One thought on “Quite liked this NY Mag…”

  1. Good article; thanks for link!

    I found something about the tone of the first couple pages a little offputting, but not horribly so, and I found most of the rest of the article smart and interesting and thoughtful and fairly nuanced.

    There are a couple of areas I wish some of those studies and/or the article would dig deeper into, though—although I’m not sure it would actually be possible to study some of this:

    First, the effects of cultural expectations on happiness and/or satisfaction with having kids.

    For example, for Americans who were kids in 1921, of course some of those who didn’t have kids would regret it; I suspect there was vast cultural weight telling them that having kids was the most important thing they could do with their lives. And I think that’s still true today, though less so.

    The article talks about the differences between the ideal/fantasy of what raising kids is like and the reality of it; but it doesn’t talk about the cultural pressures that contribute to that ideal, nor about the cultural pressures on parents to say that having kids is the best thing ever. I think we’re beginning to see more contexts in which parents are allowed to admit that child-raising is often stressful and difficult, but I think discussing that is still frowned upon in a lot of contexts; and I think it’s still de rigueur in most contexts to follow any complaint with “—But of course parenting is amazing and wonderful and I wouldn’t give it up for the world.” (And I don’t disbelieve that! But I think that the few people for whom parenting really is miserable—if there are such people—don’t generally have a context in which they can be honest.)

    Second, I’d have liked to see the article touch on more general happiness studies; in particular, I think I’ve read that people are, in general, terrible at predicting what kinds of things will make them happy, and I think I’ve read that a lot of stuff (like getting a new gadget) often produces a temporary happiness spike followed by reduced happiness. So I think it’s a little unfair to parents to look at their happiness in isolation from the ways that humans in general (or at least modern Americans) are bad at managing happiness. Maybe the parental-happiness studies did take this into account and the article just didn’t talk about it, though. (Or maybe I just missed it.)

    One other thing I felt was missing from the article, and possibly from some or most of the studies: looking at happiness with children vs happiness without children as an aggregate ignores the fact that some people want kids and some don’t. Perhaps the number who explicitly don’t want kids is low enough to be statistical noise, I’m not sure. But, for example, when they talk about depression rates being higher among the childless, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a big difference in that regard between people who desperately want kids but can’t have them for any of various reasons (obviously a huge source of stress and pain) and people who’ve chosen not to have kids because they don’t want them (some of whom certainly have depression rooted in other causes, but most of whom are probably not all that depressed about not having kids).

    Anyway. I don’t mean to criticize the article for leaving that stuff out; I think it does a good job of covering a lot of material. But when something does well at going a certain distance, I always get dissatisfied that it doesn’t go further. Some people are just never satisfied! 🙂

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