Happy Father’s Day! A friend led me to this interesting article from the Wall Street Journal yesterday:
The Breeders’ Cup: Social science may suggest that kids drain their parents’ happiness, but there’s evidence that good parenting is less work and more fun than people think. Bryan Caplan makes the case for having more children.
The gist of it is that modern parents are less happy than their childless counterparts, but that the gap of unhappiness is smaller than you might think. An excerpt:
t’s also true that modern parents are less happy than their childless counterparts. But happiness researchers rarely emphasize how small the happiness gap is. Suppose you take the National Opinion Research Center’s canonical General Social Survey, and compare Americans with the same age, marital status and church attendance. (These controls are vital, because older, married and church-going people have more happiness and more kids). Then every additional child makes parents just 1.3 percentage points less likely to be “very happy.” In contrast, the estimated happiness boost of marriage is about 18 percentage points; couples probably have fewer highs after they wed, but the security and companionship more than compensate. In the data, the people to pity are singles, not parents.
A closer look at the General Social Survey also reveals that child No. 1 does almost all the damage. Otherwise identical people with one child instead of none are 5.6 percentage points less likely to be very happy. Beyond that, additional children are almost a happiness free lunch. Each child after the first reduces your probability of being very happy by a mere .6 percentage points.”
It amused me reading this, because I enjoy scientific efforts to quantify something immeasurable. It reminds me of the sort of thing I like to do all the time. (Years ago when looking for a condo, I concluded that I would have a 60% increased happiness quotient if I found a place with a view.)
I don’t think there’s any single best choice when it comes to having kids. Your happiness with kids is largely dependent on how happy you are without them. I’ve got childless friends who are happy without kids, and others who regret not having them. I have friends with children who love the added responsibility, and others who see it primarily as a hindrance. I’ve met stepparents who don’t feel like parents at all, and others whose bond with their kids is tighter than blood. I’ve know adoptive parents who sacrificed everything for the experience of raising a child. (A good friend once explained to her adopted son that she gave birth to him “from her heart.”)
Having seen both very good and very bad parents, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of what being a parent means. I straddle an odd category, being a stepmother of 5 and a birth mother of none, and having taken them all in when they were teens or pre-teens, at the age when most parents would like to drown their young. When I was younger, I couldn’t ever see myself with kids, but later when I found myself with 5, I couldn’t imagine myself without them.
I believe that kids are all things at once: a stress and a comfort, a disruption in life and a purpose for living, a drain and a wellspring. I’m glad to have the big family that I have– all the kids, the grandkids, the nieces and nephews and cousins. While having that many extra people makes life more complicated and difficult in very quantifiable ways, it also makes it more meaningful and more valuable in a blessedly unquantifiable one.
And I’m especially grateful for my own dad. Thanks for sacrificing those 5.6 percentage points to have me!
Happy father’s day–