The XX Factor

Having Kids Isn’t Necessary

Blogging for the New York Times , Tara Parker-Pope reports on research demonstrating that Americans increasingly don’t see children as a necessary part of creating a happy marriage. She offers a couple of reasons for this-the explosion of support for same-sex marriage and the decrease in time spent over an individual’s life as the parent of minor children-but I think it may be even simpler than that. It might just be that people’s understanding of parenthood is aligning itself more with empirical realities. Scientific realities demonstrate having children in your house makes you less happy than not having children in your house.

The field of happiness studies produces many counterintuitive results, but nothing receives as much resistance than the repeated studies that show having children dramatically lowers the amount of happiness you experience in your day-to-day life, and particularly that children lower the amount of happiness in marriages (especially for women). I was slightly surprised when I first read about this phenomenon in Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling On Happiness , not because my cheerfully childless self was surprised, but more that I was surprised that someone was willing to publish such incendiary research.

But the content struck me as obvious once you read it. I once had a friend who had a charming tendency, when we were hanging out and having fun, to say, “Insert 3-year-old.” It was a reminder to herself and anyone else who might find themselves thinking about how fun it might be to have kids to remember how much you give up to do so-not just the spontaneity and fun times, but also the strong risk that kids will upset the balance of your relationship and your career, turning formerly wonderful things to a source of stress and misery. For those who are willing to take that risk, more power to you. But it shouldn’t be surprising that more and more people have no problem with those who take the opt-out option.

Photograph of crying baby by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images.