Happiness is… not having the children

Sydney Morning Herald 9 May 2008
THE belief that children and money will bring people happiness is one of life’s abiding illusions, a Sydney conference attended by 2000 seekers of happiness was told yesterday. The scientific evidence shows people are very bad at predicting what will make them happy, said Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard University and the author of the book Stumbling On Happiness. He said people’s happiness goes into steep decline after they have children, and never recovers its old level until the children leave home. As a source of pleasure, playing with one’s offspring rates just above doing housework but below talking with friends, eating, or watching TV, research has shown.

Yet people invest so much time and money in their children, and focus on the fleeting moments of joy they bring, rather than on the long periods of boredom and irritation, that most continue to believe children will bring them happiness, Professor Gilbert said.

More Kids Lead to Longer Life – Norwegian Study

American Journal of Epidemiology, 2008, No.167(3); published online November 13, 2007
Large families may be unpopular for all sorts of reasons today, but a Norwegian study suggests they are good for the parents’ health. Researchers used national registers to get data on all Norwegian men and women born between 1935 and 1958, and followed up a large number of them between 1980 and 2003, when they were aged 45 to 68 years. They took account of educational qualifications and marital status as well as number of children when looking at death rates.
They found that life tended to be shortest for childless women — who had a 50 per cent higher risk of dying by late middle age than those with two children — and for childless men (35 per cent higher risk). The next highest risk was for those with only one child.

Results for those with children showed that those who began parenthood earlier were also more likely to live longer. A late age at the last birth, however, was linked with reduced life expectancy. Overall, more children meant a longer life. The authors say that the similarity of results for women and men suggests that there are social as well as biological factors at work. And they conclude: “The lack of any high-parity disadvantage suggests that in the ‘family friendly’ Norwegian environment, the health benefits of having several children may outweigh the costs.”