It shouldn’t surprise us that her work is brilliant and often contrarian, given the unique childhood she had. Oster was the children of two professors at Yale. Her mother and father did more than just interesting work—they showed it to their children, expanding their minds and their perceptions in the process. As a recent Bloomberg profile of Oster explains,
The Oster-Fairs brought economics instruction home. Food shopping was a lesson in opportunity cost: Time was valuable, so Sharon faxed the grocer a list instead of walking the aisles. Fair would dismiss his children’s pleas to switch to a shorter toll booth lane by citing the “no arbitrage condition,” which assumes that because everyone is optimizing all the time, the possibility to improve is marginal. Feminism was demonstrated, not simply discussed. The couple alternated nights fixing dinner, despite Sharon’s being a better cook, to show it wasn’t solely a woman’s job. Sharon didn’t change her last name upon marrying, and she and her husband flipped a coin to decide whose Emily would take, Sharon told me, “to let children reflect upon the nature of patriarchal culture and society.” (For Emily’s two younger brothers, they alternated last names.)
You don’t have to agree with any of those decisions to respect them. The point is that her parents were thoughtful and deliberate about how they raised their children. They actually applied their beliefs to how they set up their home. Their philosophy wasn’t something they just talked about, it was something they lived.
And in the process, they showed Emily different ways of thinking and being. Economics wasn’t something that existed only in the classroom, it was a living breathing thing. It explained the world, it guided your decisions.
Don’t you owe your kids the same thing? You have to practice what you preach. It’s OK to be different, to preach things radically different than your friends or your neighbors. You just have to be sincere, consistent and clear about it.