If Amy Chua is cast as the wild-eyed Tiger Warrior of twenty-first-century parenting, Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University and author of a new book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, is its amiable Buddha figure. He even looks the part. His publicity photos invariably picture him hugging his kids and grinning from ear to ear. It’s a far cry from Amy Chua’s formal, somewhat stiff family portraits. Pitting the two against one another has proved irresistible. Media pundits have dubbed them ‘gurus’ and taken to sorting parents into one category or another. Of course the irony is that the ‘debate’ between the two is not, as Jennie Bristow has pointed out on spiked, a real debate in any meaningful sense. It’s really more of a half-hearted rehearsal of the old nature-vs-nurture argument. It does not change anyone’s mind; it offers no answers and is unlikely to have any effect on what parents actually do. And this is a pity because Caplan’s book at least represents an attempt to address some of the excesses of today’s parenting culture.
Selfish Reasons begins with the observation that the American family is shrinking, and the main reason for this, according to Caplan, is that parents are stressed out about taking care of kids. More kids mean more stress and less happiness. This in itself might give some readers pause. It seems a bit glib and appears to ignore the long-term demographic trends and yet, just as a snapshot of American life today, it feels true.