Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Would having children make me happier?

I don't know the answer to that, of course. But it'd be pretty useful to know!

So this is a welcome finding -- not because I necessarily agree with the conclusion, but because the question is so emotionally charged that it's refreshing to see someone even attempt to answer it objectively:

"Parents experience lower levels of emotional well-being, less frequent positive emotions and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers," says Florida State University's Robin Simon, a sociology professor who's conducted several recent parenting studies, the most thorough of which came out in 2005 and looked at data gathered from 13,000 Americans by the National Survey of Families and Households. "In fact, no group of parents—married, single, step or even empty nest—reported significantly greater emotional well-being than people who never had children. It's such a counterintuitive finding because we have these cultural beliefs that children are the key to happiness and a healthy life, and they're not."
Responding to Will Wilkinson's blog post on that study, Megan McArdle says: "I don't understand why Will Wilkinson finds this" -- that is, the study's findings -- "so surprising."

I don't understand why McArdle finds Wilkinson so surprised! I don't see the slightest expression of surprise in Wilkinson's post.

On the contrary, it seems like he has a pretty unflinchingly realistic take on the whole thing:
[T]he profundity of the experience of loving a child I think blinds many people to the very real costs of raising them. To accept that we have been made less happy in a real sense by our children threatens our sense of the profundity and the value of that bond. So people get upset when they hear this. But that’s not counter-evidence.
Those last two sentences are ones I had to re-read a few times to make sure I absorbed them. This is a key point that's often overlooked: your visceral aversion to an idea doesn't mean the idea is wrong.


Ann Althouse said...

Nice post. Why did Megan think Will was surprised?

John Althouse Cohen said...

She didn't say. I'm surprised.

Russell said...

I think in many ways that people project their happiness onto their children at the expense of their own.