Last Wednesday NBC’s Today Show reported that adults without children are 7% happier than those with children. Having just written on Demographic Winter, I was struck by seeing this rather opposing perspective the next day. You can see it for yourself here. The central finding:
“Marital satisfaction decreases after the birth of the first kid, and doesn’t go up until after the last kid leaves home.”
The TV report gives no operational definition for “happiness” (but what would you expect?). So I did hours of research (actually, I googled “Do Kids Make You Happy?”) and found a Newsweek article written by one of the Today Show interviewees, Lorraine Ali. It includes this:
“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.”
Reasons for this include sleepless nights, economic pressures, career disruptions, changes in romantic relationships, lack of social support for many parenting needs, and more. It’s a new trend, according to the Today Show.
And it does not address the fulfillment, love, or joy parenting brings, for as the interviewer said, “how can you quantify that?”
I fly frequently, usually alone, but sometimes with my family. Years ago when the kids were small, I was bothered by my own emotional reaction to having the family with me on a flight. “It’s so much harder, less relaxed and peaceful when they’re along,” I would think; and then I would feel guilty for thinking it. Then I realized that it was just true; no need to feel guilty for thinking it. It really is easier to travel alone than with my wife and kids. But there’s an emotional richness that comes with being together, that cannot be matched in any way by cocooning in my usual exit-row window seat.
Easier, or emotionally richer–which do you choose? That, I think, is a microcosm of the situation this study addressed. Of course life would be easier and I could be “happier” without kids, if “happier” meant doing the things I want to do, not having heartaches or fears about people I love, not being bothered or disturbed by others’ needs or agendas.
“But I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.” I almost wrote that as if it were true. Actually, there have been moments … but they have been few and they have been brief.
Here’s the question: Is happiness the point? What about fruitfulness? What about love? What about giving? What about spiritual and character growth? What about the future?
Final note about the TV interview: there are some good thoughts in there on what children need, and what contributes to satisfaction in marriage, with or without children. If you watch it, don’t fail to grab what’s good there.