The Happiness Gap
June 17, 2016 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Why parents are more unhappy than their childless peers. New York Times article on why parents in the United States are more unhappy than their childless friends and why it might be less about the kids are more about how we support families.
posted by katinka-katinka (95 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Paging Dr. Obvious.

Which I know is flip and I know that even things that seem obvious need empirical evidence before any conclusions can be drawn but... yeah.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:05 PM on June 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


As a member of the human race and a USian, this saddens me. As an unapologetic member of a DINK household, I gotta say I'm definitely happier than most of the people I know, with or without kids. Although that honestly might just be a chemical imbalance that happens to have worked out in my favor.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:06 PM on June 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


Yes, I imagine a chronic anxiety and lack of sleep would make you unhappy.
posted by Gwynarra at 1:11 PM on June 17, 2016 [22 favorites]


Also good to be reminded that 'happiness' isn't always a particularly useful or nuanced metric, especially across cultures.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:12 PM on June 17, 2016 [20 favorites]


My wife and I are expecting our first child pretty much any day now. The cost of daycare is going to be $1,200/month, and while money might not buy happiness, $1,200 buys a whole lot of not worrying about money. Subsidized day care and longer paid leave so we needed it less would do a lot for my happiness.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:13 PM on June 17, 2016 [43 favorites]


Without even reading this, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess financial stress? And you know, there's a reason the metaphor that's dominated throughout the ages is "feeling the weight of adult responsibility." You consciously choose to connect your happiness to the happiness of certain other human beings irreversibly (unless you're an unfeeling monster) when you choose to have kids. The more people your happiness is dependent on, the greater the risk you'll get pushed outside your personal comfort zone. That's my take as someone who personally finds meaning in trying to be a good parent, but would never lie and say it's a cakewalk and doesn't require sacrifices and struggle.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:15 PM on June 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


I think that each group thinks the other has it better.

When I worked at my last job, the parents were able to take time off whenever their kids were out of school during the school year. It caused a greater burden on the childless people in the office. I often felt myself feeling jealous of the extra time of parents were able to get.

But then there was a month where I just happened to be traveling for fun every weekend. The parents in the office made comments saying that they wished they still had that freedom to do whatever I wanted.
posted by reenum at 1:16 PM on June 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


Actually this research is a huge relief to me. From the moment I realized I did not have to have kids, I have never wanted them, but it's always seemed particularly cruel and depressing when the studies say that kids make you miserable. Surely something that a large percent of the population has to do for the continuation of humans shouldn't also be something that ipso facto makes life worse. So it's cheering to know that while having kids does make your life worse, it's only because this country is run on stupid, greedy, horrible lines. At least there's some possibility that someday, maybe, if benevolent aliens replace our government or we get invaded by Zapatista battle robots, that may change.
posted by Frowner at 1:17 PM on June 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


A longer version of this peer-reviewed study will be published in the American Journal of Sociology in September 2016.

I think it's a bit premature to discuss this when the study isn't available and hasn't been subjected to criticism beyond the peer review process.

The study looked at 22 countries and apparently found that
The happiness gap between parents and nonparents in the United States is significantly larger than the gap found in other industrialized nations, including Great Britain and Australia. And in other Western countries, the happiness gap is nonexistent or even reversed. Parents in Norway, Sweden and Finland — and Russia and Hungary — report even greater levels of happiness than their childless peers.
Why?
"The two things that came out most strongly in explaining the variation were the cost of care for the average 2-year-old as a percent of wages and the total extent of paid sick and vacation days."
This is a bit flippant, but it sounds like speaking English is the problem,* if only English-speaking countries had a problem and every other country had either no gap or a gap in the other direction.

* Or, only slightly more seriously, being England or a former English colony.
posted by jedicus at 1:19 PM on June 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


We are DINK, as well. We get plenty of exercise, sleep, and feel fairly in control of our financial lives. My assumption would be that anyone who has those things would be pretty happy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:21 PM on June 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


I gotta say, the people in my office who hands down take the most time off are the two unmarried childless dudes. I don't know if they just are young and suck at taking care of themselves or what but they are constantly out. They are both otherwise good workers and good guys and I am not accusing them of faking it or anything, but they are out a lot. I am hyper-aware that everyone is looking at me as the sole person in the office with a young child and no other stay-at-home parent. And I'm monstrously lucky in that we have hot and cold running local grandparents who are often able to step in (like this week when I woke up with a stomach virus at 3 AM--my mom showed up at 7AM to get my son up and dressed and breakfasted and then took him away for the day so I could stay home and puke my guts out and my husband could go to work) but I still feel guilty every time childless people start talking about the great injustice of time off.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:25 PM on June 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think that each group thinks the other has it better.

Nope nope nope. I like sleeping, freedom, and spending money on myself. The parents I know who take time off of work for their kids are generally not doing fun stuff, they're taking their kids to the doctor or whatever. Besides, that comes out of their PTO, and all of us have the same amount of it.
posted by AFABulous at 1:25 PM on June 17, 2016 [35 favorites]


Yes, 'happiness' is what you feel at a birthday party. That is the wrong metric. Satisfaction? Fulfillment?
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 1:25 PM on June 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


Without even reading this, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess financial stress?

Maybe you should read the article before offering your opinion about the subject.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:26 PM on June 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


Without even reading this, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess financial stress?

It is not as simple as financial stress.

But, studies show that more income increases happiness as long as it is moving you towards baseline security. In other words, when you are genuinely poor and not sure you can meet your basic needs or not able to adequately meet them, that reduces your happiness. Bringing income up to the point where a lack of income is not a threat to your survival improves happiness. Beyond that, there is no correlation between income and happiness.

So I will say that the policy and cultural defects in the US that make parents so stressed translates to a profound sense of insecurity of the "I might not survive" variety. And this is just not a good thing. This is something profoundly defective in the US and I have known it for my entire adult life.
posted by Michele in California at 1:27 PM on June 17, 2016 [15 favorites]


Deferred gratification?
posted by amtho at 1:28 PM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


I love that the article suggests that we treat parents poorly and Metafilter's response is "Yeah, being a non-parent is great!"

.... ok?
posted by selfnoise at 1:28 PM on June 17, 2016 [84 favorites]


They are both otherwise good workers and good guys and I am not accusing them of faking it or anything, but they are out a lot.

I think that there's a real problem with American culture though, that anyone feels weird about that. You should take all of your vacation days. Always.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:31 PM on June 17, 2016 [37 favorites]


Seems like this is yet another case of policies that are short term good for business trumping what is long term good for society, at least in the U.S.

It'd be brilliant if we could maybe change that before society face plants, but I hold old less hope every year.
posted by Mooski at 1:33 PM on June 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


I love that the article suggests that we treat parents poorly and Metafilter's response is "Yeah, being a non-parent is great!"
Welcome to the internet!

I think that there's a real problem with American culture though, that anyone feels weird about that. You should take all of your vacation days. Always.
I do not practice what I preach on this account. I'm currently maxed out on vacation days and my boss is 100% not the cause of that, nor is my workload. I just... don't know what I'd do? We don't have a lot of spare money to take trips (see article re daycare costs) and just sitting around at home sounds boring. But yes, everyone should take all days to which they are entitled, and I do not begrudge my coworkers at all. Them taking time off has never impacted me one iota. But it's still true that it is not the parents in the department that are out most.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:35 PM on June 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


We've been pretty happy as parents but I can say with some certainty that much of that has been tied into the fact that many of the pressures of child-raising were mitigated in our specific situation. Because I am a writer and had a (very) flexible schedule, I could also be the stay-at-home parent, which relieved a lot of child care issues.

When we did take our daughter to child care, it was through the community college my wife was attending (at the behest of her employer, who paid for her tuition). The CC had a child care program, so the head teacher there had a masters in childhood development and the assistants were all aiming for their degrees, so they were attentive and paid attention. Cost of the program: $2 an hour (and later, when my wife went to a four year college, our daughter's attendance was grandfathered in). We also moved to Ohio to be closer to family, which allowed us to drop our daughter with grandparents when we wanted a date night. And so on.

It also helped that, bluntly, we've been fortunate financially in other ways, which meant we never had to worry about health care, educational expenses, etc in a way that many folks do. Finally, our kid was (generally) pretty great, and we only had the one, so her childhood was relatively smooth and focused on her.

Our daughter is heading off to college in a year and one of the things I am genuinely proud of is that, barring catastrophe, she'll have gotten through her childhood years without stress caused by us and the life situation we brought her into. But I also recognize that we were in a fairly unusual position, in terms of the breaks we got in raising her. They're not breaks everyone would get. And here in the US, at least, that will make for a very difference experience (and quality of life) raising kids.
posted by jscalzi at 1:36 PM on June 17, 2016 [15 favorites]


We don't have a lot of spare money to take trips (see article re daycare costs) and just sitting around at home sounds boring.

I take staycations a few times a year, sometimes the same week as my fiancé , sometimes not. I get in long runs, make fancy meals, go to museums, binge TV shows, read books in the park, etc. It's not boring at all.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:37 PM on June 17, 2016 [18 favorites]


They discovered the gap could be explained by differences in family-friendly social policies such as subsidized child care and paid vacation and sick leave.

Next, they'll be telling us that water is wet and the sky is blue. Parents are happier when they get state support rather than having to jury-rig whatever they can get from their own families and employers - who may or may not be healthy and supportive? Who'da thunk?

The article went on to note the pressure on American parents around getting their kids into good colleges. It's got to be easier on parents in Scandinavia and Finland, for instance, knowing that even if Kiddo doesn't do well in school and never goes to college, she or he won't be on the streets, or living in Mom and Dad's basement forever.

I don't have children and never wanted them, but I might have been persuaded if I lived in, say, Sweden, instead of the US - someplace where I could have a long maternity leave, state-subsidized child care, a dad who is more likely to be an equal parent, and no need to helicopter myself to death to give my child a future. (I'd still be upset if my child were allergic to cats - almost typed "if my cat was allergic to children!")

"Here is your year-long parental leave and your free childcare" is a lot better than "Breed white children for Jebus" in getting parents to have children, but who said the Republican right has the sense God gave a goose?
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:38 PM on June 17, 2016 [20 favorites]


As I neared the end of this article, during my break from stressing about childcare tomorrow (my 3 babysitters can't cover and no family nearby) and trying to finish a sermon where parents and grandparents will bury their 21 year old, my almost 2-year old came over from the other room and gave me a hug.

Not everyone works in a profession or an environment where you're always "on-call'" but such environments don't mix well in dual income or single parent situations.
posted by Stynxno at 1:38 PM on June 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


I would love to have children, except that I fear that I'm going to have to spend the rest of my life being obsessed about getting the best everything, because of the way inequality and resources are divided in this country, just so I can survive and so my child would not be fucked up.
posted by yueliang at 1:41 PM on June 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


I was about to have kids but someone on Metafilter scolded me for it so
posted by beerperson at 1:42 PM on June 17, 2016 [30 favorites]


Not everyone works in a profession or an environment where you're always "on-call'" but such environments don't mix well in dual income or single parent situations.

HOLY SHIT YES. My wife works on Saturdays, so on the (thankfully rare) weekends when I have to work, my nine and six year olds are miserable. "Daaaddy, when will you be doooooone?" Since everyone around here is Too Goddamned Busy and I live in the land of the Type A Personality, it's not like I can send them to play with the kids next door all day, because the other kids are all off "at practice" for some sport or activity or whatnot. This sucks large, gnarled goat testes. (Putting my kids in similar sports/activities would not help, as they don't last all day, interrupt work schedules, and add logistical hassles we just don't need.)

As a DITK family (double income, two kids), I'll weigh in that having kids has been enormously fulfilling and great and holy fucking shit is America still not built for families where both parents work. It's not just the lack of daycares and preschools, it's nonsense like the school calendar. The schedules make no sense unless you assume that every family has a full-time caregiver. This isn't to dump on teachers and school administrators -- it's not as though a school could just decide to have a realistic schedule, because money's involved -- but damn, it's a mess.

This week is the last week of school in our district. The week ends with three consecutive "early release" days, where the kids get out of school at 12:30. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. We live in an expensive area, so pretty much all the parents work. Child care a problem? You lack infinite flexibility or lots of childcare options? Too goddamn bad, fucker! Woohoo!

This is magnificent bullshit. Yet it endures. Institutional inertia is so mighty that forty-plus years after women began to enter the workforce in large numbers, nothing's changed.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 1:43 PM on June 17, 2016 [51 favorites]


The crazy thing is that America is ALSO not built for one-income households because that kind of job security and pay is not available for enough people. We live in a country designed for the memories of of the people who vote and pay Congressmen.
posted by selfnoise at 1:45 PM on June 17, 2016 [42 favorites]


Assuming the study is correct, I observe that there appears to be an inverse correlation between parental happiness and fertility rates. The 5 'best' countries for parents in the study have fertility rates of ~1.4-1.8. Compare that to the three 'worst' countries, each with a rate of ~1.9.

It could be that the things that make people happy also make them want to have fewer children. Presumably the study controlled for fertility rates somehow, but it seems to me that it's much easier to make parents happy if a) there are fewer families-with-children overall and b) there are fewer children within each family.
posted by jedicus at 1:48 PM on June 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Surely something that a large percent of the population has to do for the continuation of humans shouldn't also be something that ipso facto makes life worse.

You're right, but you're also begging the question.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:49 PM on June 17, 2016


My wife and I are expecting our first child pretty much any day now.

Congratulations!!
posted by clockzero at 1:49 PM on June 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


I'll weigh in that having kids has been enormously fulfilling and great and holy fucking shit is America still not built for families where both parents work.

So on the latter point, very much yes. On the first point I think there's something to be said for being fulfilled vs being happy. I find doing challenging things fulfilling but they tend to not make me very happy in the short run.
posted by GuyZero at 1:50 PM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Not having kids is not a solution. The United states is not growing due to birth it is growing due to immigration. Wierd things happen when people stop having children and proneonatalist policies in Europe and other places ( see Japan) are a part of that. When population triangles become square or inverse (same number of all people, or more older people than younger people) things start happening economically which are a big deal. The US is heading towards the same exact problems that other countries with a weak middle class are having, is that the middle class stops having kids and twenty years later the tax base is messed up.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:50 PM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


The week ends with three consecutive "early release" days, where the kids get out of school at 12:30.

This is also the school board finessing their teacher hours for pay purposes and meeting the bare minimum required number of instruction hours for legal purposes. It's not even about working vs stay-at-home parents, it's about school boards budgeting down to single hours of classroom time and teacher pay.
posted by GuyZero at 1:52 PM on June 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


It could be that the things that make people happy also make them want to have fewer children.

I think that choosing when to have children, and how many, contributes vastly to happiness in parenthood. Finland and the Scandinavian countries have, if I'm not mistaken, easy access to birth control and abortion. Whereas with the US - the less said about that, the better. At least Obamacare has put birth control into reach of many more women.

Having one or two planned-for, wanted children is a happier situation than "Have a baby as punishment for daring to have sex, You Slut!" which is the attitude in many parts of the US. Not where I live, thankfully, but the horror stories from red states are legion.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:52 PM on June 17, 2016 [15 favorites]


I think that each group thinks the other has it better.

I would advise you to consider picking up your hypothetical third grader after school and explaining 9/11 or a school shooting. Or maybe trying to paint a bright optimistic future after a documentary on coral-reef death.

There's a little more to it than skipping out of the office early, bitching about PTO, or getting the lower-end Audi.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:52 PM on June 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


They are both otherwise good workers and good guys and I am not accusing them of faking it or anything, but they are out a lot.

Wait, you mean that everyone is kind of subtly judgey and upset with them because they take their vacation days instead of letting them expire unused? I thought you were talking about them being out sick a lot.

I was just trying to explain to a senior person at work that junior people are discouraged from using their vacation days by the "soft power" of whining, judging and condemning of people who take time off, and he didn't believe me. But here we are!
posted by Frowner at 1:55 PM on June 17, 2016 [29 favorites]


Standing offer to any mefite who wants to experiment with sleep deprivation: you memail me your phone number and I'll just call you up anytime my kid wakes up (Pacific standard time) and I'll calmly relay his messages to you.

HAHA ARE YOU KIDDING I GET LIKE 6 HOURS OF SLEEP A NIGHT I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THAT SHIT.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:00 PM on June 17, 2016 [19 favorites]


Not having kids is not a solution.

An anti-natalist would say this just kicks the problem to the next generation.

For those interested in a direct philosophical consideration of the ethics of having children, I recommend Debating Procreation, which is a debate between anti-natalist David Benatar and pro-natalist David Wasserman. I found it a thorough and fair consideration of the issue, although full-disclosure: I was an anti-natalist going in and a confirmed anti-natalist afterward. The book is a little pricey, being meant for the academic market, so I suggest borrowing it from a library.
posted by jedicus at 2:01 PM on June 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


I remember a study from Germany (may have posted it here) which found that 70% of people felt less happy after having a kid. I wonder if the study in this article also broke out the proportions by country, or looked into the range of happiness outcomes per country. Do better child-rearing supports raise happiness relative to the child-free mostly by a) making the most miserable parents no-so-miserable or b) raising every parents' happiness a bit?

I'd look into it myself, but I've gotta run - for the obvious reason.
posted by clawsoon at 2:01 PM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure they hammered cultural angles hard enough here.

At least as far as what I can see in Mexico (2 years in the Peace Corps, 1 year out, planning on living here), it's not just or even at all that there's some universally-accepted parenting style (is that really anywhere?) but that there's so much more cultural support and acceptance for parents.

My post-college peers who had kids became other people and disappeared into a separate pure-parent peer group. But here when somebody has a kid, they're just somebody with a kid. They go to the same dinners, the same parties, but now their kid plays with other people's kids.

And parents usually seem pretty much as happy after having kids as before.
posted by TheProfessor at 2:02 PM on June 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


I thought you were talking about them being out sick a lot.

I was. And I'm not judging at all, just stating that the facts on the ground here are contrary to all the anecdata that floats around every time the internet discusses working parents. No one here is discouraged from using sick or vacation days, it's a great place to work, people use their time as they see fit and I'm all for it.
posted by soren_lorensen at 2:04 PM on June 17, 2016


When I worked at my last job, the parents were able to take time off whenever their kids were out of school during the school year. It caused a greater burden on the childless people in the office. I often felt myself feeling jealous of the extra time of parents were able to get.

It's not exactly time off; it's time not doing work for which you're getting paid, and hopefully you enjoy being with your kids and find it fulfilling, but childcare is not time off. It's work, which is why you have to pay other people to do it for you if you can't, for whatever reason, do it yourself.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:14 PM on June 17, 2016 [29 favorites]


Another thought about fertility rates: I wonder what the relationship between family size and happiness is. Again, without access to the study it's impossible to know, but do parents in the 'happy parents' countries stay happy as they have more and more children? Importantly, are they still happy when they have 3 or more children, which is necessary to reach the replacement rate of ~2.2 children in developed countries?
posted by jedicus at 2:14 PM on June 17, 2016


A lot of people (especially in mid to upper class America) take parenting way too seriously.

Like it's a competition that you win by having your kid do the greatest activities, the best educational camps, the highest reading level in the class, the most math facts, etc.

Quite frankly, I'm not surprised they aren't happy.
They sure as hell don't look happy at the playground when I see them, or yelling from the sidelines at tee-ball.
posted by madajb at 2:19 PM on June 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


Well most countries who have neonatalist policies continue to struggle to get up to replacement rate after it falls below 2.1.
I'm not sure there is an example where it has gone above replacement rate.

In additions in less developed countries children end up being economically beneficial eariler on- they help tend fields, run a small store do repairs etc.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:27 PM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Re: fertility rates. Pretty sure the countries with lower fertility rates are trying harder to incentivize people to have children. Hence better support for parents.
posted by ethidda at 2:28 PM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Keep in mind that a lot of these camps and lessons popular with supposedly "competitive" and "alpha" parents are for the purpose of child care during insanely long school breaks. Working parents want these activities to be fun and enriching, of course, but they are not doing it because they think that Liam or Madeline's third-grade computer camp is going to get their kid into Brown in ten years.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 2:30 PM on June 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


Yes, they do due to economic problems.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:30 PM on June 17, 2016


Like it's a competition that you win by having your kid do the greatest activities, the best educational camps, the highest reading level in the class, the most math facts, etc.


I think it's a lot more "holy shit my kid is going to be competing for the very few jobs that are left after the destruction of the middle class, I'd better prepare them"
posted by AFABulous at 2:32 PM on June 17, 2016 [16 favorites]


Like it's a competition that you win by having your kid do the greatest activities, the best educational camps, the highest reading level in the class, the most math facts, etc.

This was my parents. My brother and I have both been out of the house for several years now, and I have never in my lifetime seen my parents as happy as they've been since we stopped being things they needed to parent. They're calmer, happier, healthier, have hobbies...it's nice seeing them happy.
posted by phunniemee at 2:36 PM on June 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Most of the parents I know end up - most years - not using all their leave because they're hoarding it to use for sick kids because they can't use the child care they pay for if there's any sign of fever or the shits, or for the surgery recovery from the broken bone or ear tubes or god-knows-what that could happen at any minute. You can't really schedule that stuff, and for financial and job security reasons it's better to lose that time than use it all up and have to take unpaid leave.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:41 PM on June 17, 2016 [14 favorites]


Under contemporary American capitalism, having a child is a surefire way to ruin three lives. unless you've got inherited wealth to catch you, of course, but most of us don't have that.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:48 PM on June 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Pretty sure the countries with lower fertility rates are trying harder to incentivize people to have children. Hence better support for parents.

Right, but while such incentives may make parents happier, how does that scale with the number of children?
posted by jedicus at 2:48 PM on June 17, 2016


I would advise you to consider picking up your hypothetical third grader after school and explaining 9/11 or a school shooting. Or maybe trying to paint a bright optimistic future after a documentary on coral-reef death.

I dunno, different people think different things are hard, because I haven't had any problems explaining terrible things about the world to my kids.
posted by jpe at 2:54 PM on June 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


The number of children goes up a little, not alot. Most European countries are below replacement rate.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:55 PM on June 17, 2016


to my point, FME there are a shit-tons of solid reasons that have nothing to do with money or capitalism. which is where the discussion immediately bent to. just trying to point out that parenting introduces stresses that impact *happiness* that aren't money, which is the cheap and easy go-to this thread.
posted by j_curiouser at 2:59 PM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


What I find bizarrely missing from at least the brief version of the article (guess we can read the full thing in September) is any breakdown of the happiness differential by socioeconomic class.

If financial stress seems to be the driver of the happiness gap, then I would expect the gap to be greatest on the lower rungs and least on the higher rungs. Is that the case? Is there, maybe, some level of economic security that eliminates the gap, altogether?

Personally, I'm just barely financially secure enough that I haven't felt too much financial stress from parenthood. I doubt I'm an accurate assessor of my own happiness, but I'm feeling pretty good, these days, and a lot of that good feeling comes from my kid.
posted by gurple at 3:09 PM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


[I've removed the "nobody should have kids because the planet is dying" derail, if you see anything I missed, flag it, and then if you don't want to talk about the happiness gap but about how parents/childless people/other people in general are terrible, find another thread.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 3:23 PM on June 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


"Parents" is a uselessly broad term. My kids are school-age, and my life is very different now than it was when I had a newborn, or a little kid and a newborn, or a baby and a preschooler, etc. Having a teenager is a different kettle of fish from having a toddler. When I'm 80, will I be happier because I had the experience of having children?
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:37 PM on June 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's fairly new that people can be childless by choice. When I hear these comparisons, all I can think is how very unhappy I would be as a parent (given that I really don't want to be one), which seems like the more direct comparison to me. And of course, people who want badly to be parents but are not, are less happy as well.

Then I realize that even 20 years ago, certainly 40, I probably would have been a parent, regardless. Shudder.
posted by Dashy at 3:46 PM on June 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


All day at work I sit next to a guy who does nothing but complain about his terrible, disobedient, troublemaking children, almost never saying anything positive about them, and then acts flummoxed when I, an almost 30-year-old woman, assert in no uncertain terms that I am never having children.
posted by a strong female character at 3:49 PM on June 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


I never thought I would be a particularly happy parent until the kid was at least, say, 8 or 9, when I could teach it science and things. Turns out I was completely wrong about that. Totally, utterly wrong.

Which isn't to say that everyone should go out and have a kid because it will make them happy. It's just to say that I'm not sure we're such good predictors of our own emotional responses to major changes.
posted by gurple at 3:50 PM on June 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


The United states is not growing due to birth it is growing due to immigration.

So? The problems in countries like Japan have to do with the ratio of workers to retirees, and young to old. As long as that ratio doesn't become crazy lopsided here, it doesn't matter whether it is due to immigration or birth.

I would be interested in seeing this extended to non-European/English-speaking developed countries. If their thesis is correct, Japan should have similar (greater, really) huge disparity between parents and non-parents, since it also lacks "social policies allowing parents to better combine paid work with family obligations." (One of the big reasons women often give now for not having children there is that it really comes down to work OR children, America for all its problems is actually much better in this regard, although generally behind Europe). Of course, there are many many other cultural differences, which is why I would be curious whether any of those mitigate or otherwise change the result.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:57 PM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


the middle class stops having kids and twenty years later the tax base is messed up

If our economic system is so pseudo-meritocratic that "the middle class stops having kids" doesn't lead to "better jobs available for the children of the working class", we're screwed anyway.
posted by clew at 4:04 PM on June 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


Although even without the financial issues, etc I still think children sound like way too much work and stress. We are a SINK(?) couple (actually that acronym seems to only refer to actual single people with one income? I guess there's no fancy acronym for a couple with one income and no kids) but even for us children just seem like something that take over your life to the exclusion of all else. Which seems great for those who are really child-focused (like my own mother), but not those who just kinda like kids like us.

But for those who DO really like/want children, there absolutely needs to be better policies and support. Immigration helps a lot in the US but probably can't replace everyone suddenly being unable or unwilling to have kids.

unless you've got inherited wealth

Or just one of the increasingly rare good jobs. My industry is full of one or two income couples who don't have to worry about the financial side of children, yet parents still seem tired and stressed.
posted by thefoxgod at 4:07 PM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Besides, that comes out of their PTO, and all of us have the same amount of it.

That would make sense, but no. There was no specific vacation policy, so the parents always took as much time off as they wanted.

After I got laid off, I heard one of my ex co-workers took almost 7 weeks off between staying home on school holidays and going on actual vacations.
posted by reenum at 4:43 PM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can't even remember what life was like before my kids. I do remember partying a lot more and performing and such. I also remember the loneliness of the morning after. Is that happiness? I'm exausted, less intelligent, overweight, and broke. But I'm extremely not lonely, and always fulfilled. Seems like a fair trade.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:52 PM on June 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


All I know is our four-year-old is on a week-long trip with his grandmother right now and holy shit you guys. Yesterday I had eight hours of sleep, got up, made myself a plate of food, quietly ate it while reading, and then played Overwatch for an hour before work. I didn't have to pick anyone up or put anyone in or out of carseats while running errands. Today my spouse came home early and just joined me in bed to rest (we work alternating shifts - I'm on overnights - because of the need to save cash on childcare), and then we had Chinese food and light conversation while we played on our computers. The floor is as covered in toys as it was yesterday, which is none. No one is shouting or needing my assistance to stay entertained. I'm about to calmly step out the door and head to work.

It's the middle of the goddamned work week and I'm usually exhausted by now, but instead I feel like I'm on vacation.
posted by Scattercat at 4:56 PM on June 17, 2016 [24 favorites]


Scattercat, you are living the dream. We have local grandparents, which means day-to-day we get an enormous, absurd amount of help. The down side is that sending him on a trip to grandma's takes about 10 minutes rather than a week.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:15 PM on June 17, 2016


As so often happens, Tim Kreider said it better than I could (no link — I am on my phone):

Most of my married friends now have children, the rewards of which appear to be exclusively intangible and, like the mysteries of some gnostic sect, incommunicable to outsiders. In fact it seems from the outside as if these people have joined a dubious cult: they claim to be much happier and more fulfilled than ever before, even though they live in conditions of appalling filth and degradation, deprived of the most basic freedoms and dignity, and owe unquestioning obedience to a capricious and demented master.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:17 PM on June 17, 2016 [35 favorites]


Two Ways to Encourage Japanese to Have Kids - "Make raising children cheaper, and people will probably have more kids."
The government plans to make addressing the declining birthrate... an especially urgent, top priority issue... As a measure to support child-rearing, the plan sets forth a goal of eliminating the need for waiting lists for admission to day-care centers by fiscal 2017 and for admission to after-school day-care centers by the end of fiscal 2019. The government will make efforts to improve the working conditions of day-care staff and secure manpower.

The plan also includes the improvement of working conditions for non-regular employees, such as the realization of equal pay for equal work, the concept that workers should not be given differing remuneration based on employment status, and redressing of prolonged work hours.
Here's a fantasy my daughter and I entertain:* "What if child-rearing weren't an interruption to a career but a respected precursor to it, like universal service or the draft? Both sexes would be expected to chip in, and the state would support young parents the way it now supports veterans. This is more or less what Scandinavian countries already do..."

In Sweden, an Experiment Turns Shorter Workdays Into Bigger Gains - "A trial in the city of Gothenburg mandates a six-hour day and is testing whether it can reduce absenteeism and increase productivity."
posted by kliuless at 6:32 PM on June 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Childrearing was a precursor to my career. My 33-year-old daughter came over for dinner with her S.O. and I was as happy as I could be to see her, listen to her talk about work, and tell her about what I was doing. The moments of pure joy in my life have most often been when I was with her, from the moment she was born until now. But having children introduces fear into your life, and the prospect of mortality, and it makes life really difficult. And it introduces a whole new person into your life who will always be your family. It's not like roommates or spouses, and you don't usually pick their problems.

That said, I stopped at one, got a couple of graduate degrees and entered the field of education.
posted by Peach at 6:59 PM on June 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


If your parenthood calculus primarily involved calculating your own happiness, think twice about becoming a parent. Or be Scandinavian.
posted by fraxil at 7:02 PM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


The weird thing my husband and I have encountered, as a married couple with no kids and no desire to have them, is that I get my coworkers telling me how I need to have kids and how happy it will make me, while he gets coworkers coming up to him furtively and expressing how much they wish they hadn't had kids. (Always with a "I mean, I love my kids, but...") It disturbs him how many people have told him they are unhappy with either their kids or their marriages (and only stay because kids.)
posted by threeturtles at 7:55 PM on June 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


I'm amazed at how many people in this thread seem to have no experience of the full spectrum of families raising children that I grew up with and which I continue to come to know in my life, some fucked up, some struggling along, some charmed. If you really know no friends, siblings, cousins, or distant acquaintances raising kids with something resembling adult happiness you might think about getting out more. The happiness gap is marginal.
posted by otio at 8:49 PM on June 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I'm always kind of puzzled about how much people complain about their kids. Did you not know it was going to be difficult?
posted by AFABulous at 8:49 PM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Did you not know it was going to be difficult?"

It's one of those things in life where you can know intellectually it's going to be difficult, but nothing can prepare you for the reality of it. And because humans come in infinite variety and you get your tiny human by luck of the draw, it's often hard in ways that you could never have predicted. It's also delightful in ways you could never have predicted. But you can't really prepare for the reality of things you can't possibly predict.

(I also think letting off steam by complaining about your children whom you love but sometimes have bad days with is no more puzzling nor condemnable than letting off steam about a bad day at work at a job that you love.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:57 PM on June 17, 2016 [22 favorites]


Also, when you're raising a child, it dominates your time in a pretty comprehensive way, to the point that it becomes most of what you talk about, good or bad. Talk to a PhD candidate and they'll complain about how hard that is, too, y'know?
posted by Scattercat at 9:48 PM on June 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


A lot of people (especially in mid to upper class America) take parenting way too seriously.

On the contrary. I don't think most people take parenting seriously enough. How many people do you know who were healthily attached to their parents? That they were given respect, unconditional love, and healthy boundaries rather than guilt, fear, and shame (or worse) as a means of "discipline"? Not nearly enough, in my experience.

My kids aren't old enough for camps or math scores. What's stressful for me isn't finances or childcare. It's the fact that I'm responsible for the wellbeing of three people who have really awful communication skills, impulse control, and emotional regulation. Sure, they give great hugs in return, but that doesn't really make you feel less tired when they run screaming into your room in the middle of the night because they just bit their own arm.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:19 AM on June 18, 2016 [20 favorites]


The weird thing my husband and I have encountered, as a married couple with no kids and no desire to have them, is that I get my coworkers telling me how I need to have kids and how happy it will make me, while he gets coworkers coming up to him furtively and expressing how much they wish they hadn't had kids. (Always with a "I mean, I love my kids, but...") It disturbs him how many people have told him they are unhappy with either their kids or their marriages (and only stay because kids.)

Setting aside for a moment the gendered angle on this, I have always found it disturbing when people have shared with me that they wish they hadn't had kids. (I've heard this from women; the only one whose parenting is actually known to me is a fantastic parent, regardless of what she may feel.)

There's a huge difference between someone saying "goddamn it, the kids were so noisy and made such a mess last Sunday, sometimes they drive me up the wall" and "I wish I had never had kids". That's where I feel like we as a society don't support the thinking-through of the whole kid-having thing, where apparently a small-yet-significant percentage of people have kids and then really, soberly don't like having them.

I guess in some ways I was lucky - I always assumed that I would not be allowed to have a "normal" life on account of being fat, poor, brainy, weird and queer, so it was pretty easy for me to sit back and think about my deep visceral "do not want to get pregnant or be responsible for a child, also do not bond well with small children in real life even though I like them as individuals" thing and then just not.
posted by Frowner at 8:23 AM on June 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


I hope to god those people who wish they didn't have kids never, EVER tell their kids. I have seen that happen to others and it is utterly soul-destroying. If you have regrets, you'd fucking better suck it up for 18 years.
posted by AFABulous at 8:34 AM on June 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


As a recent transplant from Canada to the US - whoa you guys the support is not there. We have these free Early Years centres where parents can drop in to a playgroup with their kid, chat with other parents while kids use the toys for free. FREE. The staff sing songs with the kids and link you to other resources, I miss it so much. Here it's all Gymboree and.... ? And the stress of getting into the "right" school too... the culture difference was visceral and immediate.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:57 AM on June 18, 2016 [7 favorites]


Free daycare, long maternity etc. certainly are correlated to family size -- NEGATIVELY. The more a society spends tax dollars and mandates on private enterprise to support childbearing, the fewer children people have. Even within the US it can be easily observed. Some of our largest families are homeschooling Evangelicals and Hasidic Jews, who don't use any of what is by far the biggest government funded childcare enterprise (public schools).
posted by MattD at 9:12 AM on June 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


So many categories. I have a friends who didn't have kids and who are quite happy - they knew they didn't want kids, they knew they wanted to be unencumbered. I have friends who didn't have kids and wanted them and who do have an unfilled space; maybe they're not unhappy, but they feel something missing. And then there are the people who have kids and troubles - a kid with a mental illness, or who is in trouble with drugs or the law, or some other difficulty. That's pretty hard. I was a single parent with a deadbeat ex-, pretty difficult, and not an easy kid. But I can't imagine not having a child, and wish I'd been able to have another. Yeah, community support. That would be ... really different.
posted by theora55 at 10:13 AM on June 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Free daycare, long maternity etc. certainly are correlated to family size -- NEGATIVELY. The more a society spends tax dollars and mandates on private enterprise to support childbearing, the fewer children people have. Even within the US it can be easily observed. Some of our largest families are homeschooling Evangelicals and Hasidic Jews, who don't use any of what is by far the biggest government funded childcare enterprise (public schools).

But there's a confounding variable there. Religious folks have more kids because they feel their religion demands it of them, and it's also easier to get by without government help if you have a tight-knit community where the mother traditionally stays home.

Birthrates are already negatively correlated with income/education in the US, so the people who can most afford to have lots of kids choose not to. This may be due in part to better access to sex ed, birth control, abortion, and other healthcare. I also think there might be a tendency to want to hold onto your wealth? I'm not sure. My other guess is that poorer people might have more concerns about their ability to support themselves in the future. More kids = more chances someone will take care of you. And of course in extreme poverty, kids just die at a higher rate.
posted by AFABulous at 11:24 AM on June 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


Just once, I want a happiness survey that involves something less stupid than a 1-10 scale.

I want questions like, "per month, on average how many days do you wake up and find yourself depressed and miserable at the thought of getting out of bed and facing the day", "per month, how many nights do you fall asleep feeling satisfied with what you accomplished that day", "in the past week, how many moments of intense gratitude at being alive have you experienced", etc etc.

I have no idea what a 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, or 10 means on someone else's 1-10 scale and it just seems like an incredibly stupid way of doing research on emotions...
posted by Cozybee at 12:07 PM on June 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


I am definitely less happy since I had my 3 kids because, as Peach said, kids introduce fear into your life. Before I had kids, I never really thought about the potential of enormous, crushing loss. Loss you maybe can't control or prevent; loss the thought of which paralyzes you and makes you certain that, if you experienced it, you would be a shadow of the person you used to be.

On the other hand, I am definitely more connected with people and more empathetic than I was before I had kids, because I now see people, no matter how loathsome they are, as they were when they started out, as once the focus of somebody's -- their mother's? their father's? -- hope and love. I never cared about anything (other people, myself, the world) as much as I do now that I'm a parent, and that caring is a constant, low-grade fraught feeling that is often a burden. So, happy? No. It's something else all together.

And also, I am constantly in a lather about the hypocrisy of our "family values" nation doing everything it can to make parenting as difficult as possible. That doesn't make me a deeper, richer, more connected person, the way my kids do. It just makes me angry.

Sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly angry, I'll take my kids to the Ikea because they have free care while you shop. I'll go lie down for 20 minutes on a model bed somewhere and pretend like I'm in Sweden. It helps.
posted by staggering termagant at 12:29 PM on June 18, 2016 [15 favorites]


My son is 10. I don't fret or worry about him and never have, which seems to have produced someone I can deal with. I haven't wished he had an off button since he was 5. He is deep enough that we can sit on a cliff and talk for four hours and neither of us get bored, so we do a lot of that. We've been through some real tough stuff in the last year and we don't have much. But we are not anxious or stressed because that would just ruin everything.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:23 PM on June 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


Mr. Yuck, I'm glad you have a kid you don't have to worry about, but I assure you that those of us whose kids have challenges that make them hard to "deal with" did not give them mental illness or other related issues by fretting or worrying. Sorry, but your good luck is good luck -- not your stellar parenting.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:54 PM on June 18, 2016 [10 favorites]


How your kid turns out is an inestimable mix of luck and parenting style. Having a parenting style that's a good match for your kid's personality doesn't guarantee a good outcome, it just improves your odds. And having a kid with an "easy" personality doesn't guarantee a good outcome, either - it just improves your odds. (I'm sure we all know some people who were easy-going, pleasant and happy as kids and then sometime in their teens, boom, they were suddenly cutting themselves and talking about suicide.)

And what counts as a "good outcome" to you depends on your personality as much as it does your kid's...
posted by clawsoon at 6:28 PM on June 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


So the parents of challenged kids resent the ease of parenting a non challenged kid, non parents resent the excuses of parenting, parents resent non parents because they feel trapped and we get what from wasting energy bemoaning the results of things we did?

Envy, materialism, the huge gap between most people's work and anything meaningful, that nagging doubt that all you are and all you do might be so very wrong in hindsight? Push on.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:48 PM on June 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's really easy for parents to make extra work for themselves, which makes no one happy.
posted by michaelh at 8:35 PM on June 18, 2016


I just moved across the country for a new job so I have no leave built up yet, and no friends or family nearby. My son starts kindergarten in a couple months and I'm looking at the school calendar, and holy shit there are so many days off. A week at Thanksgiving. Two and a half weeks at Christmas. Another week-plus in April. Not to mention random half days and teacher in-service days. I have no fucking clue how I'm going to manage that. Luckily (?) my husband just got a job that gives NO PTO AT ALL so I guess he can request whatever leave he wants, and just not get paid for it. And because we won't lose our housing or go hungry over the loss of income, I guess we're among the more fortunate.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 5:23 AM on June 23, 2016


The Real Reason You’ll Never Be Able to Parent Like a French Mom
The point here isn’t “France is awesome and we suck.” The point is that it’s not a huge fucking surprise that French parents are happier than American ones. Of course they have time to present a vegetable to a child ten or 20 times before giving up and cracking out the Goldfish crackers. Of course they are better rested and less fat. Their government supports them. They live in a country that has accepted the reality that most people eventually have children, and then continue to work outside the home.

It’s not simply that work and family aren’t ideal or workable: It’s that they’re not workable here, in the United States, where our government isn’t interested in providing us with much more than lip service when it comes to equal pay and paid leave and child-care workers who are well-trained and well-paid in child-care centers and schools that are safe and affordable.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:15 AM on July 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


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