Author Emily Oster On Data-Driven Parenting

in Winter 2021 by

On November 9, the Park community welcomed author Emily Oster as the first guest in the Parents’ Association Speaker Series of the 2021-22 year. Emily Oster is a Professor of Economics at Brown University and the author of three books that analyze the data behind choices in pregnancy and parenting, including Expecting Better, Cribsheet, and The Family Firm. She is also the author of ParentData, a twice-weekly newsletter. Her goal is to help create a world of more relaxed pregnant women and parents.

In her presentation over Zoom, Professor Oster shared that her first two books, Expecting Better and Cribsheet, were more “data forward” than her most recent book. The data with respect to pregnancy and early childhood are plentiful, and analyzing the data could reveal concrete answers to discrete questions.

While data has its part, Professor Oster recognized the dominance of logistics in raising older children in their early school years. She wanted to answer the question: How can we make good parenting choices when the questions parents face while raising children in their early school years are so different and the logistics are more complex? Her most recent book The Family Firm attempts to answer this question by introducing the concept of “deliberate parenting.” 

Professor Oster acknowledged that advising parents to run their families like a firm can sound cold or detached. “Deliberate parenting,” however, is a framework for a thoughtful and intentional decision-making process that takes into account the needs of every member of the family. She calls this process the “The Four Fs,” which include: 1) Frame the Question, 2) Fact Find, 3) Final Decision, and 4) Follow-Up. While not every decision needs the Four F treatment, decisions that affect the entire family may benefit from this.

Professor Oster highlighted the importance of framing the question appropriately when trying to make an important family decision. For example, in trying to determine a child’s bedtime, framing the question as “Should bedtime be at 7 or 8 p.m.?” is more effective than “Should bedtime be at 7 or not?” since “or not” is not really an alternative. 

A few interesting points were made during the Q&A session as well. Her book The Family Firm discusses the creation of a “Family Mission Statement,” and she highlights the value of including input from children in its creation. The book also contains a “Creating Your Schedule Worksheet” to help analyze family logistics. The Park PA was able to offer 25 complimentary copies of The Family Firm to Park families. 

You can subscribe to ParentData by visiting Emily Oster’s website.