Monday, June 30, 2008

ARE PARENTS HAPPIER THAN CHILDLESS COUPLES?

NEWSWEEK - The most recent comprehensive study on the emotional state of those with kids shows us that the term "bundle of joy" may not be the most accurate way to describe our offspring. "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. It's such a counterintuitive finding because we have these cultural beliefs that children are the key to happiness and a healthy life, and they're not.". . .

A key study by University of Wisconsin-Madison's Sara McLanahan and Julia Adams, conducted some 20 years ago, found that parenthood was perceived as significantly more stressful in the 1970s than in the 1950s; the researchers attribute part of that change to major shifts in employment patterns. The majority of American parents now work outside the home, have less support from extended family and face a deteriorating education and health-care system, so raising children has not only become more complicated-it has become more expensive. Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that it costs anywhere from $134,370 to $237,520 to raise a child from birth to the age of 17-and that's not counting school or college tuition. No wonder parents are feeling a little blue.

Societal ills aside, perhaps we also expect too much from the promise of parenting. The National Marriage Project's 2006 "State of Our Unions" report says that parents have significantly lower marital satisfaction than nonparents because they experienced more single and child-free years than previous generations. Twenty-five years ago, women married around the age of 20, and men at 23. Today both sexes are marrying four to five years later. This means the experience of raising kids is now competing with highs in a parent's past, like career wins ("I got a raise!") or a carefree social life ("God, this is a great martini!"). Shuttling cranky kids to school or dashing to work with spit-up on your favorite sweater doesn't skew as romantic.

4 Comments:

At June 30, 2008 3:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would venture to guess that this is a purely American study and that similar studies in other countries would have a different result. In our culture of selfishness, acquisitiveness, and competitiveness, children are a major disadvantage in the race to die with the highest total of property, cash, and power.

 
At June 30, 2008 3:53 PM, Blogger Lars said...

I tend to agree with anonymous on the issue of the costs associated with raising children. With flat wages and an increasing burden on the individual to finance lifes expenses (insurance, education, daycare) children are a major expense. With heating oil prices potentially hitting $5 a gallon (or more) this year, many families in colder climates will be hard pressed to afford the huge increase in costs just to heat a home. So under these strains, I could see how parents could report being less happy than childless couples. But I would be curious to see how many childless couples report being happy later in the lives compared to the parents.

 
At June 30, 2008 4:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder how the results would differ with the age of the parents when the children are born. Having a child late in life I can't say I felt like I missed out on anything, or had to surrender a lifestyle for my son. I might have felt differently at twenty.

Furthermore, I never went anywhere with spit-up on my sweater...that I'm aware of.

 
At June 30, 2008 7:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lars,

It says in the article that even empty nest parents are less happy than those who never had children.

 

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