The Parent Trap

The Parent Trap

How to Stop Overloading Parents and Fix Our Inequality Crisis

By Nate G. Hilger

On how parents have been set up to fail, and why helping them succeed is the key to achieving a fair and prosperous society. A Next Big Idea Club nominee.





On how parents have been set up to fail, and why helping them succeed is the key to achieving a fair and prosperous society. A Next Big Idea Club nominee.

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, 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 a program like Medicare—call it Familycare—to drive this investment. To make it happen, parents must organize to wield their 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.


$29.95 T ISBN: 9780262046688 304 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 8 figures


$19.95 T ISBN: 9780262545945 304 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 8 figures


  • “Hilger makes a compelling argument for federal investment in child-rearing.”

    Library Journal


  • The Parent Trap is a provocative, well-written, and creative analysis of the problem of parenting in America and what to do about it, making a bold case for policy changes to support parents and children in new ways.”

    James J. Heckman

    Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and the College, University of Chicago; recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Economics

  • “Hilger expertly weaves together cutting-edge science and historical narratives to give us a fresh perspective on how we can help parents raise children and combat growing inequality across generations. Captivating, rigorous, and insightful, this book will be valuable for everyone from parents to policy makers.”

    Raj Chetty

    William A. Ackman Professor of Economics, Harvard University

  • “Few books open your mind to a new way of seeing an issue. This book is the rare exception. The right role for parents, according to Hilger, is not to provide children the skills they need to succeed but to band together to advocate for new and better policies in the public domain. This impassioned and highly readable book lays out an ambitious policy agenda supported by a fresh way of seeing deep inequalities by race and class.”

    Isabel Sawhill

    Senior Fellow, the Brookings Institution; author of The Forgotten Americans and Generation Unbound

  • “DON'T READ THIS BOOK—unless you want assumptions on the origins of inequality replaced with facts. Nate Hilger brilliantly weaves together the very best social science research on youth outcomes and parenting to highlight our successes but also how our society can do much better if we dare.”

    Bruce Sacerdote

    Richard S. Braddock 1963 Professor in Economics, Dartmouth College

  • “Surely among the most important books of the year. This groundbreaking and clearly written book offers concrete solutions for one of the biggest problems facing contemporary society: the unreasonable expectations we place on parents. A must-read for scholars, policy makers, activists, and, yes, parents.”

    Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

    New York Times bestselling author of Everybody Lies


  • Next Big Idea Club nominee