Are childfree people happier than parents?


I come from a background where parenthood is a must for every adult.

Whether you like it or not as soon as you reach your late 20s or early 30s you must be married and have an offspring. Poverty is not an excuse because you’ll hear overeager baby boomers advise: ‘Don’t worry. God will look after your child.’

Single males are not spared from the pressure too.

‘You’re in your 30s and childless?’ someone will ask. ‘What a shame. Why don’t you father a child in the bush (out of wedlock)? Who’ll look after you when you’re old if you remain childless?’

Basically it’s considered a disgrace to yourself and to your family if you’re of age and are childless (whether married or not.)

Parenting defines you.  As soon as you have your first child people in your social network stop calling you by your first name. Instead you are addressed as ‘Mother of So and So’ or ‘Father of So and So.’

Parenthood brings you respect from the community. If you’re childless you get the impression that you’re missing on a chance of life- that you’re forgoing the happiness brought about by parenthood.

But are parents really happier than non-parents?

Recently the internet has been abuzz with a lot of pessimism about parenting. One article which has generated a lot of interest on the web is Jennifer Senior’s piece ‘All Joy and No Fun. Why parents hate parenting,’ which appeared in New York magazine.

Senior relates how she came from work to find her 2-year-old son waiting for her. She describes the moment of bliss when her son runs towards her. However that moment is short-lived when she discovers that her son has dismantled the wooden garage. When she tries to assemble it for him, her son throws one of the parts at her, missing her eye. Later he reaches for a screwdriver ready to attack her. Stressed, Senior ‘trawls: her house for alcohol.’ The son ends up with ‘a time-out in his crib.’

In the article Senior then goes to quote various research sources that suggest that parents are less happy than non-parents.  She quotes a 2004 study by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize–winning behavioural economist which concluded that ‘child care ranked 16th in pleasurability out of 19 activities.’ Parents preferred ‘preparing food, watching TV, exercising, talking on the phone, napping, shopping, and housework.’

After studying of tens of thousands of Britons with and without children, economist Andrew Oswald came up with the following conclusions: ‘The broad message is not that children make you less happy; it’s just that children don’t make you happier.’

What about having more than one child? Andrew Oswald says: ‘Then the studies show a more negative impact.’
The above conclusions were reached after studying people living in developed nations. Would the researchers have reached the same conclusions if they had studied parents living in Africa? I wonder.

Although I’m not a social scientist I don’t agree with these conclusions. I’ve met people who are happier because they’ve been blessed with a child. I’ve listened to parents relate how their characters have improved because of parenting.

To me this only shows that not everyone is cut out to be a parent. I suspect that those parents who hate parenting became parents out of social pressure or by mistake. They should deal with their issues and stop blaming parenthood for their unhappiness.

Which activities rate higher than parenting on your pleasurability list?

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

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