Ronald Bailey looks at the data and concludes that having children doesn’t make us happy:
“Economists have modeled the impact of many variables on people’s overall happiness and have consistently found that children have only a small impact. A small negative impact,” reports Harvard psychologist and happiness researcher Daniel Gilbert. In addition, the more children a person has the less happy they are. According to Gilbert, researchers have found that people derive more satisfaction from eating, exercising, shopping, napping, or watching television than taking care of their kids. “Indeed, looking after the kids appears to be only slightly more pleasant than doing housework,” asserts Gilbert in his bestselling, Stumbling on Happiness (2006).
Of course, that’s not what most parents say when asked. For instance, in a 2007 Pew Research Center survey people insisted that their relationships with their little darlings are of the greatest importance to their personal happiness and fulfillment. However, the same survey also found “by a margin of nearly three-to-one, Americans say that the main purpose of marriage is the ‘mutual happiness and fulfillment’ of adults rather than the ‘bearing and raising of children.’”
Bailey goes on to reconcile this contradiction by asserting that people with kids only say their kids are so important because that’s what they’re expected to say. If they could be honest (or at least a little self-aware), they’d realize that kids are a big pain in the ass.
Color me skeptical. Sure, it would be nice if we could skip the whole kids phase and go straight to having grandkids. And I’d like a puppy that tasted like chocolate. But I think that the supposed disconnect between kids and happiness – the reason people say they would rather clean the dishes than change a diaper – has more to do with the way we measure “happiness” than with the actual happiness generated by having kids. 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 “meaning” or “love”. But just because we can’t measure something doesn’t mean it isn’t important. I actually think one of Bailey’s commenters nailed the issue:
I am guessing that if you surveyed marathon runners at various intervals during the race, they’d complain about how miserable they are. Upon crossing the finish line, they would talk about the overall achievement and how wonderful it was. Same with raising kids.