Friday, June 26, 2009

Hmm, who knew?

I finished Freakonomics last week and keep forgetting to write about it. I guess the time has finally come.

Firstly, I think the title is a bit misleading. It's more like "The hidden side of the few weird things that the authors thought were interesting...leading to a very random book". That and the use of (and the romanticism put into) the word "Rogue" made me think "Maverick". Also, it should be noted that Steven Levitt is the economist, and Stephen Dubner is the New York Times writer that helped him write a whole book.

But gripes aside, it is very interesting. Using statistical analysis and (in some cases rather liberal use of) econometrics, Levitt asks and answers some pretty weird questions. What caused the drop in crime in the 90's when it looked like it would only get worse? Legalized Abortion. Instead of having babies, the woman in situtations that would put their children at high-risk for crime had abortions instead. Why are most drug dealers poor? Because the standard crack scene is really a giant multi-level marketing scheme, so all the normal, grunt dealers have a common supplier and have to cough up a ton of overhead (and therefore still live with their mothers).

The book ends with two studies on parenting. The first being about parental techniques that help children "to succeed" and the second on the effects of what parents name their children. In the first study they concluded that "techniques" (like reading to your children daily) didn't really matter. What mattered most was what kind of people the parents were. If they were honest, educated, and successful themselves, their children would most likely follow suit. Things like reading to your children, going to museums, or whether or not you spank your children didn't seem to matter.

I took the slightest bit of issue with that conclusion. The study was on techniques that seemed to help children get good standardized test scores. That means very little to me. While the integrity and traits of a parent do matter a great deal, I think the time/activities children spend/do with their parents matters as well. Wholesome activities as a family could help a child be successful economically and socially after their formal education ends. It could be on a trip to the museum that a child discovers something that they eventually turn into a career. Or time spent reading or hiking or doing some other healthy habit as a family could continue throughout a child's life that never would otherwise. So this is a section of a the book where I think they were a little misleading. Good elementary school test scores do not equal success in life.

The section after that was pretty neat though. They broke down the top California baby names into several Top 10 lists by race, gender, income and decade to look for trends. There was some cool stuff in there too. Higher income families were more likely to have the traditional spelling for names while low-income families were more likely to spell a name differently (or just wrong). Furthermore, what were high-income names one year would become the new low-income names 20 years later. Crazy stuff.

What a bunch of Rogues [Mavericks].