Remember the famous study showing that women hate taking care of their kids? The standard soundbyte is that childcare is barely more enjoyable than housework. Here's Will Wilkinson* favorably quoting Arthur Brooks, who cites the original study in Science by Daniel Kahneman et al ("A Survey Method for Characterizing Daily Life Experience: The Day Reconstruction Method"):
Using these techniques, researchers have collected data on how people -- particularly women -- experience life with their children. And what emerges is that the enjoy almost everything more than they enjoy taking care of their kids.
I finally had a chance to read the original study, and at least in my view, Brooks' summary is very misleading. Out of 16 activities, childcare came in 12th for a sample of 909 employed women. That doesn't sound like "almost everything" to me, especially when you consider that "Working" (the most time-consuming activity on the list) came in 15th. One could with greater justice say that the study found that "Women prefer childcare to working outside the home."
The more important problem with the standard summary, though, is that activities number 8-13 are virtually tied! Here are the average positive affect ratings on a 0-6 scale for all sixteen activities:
Ave. Positive Affect
On the phone
Taking care of my children
All child-cheerleading aside, I think the fair summary of these numbers is that, in terms of happiness, childcare is very close to the median. Or as normal people say, "It's about average."
Now note: The top seven activities (from sex to TV) are all basically "recreation." As far as non-recreational activities go, childcare is actually a little better than average! And this is for women with jobs, who have to take care of their kids after doing a full day's work. I'm not sure that the results would differ for stay-at-home moms, but it's a good guess.
* But see also Will's criticism of the Science study here.