Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Children - gift or curse!?

The Psychologist (UK) discussion on whether or not children promote parental happiness.

Correlational evidence shows parents are less happy than non-parents. Longitudinal evidence shows happiness to shoot up in the year before a child is born then flattens out and drops below initial levels in the four years tha follow. So why would have kids if they reduce our well-being?

The general explanation from Kahneman, Gilbert and others is that we don't anticipate a decline in well-being. We think of the prototypical idea of joyous child rearing experiences and this is what we expect. This is referred to as a focusing illusion where the predicted impact of a single factor on well-being is exaggerated.

As the Corrs lyrics say: "Would we be happier if we were someone together, would we be wonderful if it wasn't for the weather". It sometimes seems that way but research says otherwise (living in California doesn't actually make you happy)..

To follow-up this logic in the study of why people have children Kahneman and colleagues used the day reconstruction method to show that people report less positive affect when with their kids in normal everday activities than when doing other things like sport, outdoor activities, socializing, praying or eating. Thus, on the surface it may appear that children are costly both financially and in terms of well-being!

However, what's not mentioned in the above article is a recent study by Mathew White & Paul Dolan showing that whilst children may not increase positive affect per se they may increase eudaimonic well-being. The authors included standard positive affect items and items tapping into eudaimonic aspects of well-being in a day reconstruction study. They found child rearing to be worthwhile and meaningful for many and thus rewarding whilst not necessarily increasing positive affect.

Refs: Would you be happier if you were richer? A focusing illusion

Accounting for the Richness of Daily Activities

1 comment:

Kevin Denny said...

To an economist, the idea that children makes one unhappy is hard to make sense of since we all have parents and it seems implausible that people would get it consistently wrong on something so big. If so , its the biggest illusion in town!