On Children and Happiness

In the past few years, various studies have come out asking whether or not having children makes people happier. A 2004 study by Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman involving 900 working women in Texas who were asked questions like, “How happy are you when you’re taking care of your kids?” found that the parents weren’t very happy. Children are expensive! Raising children is not an easy thing. And yet some of us choose to do so.

Today, the Centre for Economic Policy Research, in a report called “What Good Are Children?” tells us to ignore all those studies because people who want children and end up having children are just as happy as people who don’t want children and don’t have any, and we should just stop asking this question:

If we think that people who have children are people whose lives are better because they have children, while those who are childless have better lives without them, the empirical findings are not at all surprising. Recent work by Benjamin et al (2013, 2014) confirms that people do not exactly maximise their wellbeing when making life decisions, but they often come very close. If so, those whose wellbeing will be improved by having children will have children, and those whose wellbeing would be worsened by having children will not. But the two groups have different tastes –most obviously in their preference for children — so we have no a priori basis for expecting one group to be better off than the other once they have made their choices. Would be parents who cannot have children are certainly likely to be dissatisfied relative to those who do, and people who do not want a child would no doubt be dissatisfied if they accidently acquired one. But non-parents are not failed parents, nor are parents failed non-parents.

And that is about all that we can say.

Photo: Steve Slater

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