Monday, June 23, 2008

Emotional bias?

You know, I like Tyler Cowen's writings and think well of his economics. But this Bloggingheads TV discussion he was part of had me reeling. [HT: Althouse]

(Here is the whole bit for context). Near as I can tell Tyler is arguing that mother's feel emotional 'costs' of their children more than fathers and this leads children being "over-something" as a result of an asymmetry in bargaining power between mothers and fathers.

Wow, for an economist who you would think would be prone to evidence, I had no idea where this theory came from. Tyler seems to think that mothers are prone to resist their children making investments (such as learning to drive) because they will do more of it and hence, the mothers will worry more. Apparently, fathers can see through this (more 'abstractly'). I think Tyler seems to think that has something to do with evolutionary bias (e.g., mothers want to avoid immediate disaster). But that is a real stretch. Do mothers really get their way more often on parenting even taking into account differences in how often they are 'on the ground'? Tyler seems to be arguing that a mother's emotional commitment gives her a greater degree of bargaining power in conflictual parenting decisions.

This type of gender-based extrapolation of different parenting styles is something that is beyond my experience, I can't really imagine a theory for it (except maybe just after giving birth when there other physiological asymmetries at play), and there is no evidence I am aware of to suggest such a thing. Let me tell you emotional reactions in parenting are hardly the exclusive domain of women -- just ask my kids who have seen fury, rage and gut reactions from me as much as they have from their mother. In many respects, we have substantive agreement on parenting issues but in other situations, we alternate the 'good cop' and 'bad cop' roles to negotiate outcomes. No parenting decision is a two way negotiation between parents. It is at least three and possibly more in terms of negotiation. That is the larger bargain and it seems to me that gender issues fade well into the background on that.