Saturday, June 9, 2007

Saturday Afternoon Book Review: Freakonomics

The kids and my pregnant wife are all laying down for an afternoon nap. I decided to take a break from my hammering and banging away in the kitchen so they could get a little sleep. What's on tap this afternoon???? How about a book review.

About a year ago I picked up a book by Stephen Levitt called Freakonomics. Levitt is an economics professor in Chicago and a former Harvard Fellow. So you might be surprised to learn that the book is not boring and technical. To the contrary it is fascinating. Levitt is a pirate, sailing the proverbial seas of data searching for treasure...and frequently finding it. Rather than ramble on let me give you some of the stats he has dredged up.

When selling a home, there are 5 words that Levitt found to have a high correlation with the ultimate sales price. They are:

1. Granite
2. State-of-the Art
3. Corian
4. Maple
5. Gourmet

The following 5 words had a strong correlation to a lower sales price:

1. Fantastic
2. Spacious
3. !
4. Charming
5. Great Neighborhood

Levitt compares standardized test scores with a number of family/parent related factors and reports to us what does and does not (statistically speaking) prepare a child for academic success.

Indicators for Academic Success:

1. The child has highly educated parents.
2. The child's parents have high socioeconomic status.
3. The child's mother was thirty or older at the time of her first child's birth.
4. The child's parents speak English in the home.
5. The child has many books in his home.

More interesting is the list of things that do not have an effect on a child's performance:

1. The child's family is in tact.
2. The child attended head start.
3. The child's mother stayed home with him between birth and kindergarten.
4. The child is regularly spanked.
5. The child's parents read to him nearly every day.

There is much more on the subject in the book.

Levitt dedicates an entire chapter to the socioeconomic factors of names. He breaks name statistics down primarily by race and income....coming up with fun categories like "The twenty blackest boy names", "Most common low-income white girl names". Too much data to post here. One point that the data makes very well, though, is this: The most popular names among the middle class today were the most popular names among the rich a generation ago...and will be the most common names (assuming status quo) among the poor next generation. This chapter is the best in the book.

The kids are beginning to stir.....that means the book review is finished. Being a conscientious father I must mention that there is some subject matter in the book that is not suitable for less mature children. I let my 15 year old read it. My 9 year old...I did not.

Want to know more?

Malcom Gladwell (author of Tipping Point and Blink) breaks Levitt down in much more depth than I can or will. We will be reviewing some of Gladwell's books at some point in the next year or so.

God bless. JJ

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