Children And Happiness

A recent article by Angus Deaton and Arthur Stone is making the rounds. In it, the authors argue that previous attempts to measure the happiness of parents compared to that of childless individuals are flawed. They give several reasons for this, none of which are particularly objectionable.

This claim that parents are, on average, less happy than childless individuals is something that pops up everywhere in the data. It is one of the primary points covered by Bryan Caplan in his book, Selfish Reasons To Have More Kids. Most people simply accept it as a fact. To the extent that Deaton and Stone tackle the legitimacy of these results, I think they've undertaken a worthy cause. There is not much point in comparing two radically different lifestyle decisions on the same benchmarks.

Really, I think even Deaton and Stone miss the point, as does Caplan and anyone else who has ever taken these results seriously. It's not that I question the empirical validity of the data. It probably is valid.

But consider this: every human being is the product of some sort of parental relationship. That means, 100% of the childless people studied had parents. Their happiness was made possible thanks only to the fact that they were born and raised. So, even if it's true that their parents are less happy than childless individuals, they are responsible for both their own happiness and the happiness of their childless children.

See, having kids isn't really about yourself, it's about your kids. This should be obvious, but for some reason it isn't. You shouldn't have children under the assumption that your children are going to make you happy. Instead, you should have children under the assumption that you're going to make them happy. That's what being a parent is all about: producing healthy, happy offspring who are glad to be alive.

If this costs you many tropical vacations or stress-free evenings, then that is simply the price you pay for the happiness of another generation of human beings. If you don't care about that, then fine - don't have kids. But if you do have kids, you probably don't worry too much about whether they make you happy. Instead, you probably worry about what might make them happier.

I'm not saying being a parent should be a mindless sacrifice, I'm just saying that parents who are, say 25% less happy than a comparative childless individual about their own lives are (literally) infinitely happier about the lives of their children than the childless individuals are about theirs.