When my wife—TGIF overlord Nellie Bowles—was pregnant last year, she became obsessed with Economist Emily Oster’s book, Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong–and What You Really Need to Know. Amidst a barrage of conflicting and confusing pregnancy advice, Oster laid out the data on everything we needed to know. For example: despite what doctors said, sushi, cheese, and the occasional glass of wine were all okay during those nine long months. It gave us the calm we needed during a time of so much uncertainty.
With her two subsequent books Cribsheet and The Family Firm, Oster popularized a new phenomenon that has defined our generation of parents: data-driven parenting. It ditches the long lists of paternalistic rules, and instead examines peer-reviewed evidence—and lets parents make their own informed decisions about their kids based on risks and tradeoffs.
Nowhere was the Oster mentality more front and center—or more divisive—than during Covid. She argued very early on in the pandemic for less draconian and more nuanced policies. She wrote pieces in the Atlantic like, Schools Aren’t Superspreaders and Your Unvaccinated Kid Is Like A Vaccinated Grandma, when those words were considered heresy. And while she made quite a few enemies on the left over the last few years, she recently wrote Let’s Declare A Pandemic Amnesty, and earned herself some enemies on the right as well.
On this week’s episode of Honestly, Nellie joins me to talk to Oster about why a Harvard-educated economist at Brown University decided to become a parenting guru, how she used her parenting framework to become a leading expert on pandemic policies, and the unwinnable position of actually following the science.