Freakonomics Study Guide - Hinsdale Central High School

Freakonomics Summer
Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have
in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How
did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime? These may not sound like typical
questions for an economist to ask. Bur Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a muchheralded scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to sports and
childrearing—and whose conclusions turn conventional wisdom on its head. Freakonomics is a
groundbreaking collaboration between Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author and
journalist. They usually begin with a mountain of data and a simple question. Some of these questions
concern life-and-death issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus the new field of study
contained in this book: Freakonomics. (Quoted from the inside cover of Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner)
An Explanatory Note (In which the origins of the book are clarified):
1. Who is Stephen J. Dubner?
2. What do we learn about Steven D. Levitt in this section?
3. According to Dubner’s article, how does Levitt view economics?
Introduction: The Hidden Side of Everything
4. What did experts predict would happen to crime during the1990’s and after, and what
really happened to crime rates? How did the experts explain this?
5. According to Levitt and Dubner, what really explains the decrease in crime?
6. What are the authors trying to prove with the real estate example?
7. For political candidates, what matters is NOT how much you ____________, but rather
who you ______________.
8. What are the few fundamental ideas in this book?
9. What is the aim of this book, according to the authors?
Chapter One: What do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common?
10. “Economics is, at root, the study of ______________________: how people get what
they want, or need, especially when other people need the same thing.”
11. What are the three types of incentives and how does this apply to the Israeli day-care
12. What does an analysis of the high stakes testing results from Chicago reveal?
13. What was proven about sumo wrestlers?
14. According to the Adam Smith and bagel seller Paul Feldman, are people innately honest
or are people more likely to be dishonest?
Chapter Two: How is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real-Estate Agents?
15. What does Stetson Kennedy learn about the Ku Klux Klan and how does he learn this
16. What is the best idea that Kennedy came up with to fight the Klan?
17. Use the same word to fill in all of the following blanks: The authors state that
“__________________ is so powerful that the assumption of ______________, even if
the ______________ does not actually exist, can have a sobering effect.”
18. What does asymmetrical information mean and how does this apply to real life
19. How are real-estate agents like the Ku Klux Klan?
20. How does information-based discrimination and taste-based discrimination play out on
the game show, The Weakest Link?
21. In what way do the authors tie together internet dating, commercial transactions, and
Chapter Three: Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms?
22. What is conventional wisdom according to Galbraith and where does it come from?
23. Who is Sudhir Venkatesh and what did he do with a Chicago gang? What did he learn
from this experience?
24. Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?
25. Why do people deal crack if they get little money and it is very dangerous?
26. What was the result of the crack boom?
Chapter Four: Where Have All the Criminals Gone?
27. What connection do the authors make between abortion in Romania and American crime
in the 1990’s?
28. What other theories were given besides abortion as the cause for the crime rate in the
1990’s. Do the authors believe these to be considerable factors in the drop of crime?
Chapter Five: What Makes a Perfect Parent?
29. What is the enemy of rational judgment? Which emotion is the most powerful?
30. Apply the control factor and the dread factor to two real life examples.
31. Do you agree or disagree with Judith Rich Harris’ argument?
32. How did the school-choice program in Chicago impact students who “won the lottery” to
go to better schools, those left behind, and those who entered technical schools?
33. What factors, according to the regression analysis model of the Early Childhood
Longitudinal Study, do and do not affect a child’s performance in school?
34. Why does being adopted into a family with smart, educated, and wealthy parents not
impact a child’s school performance?
Chapter Six: Perfect Parenting, Part II; or: Would a Roshanda by Any Other Name Smell
as Sweet?
35. Which ethnicity tends to name its children with the most unique names? When did this
start to happen and which kind of parent is most likely to give a distinctive name?
36. If a DeShawn Williams and a Jake Williams sent in identical resumes to an employer,
who would be more likely to get a callback? Why?
37. Is it likely that a black boy with a typical white name like Jake Williams would do better,
the same, or worse than a black boy with a typical black name like DeShawn Williams?
38. How do names become popular and then once this happens, why do they fall out of
39. What motives do people have for selecting a name for their children?
Epilogue: Two Paths to Harvard
40. What is the common thread running through the application of this book?
41. Why do the authors end by telling how the two boys from chapter 5 turned out?
Overall Questions:
1. Freakonomics argues that conventional wisdom is often not true. What are some instances of
conventional wisdom that you've always doubted?
2. This book seems to show that people who are viewed as “experts” hold a lot of power over society.
Do you find this to be true or false? Explain.
3. Is the view of parenting presented in Freakonomics commensurate with your own experiences?
4. Which arguments in Freakonomics do you find most convincing? Which arguments do you disagree