Sunday, April 13, 2008

Kids and happiness II: Once again, Jason Malloy has brought an interesting article to our attention which challenges the traditional idea that having kids will make you happy. I had read research before suggesting that marital satisfaction drops a bit during the years you are raising children, especially when they are very small or very big, but I hadn't run across studies indicating that people are less happy in the moments they are caring for kids. I wouldn't be shocked if this were true because I have children and know how difficult it is to be a parent.

While the General Social Survey does not have anything like daily data, it can address the question about the relationship between happiness and having kids of certain ages. Following the same scoring method I used the last post, here are the means:


Mean happiness score by number of children of certain age ranges

Number of kids under 6

Women
0 1.20
1 1.19
2 1.21
3 1.13
4 1.12

Men
0 1.19
1 1.21
2 1.24
3 1.21
4 1.13


Number of kids ages 6 to 12

Women
0 1.21
1 1.17
2 1.22
3 1.16
4 1.17
5 0.91

Men
0 1.19
1 1.21
2 1.24
3 1.26
4 1.24
5 1.44


Number of kids ages 13 to 17

Women
0 1.21
1 1.17
2 1.16
3 1.12
4 1.22

Men
0 1.19
1 1.20
2 1.21
3 1.24
4 1.04


Regardless of the age of the children, their number, or whether we're talking about mothers or fathers here, children just don't seem to predict anything one way or the other--at least according to the GSS.

5 comments:

BGC said...

I am skeptical of survey-based happiness research.

Self-rated happiness is not validated in the way that IQ has been (eg. childhood IQ predicts adult educational attainment, or income), nor even validated like the Big 5 personality factors which like happiness are also self-rated (eg conscientiousness predicts income, neuroticism predicts a range of mental illnesses).

Inductivist's analysis further demonstrates the bogosity of happiness research. The lack of measurable impact of chidlren on self-rated happiness is a powerful piece of evidence that self-rated happiness surveys are not valid.

Nothing in life has a larger impact on a person's life than than having children, and if children do not have a clear and measurable effect on happiness, then we are wasting our time with happiness surveys. As indeed we are - scientifically-speaking.

Except that happiness surevys have a hidden agenda.

Happiness, economics and public policy - by Helen Johns and Paul Ormerod.

http://www.iea.org.uk/

record.jsp?type=release&ID=128

In essence, surveys of happiness are being developed on the political left as a rationale for state control and an alternative outcome measure to the 'expressed preferences' revealed by capitalist markets.

In other words, happiness research is a move towards a governance model where state interventions are justified on the basis of what people say makes them happy, this survey evidence over-riding the evidence of what people actually do or the choices they have made.

Ron Guhname said...

bgc: I would agree that survey-based measures of happiness suffer from the same problems that attitudinal measures have in general (e.g., a significant amount of measurement error).

There are some indications, however, that the measure is not useless. Looking at the GSS, mean happiness for the country has been very stable since 1972, which indicates that the measure is reliable. Plus, it is positively (albeit weakly) with the variables that we would expect: marital satisfaction (.45), family satisfaction (.33), reported health (.30), thinking life is interesting (.30), health satisfaction (.26), job satisfaction (.26), city satisfaction (.26), leisure-time satisfaction (.24), and men are more than 3 times as likely to be unhappy if they are unemployed vs. employed full-time (31.9% v. 9.1%).

On the issue of government intervention, I recall from an earlier international analysis I did that one of the stronger predictors of happiness was a feeling of control over one's life.

BGC said...

Probably, what is being measured by 'happiness' surveys is mostly personality.

My colleague Daniel Nettle has written recent books on both Happiness and Personality, and he estimates that when personality is measured along with socio-demographic variables, personality accounts for around ten times as much variation in happiness as do socio-demographic variables.

Probably, happiness surveys are stable because personality is stable; and happiness varies nationally because of changes in the sample, or personality variation nationally/ ethnically etc. - or, to be more precise, the way that people self-rate their own personality by questionnaire varies nationally

(I think there are serious problms about using self rated personality between cultures - problems that do not apply to IQ tests which are tests, not self rated scales.)

Jason Malloy said...

BGC is correct that what happiness is showing is mostly a personality trait (i.e. a stable inborn trait rather than a developed and shifting state). But is incorrect that the measure is not valid like other measures. It both predicts outcomes (e.g. health and wealth) and is reliably predicted by life circumstances (e.g. loving relationships and income).

Also mistaken is that happiness research is a political tool of socialism. If anything, more forceful and convincing arguments have been made that happiness research supports mostly conservative values and capitalist increases in national wealth, even despite inequality.

Wilkinson really has it on this one:

"I’m sure Arnold has noticed more and more happiness work in top economics journals. Well, that’s going to happen more and more whether he likes it or not, and it’s not because those economists are fools or slaves to fashion. It’s because a credible social science really does need better measures of satisfaction and well-being than income."

Jason Malloy said...

Also, pro-natalist Bryan Caplan's analysis of the GSS a few days ago using some standard regression does find a more typical slight negative effect for children.

But he also finds the typical much larger positive effect of being married. Similarly, last year I found that one was the optimal number of sex partners when it comes to happiness for both men and women in the GSS.

So happiness findings are by no means a coup d'├ętat for the political left.


(By the way, last month's Psychological Science has a new behavior genetics paper (PDF) exploring the etiological link between the Big 5 and happiness measures)