[EconTalk] Emily Oster on the Family Firm

Emily Oster on the Family Firm 15/11/21 by EconTalk: Russ Roberts

Web player: https://podcastaddict.com/episode/131287063

Episode: https://cdn.simplecast.com/audio/6fdba516-8381-43b0-b29f-59d05512b693/episodes/17651db9-ae1e-4394-9b0f-d4313bc5e15c/audio/bfee8fcd-9e5d-4c56-b48a-01aa9b310a5b/default_tc.mp3?aid=rss_feed&feed=wgl4xEgL

Author and economist Emily Oster of Brown University talks about her book, The Family Firm, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Oster argues that running your family life the way you’d run your own business makes for a better family in today’s crazy world. And where possible, the myriad of decisions you make should be based on hard data, at least when it’s available.

Listen Date: 3 January 2022


  • This was a really odd episode by EconTalk standards. I couldn’t get what was so “Like a firm” about having a set of defined goals for your family, or deliberating over decision making.
  • Of course, never having had children myself, maybe I overestimate how hard it is to define goals. Still, it felt like Emily Oster’s publisher had decided to capitalise on the success of her past two books and asked her to write a third one while the going was good.
  • Or maybe it’s a reflection on me that I don’t deliberate enough at work.
  • Or maybe it’s a reflection on Americans that they deliberate only at work and forget to put effort on their families.
  • Oster herself talked about how this book was less data based than the past two ones. Maybe that’s why.
  • Perhaps it’s also that Russ Roberts spent more time talking about his pet topics than about the book itself. Still, I’m not inspired to go buy the book and see if that’s the case.
  • One thing which was interesting – Emily Oster talking about how there are so many values that “Marry someone who shares values” isn’t practical advice. Granularity! And a similar problem arises in politics and voting I suppose.
  • Later on in the episode, the discussion on optimising all the time vs chasing your values vs the value of things like learning a language that doesn’t improve your learning potential made me a) question the value of my own habit tracking and scoring myself but b) reassured me that I wasn’t tracking myself unidimensionally.
  • The other interesting thing was Emily Oster talking about heterogenity, and the example of “private schools on average have better outcomes but they have terrible outcomes if your child has ADHD so don’t trust averages blindly.”

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