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Chapter 5: What Makes a Perfect Parent?

The conversion of parenting from an art to a science . . . Why parenting experts like to scare parents to death . . . Which is more dangerous: a gun or a swimming pool? . . . The economics of fear . . . Obsessive parents and the nature-nurture quagmire . . . Why a good school isn't as good as you might think . . . The black-white test gap and "acting white" . . . Eight things that make a child do better in school and eight that don't.


No one is more susceptible to an expert's fearmongering than a parent. Fear is in fact a major component of the act of parenting. A parent, after all, is the steward of another creature's life, a creature who in the beginning is more helpless than the newborn of nearly any other species. This leads a lot of parents to spend a lot of their parenting energy simply being scared.

The problem is that they are often scared of the wrong things. It's not their fault, really. Separating facts from rumors is always hard work, especially for a busy parent. And the white noise generated by the experts—to say nothing of the pressure exerted by fellow parents— is so overwhelming that they can barely think for themselves. The facts they do manage to glean have usually been varnished or exaggerated or otherwise taken out of context to serve an agenda that isn't their own.

Consider the parents of an eight-year-old girl named, say, Molly. Her two best friends, Amy and Imani, each live nearby. Molly's parents know that Amy's parents keep a gun in their house, so they have forbidden Molly to play there. Instead, Molly spends a lot of time at Imani's house, which has a swimming pool in the backyard. Molly's parents feel good about having made such a smart choice to protect their daughter.

But according to the data, their choice isn't smart at all. In a given year, there is one drowning of a child for every 11,000 residential pools in the United States. (In a country with 6 million pools, this means that roughly 550 children under the age of ten drown each year.) Meanwhile, there is 1 child killed by a gun for every 1 million-plus guns. (In a country with an estimated 200 million guns, this means that roughly 175 children under ten die each year from guns.) The likelihood of death by pool (1 in 11,000) versus death by gun (1 in 1 million-plus) isn't even close: Molly is roughly 100 times more likely to die in a swimming accident at Imani's house than in gunplay at Amy's.



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