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Will the kids be alright? Data-driven parenting advice

A conversation with best-selling author and economist Emily Oster

CLEVELAND — Emily Oster is an economist by trade – but her readers turn to her to find out if a glass wine while pregnant is okay, or what the best way is to discipline children.

The author of Expecting Better – and Cribsheet – just released in paperback – says her research into pregnancy and parenting started for her own benefit.

"When I was first pregnant, I found that I had a lot of questions which I did not feel that the existing literature was answering, and so I found myself doing a lot of research in pregnancy…you know, one crazy, neurotic, data-obsessed lady’s journey through pregnancy," Oster joked.

That's something I can relate to, even as a journalist and not a numbers person. During my pregnancy, I've needed to know why. That's how I found Oster's books.

"I think part of why that's important is that if you understand why, then you can think about: is this restriction important for me? or is this something that is I feel like I should be comfortable doing?" she explained.

Any parent, or soon-to-be parent, can attest, there's lots of parenting advice out there. Oster's is based on conclusions drawn from interpreting research.

"I think one of the big values of research is it can tell us how large the effects are. And this comes up all the time in pregnancy and parenting. The question of not just, is there a risk? But how big is it?" said Oster.

During this pandemic, Emily – who is also a professor at Brown University – has been working from home and home schooling, like many parents, and using her newsletter ParentData to answer questions about those new risks related to coronavirus.

"I think that the biggest thing that [all parents are] like worried about is just this isolation piece right? [the data] is somewhat frustratingly limited. To the extent that it exists, it is reassuring," she said. "It's a big experiment. I think what I am hoping is that since this is a relatively limited amount of time that any kind of effects that would be the effect of having your kids totally isolated all the time are just going to be much more limited, because it's not forever," she explained.

Emily says the data is also reassuring for pregnant moms and newborns, delivered during the pandemic. Limited data shows they're not necessarily at higher risk for contracting COVID-19.

But she acknowledges, for parents-to-be, it's also about rethinking expectations about birth plans and more typical hospital experiences. 

"People have a set of ways that they thought that [delivery] would be ...I've been trying to help people think about how they can how they can manage those expectations," said Oster. 

"Think about it like, this is a different adventure and one day, you're going to tell your kid, 'You know, you were born in the middle of a global pandemic...here's your birth story, and...that's fun and that'll be part of their story."

You can sign up for Emily's newsletter by clicking here.

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