Listen to Owen Bennett-Jones discuss the future of opinion polls with Mark Pack

Nate G. Hilger

Apr 26, 2022

The Parent Trap

How to Stop Overloading Parents and Fix Our Inequality Crisis

MIT Press 2022

Few people realize that raising children is the single largest industry in the United States. Yet this vital work receives little political support, and its primary workers—parents—labor in isolation. If they ask for help, they are made to feel inadequate; there is no centralized organization to represent their interests; and there is virtually nothing spent on research and development to help them achieve their goals. It’s almost as if parents are set up to fail—and the result is lost opportunities that limit children’s success and make us all worse off. In The Parent Trap: How to Stop Overloading Parents and Fix Our Inequality Crisis (MIT Press, 2022), Nate Hilger combines cutting-edge social science research, revealing historical case studies, and on-the-ground investigation to recast parenting as the hidden crucible of inequality.

Parents are expected not only to care for their children but to help them develop the skills they will need to thrive in today’s socioeconomic reality—but most parents, including even the most caring parents on the planet, are not trained in skill development and lack the resources to get help. How do we fix this? The solution, Hilger argues, is to ask less of parents, not more. America should consider child development a public investment with a monumental payoff. We need programs inspired by Medicare—call them Familycare—to drive this investment. To make it happen, parents need to become an interest group that can wield its political power on behalf of children—who will always be the largest bloc of disenfranchised people in this country.

The Parent Trap exposes the true costs of our society’s unrealistic expectations around parenting and lays out a profoundly hopeful blueprint for reform.

Nate Hilger is a Harvard and Stanford-trained economist who has worked as a professor of economics at Brown University and an economist and data scientist in Silicon Valley. While in academia he was a Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research and continues to hold an affiliation with the Population Studies and Training Center at Brown. In 2020 he served as a lead policy consultant on early childhood and non-K12 child development issues for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign.

His academic research on child development and inequality has been published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics and other leading peer-reviewed journals, and has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major media outlets. He lives with his wife and son in Redwood City, California.

Peter Lorentzen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of San Francisco, where he leads a new Master's program in Applied Economics focused on the digital economy.

Listen to more episodes on:

Your Host

Peter Lorentzen

Peter Lorentzen is economics professor at the University of San Francisco. He heads USF's Applied Economics Master's program, which focuses on the digital economy. His research is mainly on China's political economy.

Learn More

Also Hosted By Peter Lorentzen