New study showing children make you happier is less persuasive upon closer examination.

What Women Really Think
May 23 2012 10:17 AM

Children Make You Happier, If Someone Else Does Most of the Work

Easter egg roll.
Crowds of children and their families take part in the White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House April 9, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

Photograph by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

For years now, studies have been coming out showing the impact that having children has on one's happiness is negative, delighting the willfully childless who have long suspected parents who bully us about our unwillingness to reproduce are just misery seeking company. Attempts to minimize these findings, such as suggesting that happiness is less important than finding meaning in life, haven't really worked their magic on us childless freaks, probably because it's not really that hard to think of other ways to occupy your time and give your life meaning that don't involve diapers or sticky fingers. But the urge to pressure the childless will not go away so easily, which is why there was a flurry of excitement over an anomalous study recently released that showed that parents are happier than nonparents.

Eager busybodies should slow their roll, however, because a closer look at the study shows that it didn't prove that parenting is super awesome so much as that sexism continues to work out pretty well for men. Amanda Hess of GOOD pointed out that the only people who got a happiness boost from becoming parents were fathers. The researchers gently phrased this with, "the pleasures associated with parenting may be offset by the surge in responsibility and housework that arrives with motherhood." In other words, having a kid is a lot like having a boat: It's way more fun if you get to name it after yourself, but have staff on hand to do most of the hard work of keeping it up. 

Advertisement

So really, it's back to the "gives life meaning" gambit, which researchers leaned on with a whiff of desperation. Researchers found that parents reported "a stronger sense of meaning in life", but as Hess points out, they failed to distinguish between "the search for meaning" and "the presence of meaning", which allows for the possibility that doing what's expected of you is being unintentionally conflated with the more transcendent desires. While it's certainly true that raising children is a big job and certainly has emotional resonance, it's really hard to intellectually justify the belief that you're adding something important to the world by adding more people to pollute the planet and compete for opportunities that become more precious as the number of people vying for a chance grows.

Not to say people are bad people for having children, but it would do our planet and our society good to stop sending the message that life is incomplete without children, and to stop scrambling for excuses why those who don't have them are missing out. Parents particularly should be grateful to those of us who opt out, since that's just fewer college applications that admissions offices have to consider when determining your child's future. Research that shows women that children don't, in fact, make you happy could help many women who are on the fence decide to opt out and find meaning in life elsewhere. That's such a massive benefit that the downside of making parents a bit defensive about their choices pales in comparison. 

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Not Easy for Me, but I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 23 2014 10:55 AM This Isn’t the Syria Intervention Anyone Wanted
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 23 2014 10:03 AM Watch Steve Jobs Tell Michael Dell, "We're Coming After You"
  Life
The Vault
Sept. 23 2014 10:24 AM How Bad Are Your Drinking Habits? An 18th-Century Temperance Thermometer Has the Verdict.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 9:42 AM Listen to the Surprising New Single From Kendrick Lamar
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 10:51 AM Is Apple Picking a Fight With the U.S. Government? Not exactly.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 11:00 AM Google CEO: Climate Change Deniers Are “Just Literally Lying”
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.