Posts tagged ‘The Economist’

Do Children and Happiness Go Together?

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Credit: Emma Bauso from Pexels

“Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from Him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psalm 127:3-5)

These ancient words from the Psalmist used to be fairly uncontroversial.  But more recently, a flood of studies and stories have been published questioning whether or not it really is good to have children.  A 2011 study by Thomas Hansen, for instance, found that parents without children reported higher levels of life satisfaction than parents with children.  A 2003 study by the National Council on Family Relations found that couples who did not have children reported higher levels of romance and closeness in their relationships.  Finally, a famous 2004 study by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman found that out of 16 activities, taking care of children ranked above only housework and commuting in terms of enjoyability.

The sociologists, it seemed, had spoken.  Having kids was not all it was cracked up to be.  But new research suggests that what the sociologists once took away in their studies might be best given back.

In a recent story from The Economist, Letizia Mencarini of Bocconi University explains that “a new generation of research…suggests that children are more likely to make parents happy than was once thought,” though parents’ ongoing happiness is not merely based on the presence of children themselves, but on a multiplicity of factors:

Whether parents are married is one.  Single parents are usually less happy than married ones.  The age of the child is another.  Children under ten seem to bring more joy than those over that age.  And money matters a lot.  David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College and Andrew Clarke of the Paris School of Economics managed to isolate the financial strain of raising children as an influence on parental happiness.  They argue that it is the cost of raising kids, rather than children in the abstract, that reduces pleasure.

But the most important influence seems to be the pressure of work.  It has long been known that the difficulty of balancing the demands of work and home life increase exponentially when children arrive and this results in a significant amount of stress…

This research is interesting, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly surprising.  All of these findings seem to correspond to pretty traditional views on marriage and family.  Married parents are important to the rearing of children.  The teenage years can be difficult.  Financial stability allows families room to enjoy themselves.  And family is to be prioritized over work, even if your workplace disagrees.  All of these things I already knew – not because a sociologist told me, but because my own parents did.

Sometimes, there’s a reason common and classic wisdom is common and classic.  In this case, sociological research pointed to a lot of what a lot us already knew.  The question, however, is not whether we knew this, but whether or not we will live according to this.  Our society is rife with deadbeat dads, self-absorbed parents, and financial instability on the one hand juxtaposed against workaholism on the other.  No wonder we’re so vulnerable to being miserable.  The problem, it turns out, is not really our kids.  The problem is us.

The solution to our unhappiness, then, is not to adjust our fertility rates downward.  It’s to adjust our values, our decisions, and our commitments heavenward.  For when we do this, we might just find that even though the Psalmist was no sociologist, he was right.  Children are a blessing from the Lord.  May we be willing to address our own brokenness so we can receive them as such.

July 22, 2019 at 5:15 am 2 comments


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