Children and Happiness: Discuss
Posted on Jul 7, 2010
Those goofy social scientists, always trying to quantify life’s seemingly immeasurable phenomena and solve intractable mysteries—such as, for example, whether or not having kids makes people any happier. Answer: not really, according to one research team cited in New York magazine’s latest article on the joys and pitfalls of parenting.
But hey, not to worry—just when someone seems to have a definitive handle on the subject, another rival study will come out directly refuting the prior results. Publish or perish, people! And maybe procreate while you’re at it. Or not. —KA
Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines. Perhaps the most oft-cited datum comes from a 2004 study by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize–winning behavioral economist, who surveyed 909 working Texas women and found that child care ranked sixteenth in pleasurability out of nineteen activities. (Among the endeavors they preferred: preparing food, watching TV, exercising, talking on the phone, napping, shopping, housework.) This result also shows up regularly in relationship research, with children invariably reducing marital satisfaction. The economist Andrew Oswald, who’s compared tens of thousands of Britons with children to those without, is at least inclined to view his data in a more positive light: “The broad message is not that children make you less happy; it’s just that children don’t make you more happy.” That is, he tells me, unless you have more than one.
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