[Content warning: Discussion of child-rearing, may invoke mild feelings of social pressure to have children]
On December’s survey, I asked readers who had children whether they were happy with that decision. Here are the results, from 1 (very unhappy) to 5 (very happy):
The mean was 4.43, and the median 5. People are really happy to have kids!
This was equally true regardless of gender. The male average (4.43, n = 1768) and female average (4.49, n = 177) were indistinguishable.
To double-check this, I compared the self-reported life satisfaction of people with and without kids. People with kids were much more satisfied – but also did much better on lots of other variables like financial situation, romantic satisfaction, etc. So probably at least some of the effect was because people with kids tend to be older people in stable relationships who have their life more figured out, and maybe also more religious.
In order to compare apples to apples, I limited the comparison to married atheist men 25 or older. There was no longer a consistent trend for people with at least one child to be more satisfied. But there was a trend for increasing satisfaction with increasing number of children:
NUMBER OF CHILDREN : AVERAGE LIFE SATISFACTION ON 1-10 SCALE (total n = 1491):
This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, since I would expect the biggest life change to be going from zero children to one child. Probably some residual confounders remain in the analysis – and commenter “meh” points out that people who are happiest with their existing children will be most likely to have more. But at the very least, people with children don’t seem to be less happy.
These results broadly match existing research, which usually finds that parents report being very happy to have children, but that this is not reflected in life satisfaction numbers. The main difference is that existing research usually claims parents have lower life satisfaction than non-parents. But this is different in different countries, either for cultural or for policy reasons. The survey respondents form a culturally unusual group and are of a higher socioeconomic status; they may be more similar to countries like Norway (where parents are happier) than to countries like the United States (where they are less happy).
(also, we should at least consider the Caplanian perspective that people more informed about genetics will be happier parents, since they’ll be less neurotic about the effect of their parenting styles.)
The View From Hell blog argues that the discrepancy between the direct question (“Are you happy to have kids?”) and the indirect one (“How happy are you?”, compared across parents vs. childless people) is pure self-deception; children suck, but parents refuse to admit it. I haven’t looked in depth at the study they cite, which purports to show that the more you prime parents with descriptions of the burdens of parenthood, the more great they insist everything is. But I wonder about the philosophical foundations we should be using here. There’s happiness, and there’s happiness: I am happy to be giving money to charity and making the world a better place, but I don’t think my self-reported life satisfaction would be noticeably higher after a big donation. It might even be lower if it cut into my luxury consumption. The wanting/liking/approving trichotomy may also be relevant.
People were happier with their decision to have children if they were (all results are binomial correlations and highly significant even after correction): more gender-conforming (0.14), had fewer thoughts about maybe being transgender (0.20), were more right-wing (0.10), considered themselves more moral people (0.15), were less autistic (0.12), were less extraverted (0.10), were more emotionally stable (0.15), and were more agreeable (0.13). All of these effects were very small compared to the generally high level of happiness at having children, no matter who you were and what your personality was like.
I included this survey question because I’m considering whether or not to have kids. Even though the survey only reinforced the (confusing) results of past research, I still find it helpful. After all, a lot of the survey-takers here are pretty skeptical of other aspects of traditional lifestyles: monogamy, gender norms, religion, etc. It’s impressive how strongly approval of parenting survives even in this weird a population; I consider this a new and exciting fact beyond the ones established by previous studies.
As always, if you want to double-check these results or analyze them further, you can download the data as an .xlsx file. I have removed the data of a few people who did not want their answers to be public, so you may not get exactly the same numbers I did, but they should be pretty close.