Are couples happier with or without children? CNN.com's Katherine Dorsett became the latest in a string of journalists to argue that couples who choose not to have children are happier than those who choose parenthood.
In an article titled "Does Having Children Make You Happy?" Dorsett argued that "studies suggest that having children can have a negative impact on happiness."
Dorsett continued the media's tradition of supporting the notion that parenthood leads to unhappiness - or, at least, children aren't necessary for happiness. She cited the example of Jessica Copeland, who "knew by the time she was in high school that she never wanted to be a parent." She portrayed Copeland as "far from feeling dismal," and argued that "Women like Copeland are challenging the idea that happy and fulfilled lives require children."
Dorsett cited a study by the Pew Research Center claiming "the most educated women, those with bachelor's degrees or higher, are among the most likely never to have given birth." She also noted that the cost of raising a child from birth to seventeen is over $200,000.
The implication is clear. Successful women choose not to have children; children hinder career advancement and cut into family finances. And women like Copeland who choose childlessness are happier as a result of their freedom from children.
Dorsett found experts to echo her assertion that children make couples unhappy.
Dorsett first cited sociologist Robin Simon, who claimed that "parents of all types and all socioeconomic levels in the United States report more symptoms of depression and emotional distress than their childless adult counterparts." Dorsett also quoted a Harvard psychology professor, Daniel Gilbert, who stated that 'psychologists have found parents are less happy interacting with their kids than doing activities such as eating, watching television or even exercising.'
What definition of happiness makes watching television a greater source of it than interacting with your children?
Dorsett was careful not to be too anti-child. She noted that, "Despite these findings, Simon, who is the mother of two grown children, doesn't say Americans should stop having kids and does not have an agenda to stop procreation." And she added that "research published in the March issue of the journal Population and Development Review found the more children that parents over age 40 have, the happier they are." She stated that "The authors of this study say as children mature, they require less care and stress for parents - and can become a source of support for moms and dads."
In this view, children therefore bring their parents happiness only when they leave the home or become useful in some way.
As the Culture and Media Institute has chronicled in the past, Dorsett's assertions aren't new. In 2007 the Washington Post stated "To Be Happy in Marriage, Baby Carriage Not Required." In 2008 Newsweek asked "Does Having Children Make You Happy?" And in 2010 New York Magazine explored, "Why Parents Hate Parenting." Each of these articles cited psychological studies arguing that couples are happier without children.
But plenty of other data contradict contentions that childless couples are happier than parents. A 2010 Warsaw School of Economics study indicated that previous research focused on the costs of childbirth, without examining the benefits of childbearing. This study indicated that parents with two or more children are happier than childless couples. A 2005 Psychology Today study also argued that parents with at least one child are happier than those without children.
And even Simon admits in her study that "studies indicate parents derive more purpose, more meaning, and greater satisfaction from life than non-parents."
The repeated attempts of the mainstream media to link childlessness to greater happiness are based on disputed data and the flawed assumption that selfishness equals happiness, and that discounts the value of "more purpose, more meaning, and greater satisfaction."