Parents everywhere want their children to be happy and do well. Yet how parents seek to achieve this ambition varies enormously. For instance, American and Chinese parents are increasingly authoritative and authoritarian, whereas Scandinavian parents tend to be more permissive. Why is this?
Through personal anecdotes and original research, Doepke and Zilibotti reveal that in countries with increasing economic inequality, such as the United States, parents push harder to ensure their children have a path to security and success. Economics has transformed the hands-off parenting of the 1960s and ’70s into a frantic, overscheduled activity. Growing inequality has also resulted in an increasing “parenting gap” between richer and poorer families, raising the disturbing prospect of diminished social mobility and for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In nations with less economic inequality, such as Sweden, the stakes are less high, and social mobility is not under threat. Doepke and Zilibotti discuss how investments in early childhood development and the design of education systems factor into the parenting equation, and how economics can help shape policies that will contribute to the ideal of equal opportunity for all.