Oh, not this again.
Sociologists are discovering that children may not make parents happier and that childless adults, contrary to popular stereotypes, may often be more contented than people with kids.
Parents “definitely experienced more depression,” says Robin Simon, a sociologist at Florida State University who has studied data on parenting.
“Part of our cultural beliefs is that we derive all this joy from kids,” says Simon. “It’s really hard for people who don’t feel this to admit it.” Social pressures to view only the positive aspects of child rearing only make the problem worse, she says. “They’re afraid to admit it because it runs so counter to our cultural beliefs that children make you happy.
I’ve called bullshit on this before. And the article notes why:
The fact of the matter is that it’s much easier to quantify pleasure on a moment-by-moment basis that it is to quantify something as intangible as “unconditional love”. Changing a diaper isn’t enjoyable, and teenagers can be such a pain in the ass, but having kids can also be a profound source of meaning for people. (I like the amateur marathoner metaphor: survey a marathoner in the midst of the race and they’ll complain about their legs and that rash and how the race seems like it’s taking forever. But when the running is over they are always incredibly proud of their accomplishment. Having kids, then, is like a marathon that lasts 18 years.) The larger point, though, is that just because we can’t measure something doesn’t mean it isn’t important, or that we should always privilege the quantifiable (pleasure) over the intangible (meaning). Real life is complex stuff.
Exactly. These sense of accomplishment and continuity I will feel as Abby grows up and lives her life is worth a little misery when she pukes all over the couch.
But there’s more. When you have children, you aren’t just trading happiness for some nebulous sense of worth, you’re investing in future happiness. You sacrifice some freedom and happiness today for greater happiness tomorrow. While the instantaneous measure of happiness for parents is lower, the integral of happiness over their lives is likely larger.
Think about this. Suicide rates peak for people in their 70’s and 80’s and the principle motive is loneliness. Having children doesn’t guarantee you won’t be alone when you’re old. But it vastly increases the chance that you won’t be sitting around in an empty house wishing you could go back in time and have kids.
That’s the investment of having children. It’s like saving money for retirement rather than splurging on a car or a flat panel TV that would make you happy today. I’m curious as to what a similar poll would show for people who spend all their money and people versus invest for retirement. I guarantee that people who don’t save for the future are happier. But in the long run, they will be less happy than those who save for their retirement.
Jesus Christ, have sociologists never heard of delayed gratification? Apparently not. This just goes to prove what I’ve always thought: sociology is for people who are too dumb to do economics.
You know, I think that the best thing about this is that the people conducting these studies, if they act on their results, won’t pass their defective genes on to the next generation. So at least my grand-children won’t have to waste time on their blogs tearing apart this nonsense.
Now I will grant that having children isn’t for everyone. And I don’t want to sound like I’m looking down my nose at childless people. Barring an asteroid strike, our race isn’t likely to extinct anytime soon. But then again, that some people get more pleasure out of breeding than others is yet another stake in the heart of this “study”. As I said at Right-Thinking, measuring happiness this way is like giving everyone the same size shoe.