The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 (Volume 4: Issue: 39)

The Topic: Having Kids=Worth the Work 

The News Story: Children as Self-Fulfillment?

The New Research: Want a Stressful—but Joyful—Life? Have Children!


The News Story: Children as Self-Fulfillment?

In an altogether modern and Western approach to childbearing, one Atlantic writer recently issued a call for readers to write in with their stories of how they decided whether or not to have children. “Unplanned pregnancies,” writes Olga Khazan, “are at their lowest level in 30 years, which means increasingly, parenthood is a choice people make.”  She, however, is having particular difficulty in making this most important of decisions. 

Atlantic readers responded in droves. One woman writes that though she was afraid her reasoning “sounds selfish,” more than anything else, she “wanted to know firsthand what it was like to be a parent.” Another woman tells Olga that “A child would absolutely decimate” her and her husband’s “lives and financial security,” as well as destroy her happy, child-free marriage. A man, parent of a 6-year-old and 1-year-old, writes that although he is thrilled to have his children, the decision to do so remains “complicated,” and he still feels guilt at bringing children into such a troubled world.”

Such self-centered reflection on the “choice” of whether or not to bear children is typical of this age, but research reveals that even this reflection misses a very, very important reality—that children, though harbingers of all kinds of stresses and worries, also bring with them a substantial amount of joy.

(Sources: Olga Khazan, “Tell Us: Why Did You Choose to Have Children?” The Atlantic, October 25, 2016; Rosa Inocencio Smith, “Conflicted About Having Kids: Your Thoughts,” The Atlantic, November 7, 2016.)


The New Research: Want a Stressful—but Joyful—Life? Have Children!

With fertility rates languishing below replacement levels in many Western nations in recent years, we might well conclude that many adults now view children as a burden instead of a blessing. Such a negative view of children finds both confirmation and refutation in a study recently conducted by scholars at Princeton and Stony Brook Universities. Although this study shows that living with children exposes adults to stresses not felt by peers living childlessly, it also shows that adults living with children experience decidedly more joy than do peers living without them.

The authors of the new study set about their inquiry wondering about “the wellbeing of those who do and do not have children” and hoping that clarifying that comparison might help illuminate “why people have children.” To that end, the researchers parse Gallup survey data collected from 1.77 million adults between 2008 and 2012, focusing largely on “the subsample of adults aged from 34 to 46, more than 90% of whom are the parents of the children who live with them.” These surveys incorporate both a life-evaluation metric and measures of day-to-day “hedonic experience” (that, is pleasurable experience).

Using a wide range of indices to compare the well-being of adults ages 34 to 46 with children with that of peers without children, the researchers conclude that “generally, and with the exception of stress, all outcomes are more favorable (higher levels of positive outcomes, and lower levels of negative outcomes) when there are children in the household.” Given the data they have on relative household income, the researchers further conclude that having children in the home is associated with “substantial positive effects on life evaluation, on reducing sadness, worry, anger, and physical pain, and very large effects on happiness, enjoyment, and smiling.”

The men and women who are keeping our birthrates low may think they are saving themselves a lot of trouble by not having children. They are undoubtedly right. Too bad they apparently do not realize that they are also denying themselves a lifetime of incalculable joy.

(Source: Bryce Christensen and Nicole King, “New Research,” The Natural Family 30.3. Study: Angus Deaton and Arthur A. Stone, “Evaluative and Hedonic Wellbeing among Those with and without Children at Home,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 111.4 [2014]: 1,328-33.)