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August 12, 2006


"I don’t understand what’s so bad about having just one."
You have to live in Manhattan.

No, seriously, see Sailer on the Affordable Family Formation gap. There are more big families in red states and rural people are happier; there was an article on this in, of all places, New York magazine a few weeks ago. Cross-reference this with urban vs suburban vs rural and I think the results will be revealing.

As for kids making women unhappy: oh, that's easy. Women actually have to raise the little buggers. Odd given the large number of women who seem to prefer traditional roles, though.

You seem to be drawing some very general conclusions from small differences in average happiness :-)

One factor re happiness of older marrieds is that people are happier once their kids leave home (per Gilbert's book Stumling on Happiness, a recommended read). Is there any way to tease out happiness of older marrieds who have had kids vs those who have not? Then you could see what the effect of having children is on happiness for older people. Perhaps the integral of lifetime happiness is higher on average when you have kids :-)

What exactly is the purpose of having children?

Free labor.

"I don’t understand what’s so bad about having just one."

Assuming these differences are statistically significant, maybe it's because first-time parents don't know what they're doing, therefore things are more stressful.

Re women's happiness: Women without children are *younger*, overall, than women with. Many who are childless at 25 will be moms by 35. I can think of several reasons younger women might be happier. A better comparison would be how the reported happiness differs between mothers and childless women at age 40-plus. Or 50-plus.

"What exactly is the purpose of having children?"

Well, do you want to live in a geriatric nation?

And some people do actually like them, you know.

Half Sigma,
I think you make too much out of the color-coded statistical significance. Looking at just the numbers, two children doesn't seem different than no children for women: 2.2% shift from very happy to pretty happy and .3% shift from pretty happy to not too hapy. At 3 and 4 children, women are losing happiness compared to 0 or 2, but I'd say the picture is pretty much the same as the men: 2-4 is just like 0.
It's a pretty weird picture.

Research indicates women are less happy when they are raising children, but return fully to pre-child levels when the children leave home for college.

But children may be to women how writing is to Steven Pinker. When asked if he likes writing he responds he likes "having written". Are women happier having had children if not rearing them? If so does it balance out anyway? It's good to have a lifespan perspective on happiness.

Also, the happiness figure for childless women is probably pretty heavily weighted by women who didn't want children. There is a pretty large chunk of women who would probably be unhappy if permanently childless, but they mostly end up with children. There are some selection problems here.

The most remarkable result to me, taking the figures at face value, is that being married makes about as much difference to happiness as moving from the lowest to highest income category.

Another reason for the slight childlessness-happiness correlation is that you selected only married couples. Childless couples would probably tend to be in a newer marriage -- so, less time for problems to develop.

I wonder if results from 2006 would be substantially different from the 1986 data you used. Maybe back then, people were more likely to be childless by true choice, busy with exciting careers or somesuch. Nowadays, what with the worse job market and "loafing" and all, maybe more people just can't find suitable partners or don't have the money.

Since people with more money have fewer children you need to control for income on the happiness and # of children table.
Also, I second several of the above comments.

One child also equals "first child."

First time parents are always overwhelmed by the first child.

Subsequent children seem easier to raise, by the first you have seen it all.

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