Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Does Parenthood Improve Happiness?

Based on my own personal experience (as a father of three), my answer is a big "YES!".

But what does the scientific evidence suggest? Like most things in life it is a complex issue. I just read this interesting paper in the latest issue of the Journal of Happiness. This study found that having children can increase life satisfaction. Though much depends on how one conceives of "happiness", and factors like a parent's marital status, age, gender, income and education are relevant. Here is a sample from the study:

Surely children involve a lot of work and it is likely that the typical everyday experience with your children is rather negative. But when asked about the most important things in their lives most people would place their children near or even at the top of the list. An ‘‘hedometer’’ might not be able to capture the most rewarding aspects of having children, focusing instead on high-frequency discomforts such as asking teenagers to clean up their room. Measures of life satisfaction, on the other hand, should reflect the low-frequency and more transcendent rewards of having children. A question such as ‘‘How satisfied are you with your life?’’ lead us to take a long-term perspective and consider our personal and professional achievements before answering. Having children can be expected to weight positively in the answer; despite or maybe precisely because of the difficulty of raising them.

....We have found that married individuals in general, and married women in particular, are more satisfied when they have children at home and their satisfaction increases as the number of children in the household increases. We have found that the positive effect of children is present for married individuals of all ages. We have found that rich individuals seem to prefer one child to many, while for most of the population the opposite is true.

....There is thus no denying that children have negative consequences on several wellbeing measures. What we have also found is that despite all these negative sides, when considering their life as a whole married individuals with children report themselves as better off than married individuals without children. The intangible rewards of parenthood must be quite substantial indeed.

....This paper has presented econometric evidence supporting a positive relationship between having children and life satisfaction. This result differs from the general view that the literature has held on the matter. Previous research failed to identify these positive effects because it did not consider the key role of individual characteristics, marital status in particular. For the average person, having children has a small and possibly zero effect on life satisfaction. For the average married person, however, the effect is large, positive and increasing in the number of children. The positive experience of married individuals is countered by the negative experiences of people who are separated, living as a couple or never-married singles.