The new Emily Oster book

by on November 21, 2012 at 4:16 pm in Books, Education, Medicine, Science | Permalink

1 Linus Kan November 21, 2012 at 4:57 pm

My wife’s grandmother said it succinctly, commenting about ladies from her household walking to the nearby maternity hospital for delivery at the end of a pregnancy, “It is as natural as having a meal or going to the outhouse.” She should know, having escorted various women from the household some 30+ times on that mile long trip, and 13 times for herself.

The trick was, I believe, what went on before the women became pregnant, in their daily style of living. In rural Konkan in India’s western coastal mountains, squatting was a super common thing to do: for mopping floor, for cooking, for serving food, for eating food and yes, when using the outhouse too. Those gals had a strong pelvic floor which helped a great deal in popping the babies out. Not one of these 40 odd deliveries was a Cesarean section.

2 Cliff November 21, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Squatting when delivering helps, too. It expands the pelvic opening 30%! But doctors don’t like it because they can’t see as well and maybe because it would cut down on their Cesarean surgeries. Nobody giving birth at home lies on their back in a bed, just like no one lies on their back to take a shit. I tried to convince my wife to squat or do all fours for her delivery but she was just too embarrassed. So I guess she was a little more uncomfortable than she needed to be, but then again being self-conscious would probably tighten things up as well.

3 Claudia November 21, 2012 at 5:51 pm

I suppose there’s some truth in what you’re saying. And yet, my advice to men here: do not lecture your partner on how ‘natural’ pregnancy, child birth, or breast feeding are. It’s natural in the sense that her body is built for it. It is not natural in the sense that it is comfortable, intuitive, or easy … there are a lot of common experiences that feel totally un-natural the first time. Of course, it’s not just the empathy-challenged, but ‘knowledgable’ men who can cause problems…some of the more obnoxious ‘advice’ comes from other women. And so I am happy to see this book coming out. I tore my hair out reading the ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ book so there’s a real gap for economist types.

4 Careless November 21, 2012 at 9:24 pm

I wouldn’t say comfortable, but it’s intuitive and easy enough that I’ve never heard of a woman managing to hold one inside forever.

Probably the only truly constructive thing I did during my wife’s pregnancy was convincing her that the doctor wasn’t lying when she said she could see the head.

5 anonymous November 21, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Emily Oster is on another foray into the realm of health professionals! I hope this time she isn’t as full of patent nonsense that is debunked in the existing literature as she was last time with the missing women. The Steve Levitt endorsement (and lack of endorsements from actual doctors or medical researchers) doesn’t bode well for this.

6 Ray Lopez November 21, 2012 at 8:27 pm

I guess this qualifies as being well read? Up there with Zimbabwe something-something and Mexican Pro wrestling something-something. Read any good chess books lately? I’ve not read it, but I like the chess book that came out a while ago that basically argued true chess skill cannot be taught. A let-down of a book even though quite possibly accurate.

7 Ray Lopez November 21, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Oh I see, she’s an economist. Now it makes more sense. Thought she was a journalist.

8 Benny Lava November 21, 2012 at 9:32 pm

There is a difference?

9 King Cynic November 21, 2012 at 10:46 pm

I should take medical advice from an economist rather than a medical doctor why, exactly?

10 David Wright November 22, 2012 at 3:19 am

Because doctors mostly work by rule-of-thumb whereas Oster is experienced in experimental desgn and data analysis has (presumably) worked directly with relevant data. Ideally, of course, you would take advice from both, allowing each to respond to the other in turn.

11 Jim Smith November 22, 2012 at 10:04 am


12 Zachary November 21, 2012 at 11:22 pm

You can take the advice from a statistician if you prefer. Personally, I’ll take advice from folks I know. I don’t ask a carpenter how much I should pay or a mechanic how much work I need done. Information inside someone’s noggin, who is familiar and experienced, is way cheaper to get at than the advice of a licensed practitioner. C’mon dude. Doctors are obviously subsidized by cartel and collusive protectionism. And you would rather listen to them? Somebody roll out the interstate trucking commerce commission….

13 Steve Sailer November 22, 2012 at 2:43 am

How many children does she have?

In my experience, people with one child feel most like experts on the subject. Having a second child often lowers one’s self-confidence in one’s own expertise.

14 Claudia November 22, 2012 at 6:20 am

Steve, I think with the pregnancy and child delivery part, one child is pretty eye opening…now I suspect you are right about parenting. Some people get a false sense of control with the first child (not I) that is blown out of the water by the unexpected variation in the second child. I have the most respect for those with three kids as you are always outnumbered. In any case, my anecdote to scare-mongering pregnancy books (telling me all the bad stuff without conditional probabilities) was humorous accounts. I loved the Girlfriends’ Guide, but this link is a nice example of the genre: (love the goats in the grocery store part.)

15 Claudia November 22, 2012 at 9:09 am

Oops. meant “antidote” not “anecdote” … up too early fighting a turkey.

16 Cliff November 22, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Why? Birthing the second child is way easier.

17 Dangerman November 23, 2012 at 9:44 pm

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