Saturday, April 12, 2008

Kids and happiness: Jason Malloy in the last post raises an interesting issue about the connection between having children and happiness. The traditional viewpoint claims that kids are essential to being happy, but he links to evidence and arguments for the alternative view that children work against happiness.

First, my opinion on the subjects treads the middle ground that it's basically a wash, and that common sense dictates that people are happy when they are doing what they want to do ( in fact the statement is almost tautolgoical). In my view, what people want to do is influenced by what their culture tells them is worthy of pursuit, and unfortunately American society is telling women of all types that stay-at-home mothers are brood mares, while Hillary Clinton is what it's all about.

So, in the last analysis, my approach is to... umm... analyze. Data, that is. So, let's see what the crystal ball called the General Social Survey has to say.

I looked at more than 2,200 people ages 40-60 (presumably they're reached the point where the parent/non-parent choice has become final) for the survey years 2000-2006 in order to get the most current pattern. On happiness, people were given a 1 for "very happy", 2 for "pretty happy", and 3 for "not too happy." I calculated the means and subtract them from three so that high scores indicate greatest happinness:


Mean happiness score by number of children

Women
0 1.19
1 1.16
2 1.21
3 1.12
4 1.07
5 1.15
6 1.18
7 1.42
8 1.38


Men
0 1.08
1 1.10
2 1.24
3 1.30
4 1.18
5 1.10
6 1.24
7 1.30


There is no evidence here that happiness is undermined by having children, but neither does it help much either. There is basically no difference between a childless woman and one with two kids, and a father of two is only a quarter of a standard deviation above the childless man.

From studies I've read and some data analysis I've conducted as well, relationship and work satisfaction are the most powerful predictors of being happy: there is no obvious pattern with respect to kids, at least in contemporary American society. In a culture where women are given high status for raising a large family, the results might be different.

1 comment:

Jason Malloy said...

There is no evidence here that happiness is undermined by having children, but neither does it help much either.

Experience sampling and cross-sectional data provide evidence that children subtract from sum lifetime happiness.

For instance, people are less happy in the daily moments they are interacting with and taking care of their children. And, more generally, their baseline levels of reported subjective well-being are lower in the years their children are living at home as dependents. People are only as happy as they were before they had children after their children leave home.

So the sum effect of having children, on average, is total decreased lifetime happiness.