My child-free friend fired me this headline today with a gloating emoticon: “Studies Confirm: Kids Ruin Your Life.” Okay, I don’t think there’s an emoticon for gloating, but he was gloating.
Science! He proclaimed.
Perspective! I tried to argue back. Saying that it depends on what your life plan was.
If you’re the Duggars, having kids (and more kids and more kids) is the point of life. If you’re a high schooler who “got one past the goalie” then, well, you might have a different perspective on parenting and kids.
But science! He chided.
So, what is this science my buddy boasts of? It’s a bunch of studies actually, dutifully bundled by “the scientific journal”, Gawker.
The Gawker piece mentions a few studies, one being the UK’s Open University, who will be presenting findings this week showing that parents are less likely to work on maintaining their relationship by even doing little things like saying “I love you.” Unmarried parents were found to be happier and more content with their lives than those with a ball and chain, and overall, “childless married and unmarried participants are happier with their relationship and their partner than parents.”
But there was an outlier to the survey of 5,000 respondents. “Mothers are the happiest in their life than any other group.” Perspective.
Gallup this week released data from a worldwide survey of nearly 3 million people between 2008 to 2012. They asked people to rate their lives and asked how close they were to being “ideal.” The ratings they were given included “happy, sad, angered, worried or stressed.”
You’re a parent. You know where this is going. Parents tended to report with more emotional responses to the questions.
“No matter what the controls,” the study reported. “Children are always associated with both more positive and more negative emotions.”
However, parents also tended to be healthier, have higher incomes, more education, and were less likely to smoke. So when it came to overall life satisfaction, parents came in at 6.82/10 while non-parents showed 6.84/10. Pretty much a dead heat.
Those numbers are very different outside the US.
“Our results for the world as a whole, as well as for Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and South Asia are consistent with the most common finding in the literature, that those with children have lower life evaluation,” the study reports. There was much less choice involved in developing countries where children are culturally expected, or needed to help work on the farm and sustain the family’s way of life.
For a week this summer, my wife and I lived the Child-Free Life. Our life was “easier,” but were we “happier?” Yes? No? It’s just a different kind of happy and we definitely felt empty without the kids around.
Princeton economist and lead author of the Gallup study, Angus Deaton, said it’s all about choice. “The take-home message is, Do what you want to do,’ “ he said. “If you think children would make you happy, it’s probably true. And if you think they wouldn’t, it’s probably true, too.”
Which means it is is, like I said, all about perspective.
Postscript: it turns out this could be used as an emoticon for gloating. Who knew?