Children and Happiness

What makes couples happy? Among the several patterns that emerged, there is one thing that many of us parents may find quite interesting: that of having children.

High profile research in recent years suggested that couples who have children are less happy than their unmarried counterparts. There is this study funded by the state in the United Kingdom which surveyed 5,000 couples of all ages and sexual orientations.

The study, which involved intensive interviews and surveys, found that childless married and unmarried couples reported being more satisfied in life and feeling more valued by their partners than did pairs with kids.

How does the child factor affect married couples? It influenced their levels of intimacy. Fathers were twice as likely to cite a lack of sexual intimacy as the biggest downfall of their relationships, while mothers reported that they want to have sex less often than their partners do.

Unmarried parents were found to be slightly happier than married parents. But among those interviewed, mothers reported being happier with life than any other group. Childless women reported being the least happy.

Another study which tracked about 13,000 people in the U.S. showed that those who have kids were more depressed. Part of the reason for the dissatisfaction is that raising kids is stressful. Daniel Kahneman, an economist and cognitive scientist found that, of the pleasure to be derived from 19 everyday tasks (such as watching TV, shopping, and child care), child care ranked 16th on the list. Perhaps, it is not difficult to spot why.

Researchers from Stony Brook University and Princeton University released another analysis claiming that the days of those without kids are more even-keeled. Childless couples go through life as if driving on a flat racetrack while those who have is like riding a roller coaster. Concretely, people with kids have more joys and happiness as well as more negative emotions like anger, worry, and stress.

And of course, kids are expensive. In the U.S., the estimated cost of raising a child from birth through age 18 is pegged at $241,080. This does not include paying for college. How about in the Philippines? Tuition fees in preschool are almost like that of college already.

But given all these, I would still not exchange my children for anything. Yes, the stress is at its peak when the children are still very young or in their adolescent stage. However, all these are offset if couples are prepared for parenthood.

This should be a wakeup call for those who are getting married and want to have children. And a sterner warning for young adults who are sexually active and are prone to unwanted pregnancies. To have children requires planning and adequate preparation. Because when they come, they surely demand so much attention and energy.

But if you are prepared, no amount of earthly undertaking can ever replace for being a parent. Happiness may not be as high as those who have no kids, but the meaning they bring to our lives is always worth it.

Kit Balane

Clinical Psychologist
President, Bohol Child Head Start Inc.