Non-parents have “better” lives according to worldly measures

…except for one thing: they aren’t as happy as people with kids.  File under “the last shall be first” and other gospel paradoxes.

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  • Joseph

    File this study under: “Common Sense”… requires no statistical data.

  • Ash

    File this under: This data seems to be drawn from a voluntary online survey that has absolutely no controls, so be extremely suspicious about the results.

    Ignoring that (assuming the results would be similar with a well-designed survey):

    File this under: Be suspicious of any conclusions you draw from this that aren’t specifically reflected in the data or accounted for by the structure of the survey, as those conclusions are likely to reflect your own biases and opinions.

    For instance, if you think children are a nuisance, you might conclude that the happiness gap simply reflects the effects of social disapproval of childless couples in society, particularly within certain religious communities. You might decide the results would be much different if they broke childless couples into two categories – one that wants children but has so far been unable to have them, and one that doesn’t want them at all.

    If you think children are everything, you might fail to consider any of those factors at all and conclude the results are “common sense”.

    Neither set of conclusions is addressed by the survey and are likely to be biased.

  • MarylandBill

    “Non-parents are 95% more likely than parents to say they are most passionate about TV shows”. I believe this quote gives us all the evidence we need to prove that its conclusion regarding happiness is correct. I still remember that my life as a single person became far happier when I made the decision that watching TV was really only for when there was nothing else to do.

    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

      My best TV-watching experiences are communal, and I don’t regret them at all. I might agree about solo TV watching.

  • Kristin

    So priests and religious are unhappy?

    • Joseph

      I posed that question to one of my priests once. His response was, “You call me ‘father’ as does everyone else in this parish of a few thousand. I can guarantee that I have more children than you do.’
      Nuns are very maternal as well, at least the ones I know.

      • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

        Nuns are very maternal as well, at least the ones I know.

        Not to mention: free and open and friendly to everyone in a way that is inspiring. The best part of the emptying of the convents is that the ones who join up now seem to be the ones who just love it. I’m thinking of you, Sr. M-M, whom I cannot wait to see again, either in this life or the next.

    • http://robertfking.wordpress.com/ Roki

      My guess is that happiness is caused, not by “having” children as if children were just another commodity, but by living one’s life in service to others rather than constantly trying to satisfy oneself.

      Since priests and religious are dedicated to others – whether through direct service or through prayer – I would expect that they skew “happier” than “worldly” single people.

      • http://robertfking.wordpress.com/ Roki

        P.S. For the sciency types out there – this is a hypothesis. I’d be very interested to see what happens in a rigorous test.

      • Kristin

        So there we go. You can be truly happy if you help others, even if you don’t have kids.

        I just get sick of hearing how selfish single, childless people like me are. :

  • Morgan Wolff

    I can’t speak to this survey, but my life probably looks less happy to an outside observer by, as Mark puts it, “worldly measures” but I can say I’m a lot happier now that I’m a parent. I think what we’re really getting at here is living for yourself vs. living for others. Pursuing one’s own physical health, recreation, and intellectual/artistic development is very good and everyone needs time for that, but it can’t be the 100% answer to lifelong happiness. Get outside yourself, give yourself away to others and it’s remarkable how free a so-called fettered person can be. At the same time parents need to take care of themselves too. It doesn’t do kids any good for a parent to get burned out and resentful. Look at Jesus. He literally gave away everything He possibly could and took “the form of a slave”. At the same time He took time to get away from the crowds and even His disciples to meditate, pray, and have discussions.

  • JM1001

    Despite all of the negatives in their lives—the stress, the unhealthy lifestyle, the meager social life, the financial challenges, the pop culture oblivion, and the longing for younger days—parents still find themselves happier. We can’t prove exactly what drives these numbers.

    Maybe there is a kind reward built into us that makes us happier when we reproduce and raise children. I know this may come as a shock to some, but the drive to reproduce is one of the basic drives of any species; seems perfectly logical that there might be rewards (including psychological ones) for doing so, whatever the personal cost.

    We marvel at the salmon as it swims for miles back to its birthplace to spawn, against the threat of eagles, grizzly bears, and fishermen. But no one tells the salmon: “Gee, why don’t you just stay in the ocean? Your lives would be a lot better.” We stand in awe of the salmon and its journey.

    For another example, look at the success of movies like March of the Penguins. There’s still something deep within us that admires as brave and magnificent living things that go to great lengths, confronting all kinds of dangers, just to reproduce and nurture their young. Marching for miles and miles, braving the bitter cold, protecting chicks from predators. Again, in all the reviews for that film, no one said to the penguins: “Gee, why don’t you just stay in the ocean? Your lives would be a lot better.

    We still have the ability to stand in awe of other animals that confront great challenges to reproduce and nurture their young, often enduring great personal cost. Why don’t we admire the same thing in ourselves?

    • Marthe Lépine

      Maybe because we are supposed to be the only species that was given the gift of reason? We “think” we know better than the animals…

  • Elmwood

    this is like saying the ocean is wet or fire is hot. lets face it, children drain the life out of you and having them is correlated to less life expectancy for women.

    sometimes i dream about us not being able to have children and how much fun it could be.

    • Jamie

      You have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m unable to have children and it causes my husband and I tremendous pain. It isn’t “fun”.

      • Elmwood

        i know that, the grass is always greener. i’m trying to be funny and failing at it. still, having children can suck at times.

    • sez

      I discovered something… after it was too late: We spend nearly half of our lives in the “grandparent” years. If you skip the children, you are also skipping the grandkids. What you are left with is… a career, a nice house, lots of stuff… but none that satisfies. Not like children and grandchildren would. You’re old and full of “wisdom”, but nobody wants to hear about it.

      To say I regret my childlessness would be an understatement. I’ve decided to spend my “grandparent” years trying to prevent others from making the same mistake.

    • Joseph

      It can be a pain in the ass sometimes, no doubt. But there’s a huge payoff if you can manage it and if, please God, they stay out of trouble. It’s the longest and most difficult project (because it’s so dynamic) that one can work on. During the project there are moments that you can’t replicate living the single “free” life that keep you going.
      .
      I love and hate being a parent sometimes. But, when I think about what I’d be doing without kids I realise just how boring my life would be. It is *never* boring with kids and I’ve learned a lot about quickly reacting to certain situations and psychology.
      .
      God willing my sons have children so I can spoil the crap out of them and drive my sons and their wives nuts (like my sons grandparents do). LOL
      .
      On the practical side of things, the more kids you have the less likely you’ll end up dying in a last stop motel (retirement home) because, surely, one of them will offer to take care of you if you need it. Stay *free* from kids? Look forward to forced euthanasia or euthanasia by retirement home.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    Surveys like this are interesting, but its important to note that they only show what is true for the broad population, and not for individuals.

    For example, I’d bet that the vast majority of people would be very happy to be fed free chocolate ice cream… but to the few individuals who hate chocolate, this would make them miserable.

    It might be true that children do make most people happy, but then there
    are other people who would be less happy with children. Failing to see people as individuals and prescribing life choices based on other people’s personalities or because it is “less worldly” is harmful.

  • Thibaud313

    This kind of comment (which are quite common on Catholic blogs) always bugs me for many reasons :

    1) First, I imagine that for a faithful Catholic married couple unable to have children because of sterility, reading this kind of comment must be somewhat comparable to having a burning hot blade twisted into a severely infected wound.

    2) Second, one unique, awesome thing about the Catholic faith is that EVERY SINGLE chaste way of life is considered a POTENTIAL holy and happy way of life. What I mean is that, for example, according to Islam, Orthodox Judaism and Puritanical Protestantism, getting married and having children is considered the ONLY acceptable (God-approved) life choice. Celibacy is a monstrous God-hated Popish perversion and sterility is a sign of God’s malediction. On the other side of the spectrum, the current Zeitgeist in the decadent West is that the only way to be happy is to have lots of sex, with lots of different people but no children. Celibacy is also considered an unholy monstrosity there. Meanwhile, some Eastern thoughts (like Buddhism) think that celibacy is the ONLY truly recommandable way of life.

    By contrast, the Catholic Church, alone in all of history and the world, proclaims that one can be happy and a saint through marriage OR celibacy, by having children OR not. It is impossible to say that one way life of life is UNIVERSALLY better for EVERYONE. It all depends on God’s plan for each and every one of us, that we call our vocation : one may have a vocation for marriage (and children) or a vocation for celibacy (and no children).

    3) Third, to complement my second point, even though the Church proclaims that marriage and celibacy are both potential ways to sainthood, the tradition of the Church since Antiquity is that celibacy has, at least, a symbolic primacy. And to go back to your original post, it doesn’t look like to me that famous non-parents like Pope Francis, saint John-Paul II, saint Thérese of Lisieux, saint Thomas Aquinas, saint Hildegard of Bingen, saint John the Evangelist, saint Paul, or, well, Our Lord Jesus Christ, are particularly unhappy people…

    • Morgan Wolff

      Hear hear! Love it. You don’t have to be a parent to be holy or happy. Children are a blessing from God, but not having children, especially the physical inability to have children, doesn’t mean you’re less holy than a parent. It just depends on what you’re spending your life doing otherwise. I’ve never heard it said that the path to holiness is always looking out for #1. A priest friend of mine once said the Church looks to the workhorses as examples not the show ponies. All those people you listed are workhorses.

      • Marthe Lépine

        It might also depend on what reasons you have to remain non-parents, and what means are chosen to this end. A worldly couple may decide to remain non-parents through a constant use of contraception, with recourse to abortion if contraception fails. It might be interesting to find out if such a couple is really happy, or just trying to cover-up or hide with “bread and games” some less than happy thoughts that maybe come to them…

        • Morgan Wolff

          Oh yeah, that’s a strong point. You can’t sin and self indulge your way to being a holy, childless person.

    • JM1001

      I imagine that for a faithful Catholic married couple unable to have
      children because of sterility, reading this kind of comment must be
      somewhat comparable to having a burning hot blade twisted into a
      severely infected wound.

      Except they can have children — it’s called adoption. As I said in my comment below, there may be rewards built into us by nature when we successfully reproduce and nurture children. But if someone is unable to have children of their own, those same rewards may be derived from adopting children and raising them as your own. We see the same thing in other animals throughout nature.

      And to go back to your original post, it doesn’t look like to me that
      famous non-parents like Pope Francis, saint John-Paul II, saint Thérese
      of Lisieux, saint Thomas Aquinas, saint Hildegard of Bingen, saint John
      the Evangelist, saint Paul, or, well, Our Lord Jesus Christ, are
      particularly unhappy people…

      Indeed. But that’s because all those people were still practicing lives of self-sacrificing love, so they were still experiencing the same rewards.

      The original article’s headline said that people without children have “better” lives, where “better” is defined by a whole bunch of things that are essentially all about the self: career, money, TV shows, music, etc.

      Therefore, the takeaway from both the article and your comment is this: whether you have children or not, the key to true happiness is to live a life of self-sacrificing love. Raising a family is one way to do that, but not the only way.