Parents' Costs versus Childrens' Benefits - Does the Ratio Matter?
By Bryan Caplan
When I tell parents that twin and adoption studies find small effects of nurture, they often respond, “That’s OK. I’m willing to make a big sacrifice to help my kids a small amount.”
Frankly, it’s not clear what these parents have in mind. A few possibilities:
1. They like helping their kids, so what appears to be a “big sacrifice” is actually consumption plus a tiny investment in their kids’ future.
2. They value their kids’ well-being much more than their own, so they’re making a big low-value sacrifice for a small high-value gain.
3. They think it’s so wrong to weigh their welfare against their children’s that they’re choosing between a “big sacrifice” and “massive guilt” – and “big sacrifice” is the lesser evil.
If you say #1, more power to you. But surely in a continuous world, it’s still useful to know the cost/benefit ratio? Most “sacrifices” will still be worth it, but something’s always marginal, right?
If you say #2, I’ve just got to ask, “Why?” Kids are great, but don’t parents count for anything? Wouldn’t it be better if all generations switched from “Make massive sacrifices to help your kids,” to “Love your children as yourself”?
If you say #3, I’ve got to ask, “Why have you got to feel guilty about? You gave your child the gift of life!”
Sometimes I wonder if I give readers the sense that I ignore my kids. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Caplan guys spend hours together almost every day. But I still insist that our mix of activities includes stuff like hiking that I enjoy more than they do – and I don’t feel the least bit bad about it.