A data-driven approach to parenting

A side-by-side of an author and a book jacket cover.
Emily Oster is an economics professor who specializes in data-driven decision-making. She’s written several books for parents. Her latest, released in early August, is “The Family Firm.”
Headshot by Rachel Hulin. Book cover courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Emily Oster is driven by data. An economics professor who often applies a risk-analysis lens to things like parenting, she wants to give you the numbers and let you decide.

That approach became a polarizing one in 2020 when she started collecting data on how COVID-19 spreads in schools. The numbers led her to conclude that classrooms would not be super-spreaders in the pandemic, and she recommended schools reopen. That made her a hero to some, a villain to others.

She readily admits it was a tough year. The blowback to her position was tremendous. But many parents say they were thankful for her numbers-based take. About 65,000 people subscribe to her newsletter ParentData, and her first two books about raising kids – “Cribsheet” and “Expecting Better” – were bestsellers.

Her new book, “The Family Firm,” picks up were “Cribsheet” left off. It equips parents to make decisions for their elementary kids using data and looking at evidence. Topics she tackles include schooling, nutrition, discipline and screen time.

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In the end, Oster says, it’s not about making the perfect choice. If anything, the pandemic taught us that’s impossible. Instead, it’s about knowing you had a good process to make the best decision available at the time.

Oster joined host Kerri Miller on Thursday to talk about her book, her approach to parenting and how to use evidence to make decisions.


Emily Oster is a professor of economics at Brown University and the author of several popular parenting books. Her latest is “The Family Firm: A Data-Driven Guide to Better Decision Making in the Early School Years.”

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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