KJ , it's true that most people don't do a cost-benefit analysis before they have kids. Which is too bad, because if they want to be happy with their lives and marriages after kids come, they really should . A reader tip pointed me to further research into the happiness studies that show that the dip in happiness after the kids are born depends almost entirely on how much you wanted and prepared for them.
Stephanie Coontz describes the research:
The Cowans found that the average drop in marital satisfaction was almost entirely accounted for by the couples who slid into being parents, disagreed over it or were ambivalent about it. Couples who planned or equally welcomed the conception were likely to maintain or even increase their marital satisfaction after the child was born.
They also found that the more a couple hewed to traditional gender roles, the more unhappy they were. The reason seemed to be that no one appreciates anyone else's work when mom stays at home and dad works all the time, but I'm also forced to point out that staying at home and becoming defined as a domestic person is notoriously linked with the not-sexy. (Those of us who work at home as freelancers should take note; it's wise to get out of the pajamas and into real grown-up clothes, if only to keep things interesting.)
What I'm forced to conclude by reading all this is painful for me to report. Oh sure, I'm puffing up like Sue Sylvester after she ruins the day of the Glee kids, but that's just an illusion, since I'm crying inside for all the "family values" folks that will suffer reading this. And this is that feminists were right all along. "Every child a wanted child" is a philosophy that improves marriages, lowers the chance of divorce, and therefore is good for the kids.
Despite the widespread use of contraception and legality of abortion, this country is still ambivalent about switching to a system where not having children is the default, and having children is a decision that needs to be thought over carefully and only chosen if you're really sure. The old system, where people just get pregnant on accident and let chance decide their fates, still has a major hold on us, even though it's such a bad idea. People's unwillingness to give up on the old system is 50 percent fear of change and 50 percent anger that people might be out there screwing around without having to pay the price in baby snot and Cheerios.