Freakonomics Themes

  • Incentives: Freakonomics analyizes the financial, social, and moral incentives that drive people to lie on their online dating profiles and cheat on standardized tests. According to Levitt and Dubner, businesses succeed when they give workers incentives to achieve, not to cheat.
  • Failure of Conventional Wisdom: Throughout the book, the authors use data to either disprove or rethink conventional wisdom, showing how commonly held beliefs criminal behavior and academic success are wrong. The authors encourage readers to set aside conventional wisdom and use hard evidence to come to conclusions.
  • Cause & Effect: Dramatic effects, such as a drop in the crime rate, often have hidden and unexpected causes. In the example of the falling crime rate in the 1990s, Levitt and Dubner use statistics to show that the legalization of abortion via Roe v. Wade resulted in fewer unwanted children and, thus, fewer criminals.

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Chapter 1 suggests that incentives affect almost every aspect of modern life, from how people behave when involved in online dating to why teachers cheat when offered significant bonuses. At the end of the chapter, Levitt and Dubner claim that businesses and individuals are most successful when they can determine appropriate incentives for their customers, fans, or students.

Conventional Wisdom

Levitt and Dubner dispel many ideas that are normally labeled “conventional wisdom.” Chapter 3 proves that someone willing to risk his life for a life of illegal, dangerous activity usually does not end up rich, and Chapter 5 demonstrates that a parent’s following the most current parenting trends and studies has little or no effect on a child’s academic success. Thus,

conventional wisdom is often shoddily formed and devilishly difficult to see through, though it can be done

by studying statistics objectively.

Cause and...

(The entire section is 302 words.)