Raising a baby is hard enough, I am learning, but all of the bad and uninformed advice out there makes it so much harder. Thankfully, parents who wish to actually know what is known have Emily Oster. My wife and I took extreme comfort in reading Emily’s “Expecting Better”, which is an economist’s guide to pregnancy. Her newest, “Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool”, is no less essential. In my household, she is the all-knowing Aunt we have never met. Parenting would be a lot more stressful without these books.
It might seem surprising at first pass that anyone, even an economist such as myself, would care to read a whole book of advice from an economist on parenting. But as you learn from both Cribsheet and Expecting Better, knowing what the evidence “says” about issues of safety, nutrition, behavior, and health in general are not about reading a study, or even a few studies, or even all the studies, and summarizing the results. Causality is very, very hard and what these books do at their core is walk you through how a world class empiricist assesses medical research for causality.
If causality is not your thing and this sounds like a boring exercise only economists can understand and enjoy, you should reconsider. My wife has never read a book by an economist, and she is as big a fan of Emily as I am. This is in large part because Emily’s gifts are not limited to teasing out causality from messy research, but also explaining it an easy to digest way that makes causality actually intuitive.
What the reader also learns from these books is the limits of empiricism. Emily does not shy away from topics where the evidence is far from conclusive, nor does she stretch the results to derive conclusiveness when it isn’t there. Instead, you learn how to weigh risks when the evidence is weak. The importance of preferences is also central. This is not a book of thou musts, but a book about how weigh to the welfare of the entire family, parents included, under varying levels of uncertainty about costs and benefits. These are all reasons why, with apologies to the medical doctors out there, an economist had to write this.
One last thing I will note, which reveals me either as hopelessly biased on these books or intensely sincere about what I’ve written. In November 2018, my wife and I were struggling to figure out whether to do “cry it out” with our baby. “If only Emily Oster had a book on early parenting as well!” we wished. Then I looked at Amazon and saw Cribsheet was coming out in April, 2019. For the first time ever, perhaps me being an economist who writes on the internet could be useful to my family. “Ask her for a review copy” my wife implored, and so I did.
So you tell me. Does the fact that we selfishly asked for (and received) a review copy for our own private benefit mean I can’t fairly review this book, or does it reveal how essential Emily’s parenting advice is? You decide.