Good Parent, Bad Parent: Richer People Are Likely to Make Better Parents

The Wall Street Journal is fond of publishing essays asserting one culture’s superiority in the world parenting competition. First there was the “Tiger Mother” firestorm; more recently it’s an article drawn from a book arguing that the French make better parents.

A couple of top-notch economists, however, suggest that wealth, rather than cultural mores, is the bigger determinant of successful parenthood.

In an essay written for the W.K. Kellogg FoundationSendhil Mullainathan of Harvard and Saugato Datta of ideas42 argue that richer people are likely to make better parents. Why? Because ”well-off people have the luxury of freedom of mind.” By dodging the constant stresses of poverty, the wealthy have more bandwidth for rearing children.

The researchers write:

Good parenting requires psychic resources. Complex decisions must be made. Sacrifices must be made in the moment. This is hard for anyone, whatever their income: we all have limited reserves of self-control, and attention and other psychic resources …

Low-income parents … face a tax on their psychic resources. Many things that are trifling and routine to the well-off give sleepless nights to those less fortunate …

For the well-off, a broken-down car is little more than a temporary annoyance; if needed, they can “just take a cab.” For those with less income, it necessitates real, meaningful trade-offs and painful sacrifices. If taking a cab becomes unavoidable, it may mean having to spend less on groceries. It may mean cutting back on the time spent with a child on account of having to work extra hours to make up for the unexpected expense. Equally, trying to avoid shelling out the cab fare may mean taking an extra couple of hours to get to work, with less time and energy left over for other things, not least supervising a child’s schoolwork and keeping tabs on his social life.

Of course there are plenty of counterexamples of families where more money means more problems at home (e.g., approximately one-third of all “Law & Order” episodes).

But the authors here seem to be talking about the importance of having some bare minimum of resources in order to focus on the softer needs of being a good parent.

The policy implication, then, is that to make Americans better parents, we need to help them achieve greater economic security, whatever their cultural or ethnic background.


By Catherine Rampell

Source: New York Times - http://goo.gl/4Duyk


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