique. Follow this Mom for more…” Or, Elon could highlight a man who being a great parent.

Ambitious people just talking about their kids and their own honest personal experiences is a good way to achieve Elon’s stated goal of getting more people to have kids. If Elon wants to tell us that he loves his kids, then that’s inspirational, and I don’t think it’s a lie.

I will engage in some introspection here, not because I think I’m so interesting, but because I see pro-natalist men talking past everyone else on how to raise the birth rate. I had a parenting win this past week. I solved a behavioral problem in a creative way and I’d love to talk about it. I’d like to feel like I’m part of a community conversation. I’d like to be recognized for my expertise. That’s what most people want, right? More resources in the attention economy devoted to parents is a form of compensation that I have not heard discussed before.

I have heard advice to female professors to not put up pictures of their children at the office. If colleagues know you care about your children, then you might be ostracized from the intellectual community that you have spent your whole life trying to join. In my own small way, I have pushed back against this norm by occasionally talking about kids and babies, so that other people who want families can feel part of a bigger community online and in academia. My broader point in this post is that there is a kind of rhetoric about family life and parenting strategies that would make young ambitious people think that having kids will not prevent them from having a meaningful life.

It’s not bad to talk about a 14-hour workday or an organizational strategies for achieving professional goals. I wouldn’t want to censor anyone or stop them from sharing how they accomplished something valuable. On the margin, more conversations could also include a discussion of how life changes if you become a parent, so that ambitious young people can build mental categories for this.

The Freakonomics podcast provides examples:

Stephen Dubner brought the teen children of famous economists on his show to talk about what it was like to grow up with those weirdos. It’s funny. Listeners will not feel like they are being told what to do or judged. Dubner is simply lending his platform to parents and children. He’s using the billboard space. There is parenting content on the internet already, but if it’s all siloed over at parents.com then it may not make it to the young person who is trying to figure out what “the Good” is.

See New York City for free

When writing in the capacity of an economist, one should never pitch an experience as “free”. Going anywhere has opportunity costs, especially if you have to pay several tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike. That said, if you want kids to see New York City as part of a road trip, consider Liberty State Park.

You can enter and park for free. There is a playground, picnic tables, and lots of trails. You can see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Manhattan across the river.

Taken from a nature trail inside the park. There is also a clear view of the statue next to the river.

At the northern edge there is a memorial for those lost on 9/11.

If you have hours to spend, you could also pay admission for the Liberty Science Center. Currently, my family has free admission because of the ASTC Travel Passport Program.