In the Wall Street Journal today, Jonathan Last reviews the new book by Bryan Caplan, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. “Mr. Caplan’s book,” Last writes, “is cheery and intellectually honest….
And the bedrock of his argument is solid: Modern parenting is insane. Children do not need most of what we buy them.
So far, so good. But then Last gives the review a nasty, and–to me, at least–startling twist.
But….[i]n study after study, researchers find that parents are consistently less happy than non-parents. No matter how you control the sample, if you have two identical people–one with a child and one without–the parent will be 5.6 percentage points less happy. Mr. Caplan bravely acknowledges this problem but is never able to say clearly what, exactly, the benefits of parenthood really are.
Parents, less happy? I’d missed all these studies. More to the point, the finding runs counter to pretty much all I’ve observed throughout my life. When my college buddies and I were in our twenties, those who remained single, making good money as consultants, jetting here and there, buying sports cars–sure. At some superficial level, they may have remained “happier.” But by the time we were all in our mid-thirties, that had changed. I think of one friend in particular who had a rocket of a career as a management consultant, living the life while the rest of us settled down and raised our families. On his own admission, he got sick of it. At 49, he finally married. At 50, his wife had a child. He’s happier now–incomparably happier.
None of this is to suggest that non-parents can’t be happy. Manifestly, they can. But the idea that non-parents are systematically happier–well, as I say, it runs counter to all my experience.
Can anyone help me here? Has anyone seen these studies? What am I missing?