Economist Emily Oster’s Data Driven Advice That Led to Her Being Both a ‘Hero’ and a ‘Villain’

By: Lauren | Published: Jan 19, 2024

Emily Oster is an economics professor at Brown University, as well as an author and podcast host. And she has become incredibly famous for her data-driven approach to pregnancy and parenting.

Dr. Oster claims to base all of her opinions and advice on concrete data, and while some, specifically the upper-middle class, have taken her words as absolute truths, others claim her guidance is incorrect and even dangerous.

Who Is Emily Oster?

As an economics professor at an Ivy League institution, Dr. Emily Oster is undoubtedly highly educated and intelligent.

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Close up of the word "research" and its definition

Source: Canva

She has used her capabilities to become a wildly successful author, with a huge social media presence, to “[create] a world of more relaxed pregnant women and parents.”

Emily’s Ethos

Essentially, Emily Oster prides herself on creating content in the form of articles, podcasts, posts, and books, that is completely based on data, not opinions.

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Screenshot of a variety of articles by Emily Oster on her website, ParentData

Source: ParentData.org

And while she has been a popular source of information for parents for some time, it was her response to the COVID-19 pandemic that really put Dr. Oster on the map.

Oster Pushed for Schools to Open Before Anyone Else

In 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oster released an article that said schools can and should reopen, based on data she collected about case counts and the virus in regard to children.

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Emily Oster’s Instagram shows icons for articles about Parent Data

Source: @profemilyoster/Instagram

Her main points were that keeping children out of school would have several negative side effects for their education as well as for their parents, and that, according to the statistics, putting them back in school wasn’t nearly as dangerous as people thought.

This Opinion Sparked an Intense Debate

As several publications, including The New York Times, have noted, this strong stance made Dr. Oster a “hero” to some and a “villain” to others.

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The New York Times cover photo for the article about Emily Oster

Source: @profemilyoster/Instagram

Many agreed with her stance, but others argued that returning to school would only benefit the upper-middle-class and private schools, not low-income families or public schools, which were at a higher risk for contracting the virus.

Most Teachers Fought Against Dr. Oster

While parents across the country were essentially divided when it came to praise or criticism for Dr. Oster’s opinion, the vast majority of teachers were adamantly against her.

Emily Oster with a cup on coffee smiling

Source: @profemilyoster/Instagram

They argued that as a wealthy mother who didn’t attend public school or even send her kids to one, Oster certainly does not understand what it means to work in the public education system. One teacher, Maya Chavez, told The New York Times, “There is a serious disconnect between her idea of what school looks like and the reality.”

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Emotional vs. Data-Driven Response

It’s important to understand that what Emily Oster has based her career on is evidence-based, data-driven responses to pregnancy and parenting.

Two girls smiling on bus with mother on the way to school

Source: Canva

But her naysayers claim that it’s not all about the data; in fact, when it comes to parenting, most people decide what’s best for their family with emotional responses.

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Emily Oster Became Famous Around the World

As some say, there is no such thing as bad publicity, and the debate as to whether Emily Oster was a genius or a monster made her incredibly famous around the country and the world.

Emily Oster promoting her podcast with special guest Hillary Clinton/Emily Oster and Michelle Obama smile for the camera

Source: @profemilyoster/Instagram

Since she took her stance fighting for schools to open, she has met with Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama, as well as hosted several other big names in politics and education on her podcast.

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Dr. Oster Was Even on the 2022 Time 100 List

In 2022, Time magazine released its 100 List of the most influential people around the world, and Dr. Emily Oster made the list for her impact during the pandemic.

Emily Oster photographed by Time magazine for the TIme 100 List

Source: @GreyLadiesNYC/X

Time called the economist “a savior for whipsawed mothers,” and gave her essentially a rave review for how she was able to help parents feel educated and in control throughout the year.

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Emily Oster Says She Doesn’t Take Her Own Opinions Lightly

Emily stands by her stance from 2020, stating that “it wasn’t a mistake to open schools,” but she’s also mentioned that “[opening schools] was the hardest to write about.”

Emily Oster attends the 2022 Time 100 Gala

Source: Taylor Hill/WireImage/Getty Images

Oster also mentioned that she could have done things a little differently, or even better. She said, “I had maybe somewhat of a naïve approach,” and, “I didn’t stress that the situation is different for higher-risk children, or emphasize the importance of equitable vaccine distribution.”

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Emily Oster Hasn’t Stopped Sharing Her Evidence-Based Opinions

Since schools reopened and the pandemic faded into the background, Emily hasn’t stopped sharing her data and assessments with her millions of followers.

Post by @ProfEmilyOster on X about vaccines during pregnancy and childhood

Source: @ProfEmilyOster/X

She continues to focus on explaining the confusing health information circulating the internet for pregnancy and children in a clear and direct way.

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Many Still Consider Oster Their Go-To for All Things Parenting

There’s no doubt that Dr. Oster’s polarizing opinion during COVID-19 made her an enemy to many, but the author is certainly still one of the most popular sources for information for parents in the country.

Screenshot of comments from @profemilyoster’s Instagram

Source: @profemilyoster/Instagram

Her followers consider her to be a hero and some even call her their own personal CDC. It seems that in a world of varying opinions, parents want the data she provides. Though some might not like what she finds.

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