Bryan Caplan  

Two Points on Kids and Happiness

Vacation Bound... Argumentative Theory...
My favorite parts from my Cato Unbound reply to Betsey Stevenson:

2. My own research confirms Betsey's first key point: Higher-income and older parents have a smaller happiness deficit.  And she is correct to claim that these are precisely the parents most likely to invest heavily in their kids. Nevertheless, we wouldn't be so quick to conclude that over-investment is painless. Studies of momentary happiness do confirm that childcare feels like work--and Betsey is one of the very few parents I've encountered who suggests otherwise.  The most natural interpretation of Betsey's finding, then, is that over-parenting is positively correlated with better finances, better preparation, better coping skills, and/or other advantages that more than compensate. My prediction is that parents who combine these advantages with a less laborious parenting style will have an especially small happiness deficit - or perhaps even a happiness surplus.

3. I completely agree with Betsey that happiness is just one aspect of a good life. But this point actually strengthens my argument. If we maximize happiness alone, then potential parents who know the science might say, "Sure, parents are unhappier than they need to be. But until you show that parents are actually happier than non-parents, I'll remain childless." But if we maximize a weighted average of, say, happiness and kids, then all you have to do to tilt the scales in favor of child-bearing is show that kids cost less happiness than you thought.

One common mistake that Betsey doesn't make: Claiming that the finding that "kids reduce happiness" invalidates my entire project.  As I've explained before, the fact that parents are currently unhappier than comparable non-parents is what makes my evidence so relevant

COMMENTS (2 to date)
Marcel writes:

Bryan, I would like to better understand your dismissal of the early childhood intervention studies. There is a whole literature that goes directly against your thesis, a leading researcher in the field has a clear position that "parenting matters", and all you say in reply is that "twin studies are more extensive and more relevant"?

I would suggest that since priors are generally in favour of parenting, twin studies will be heavily discounted and not the other way around.

ScottN writes:

I cannot believe that in the entire discussion in Cato Unbound that nobody brought up a key point:

You cannot have grandchildren without having children.

It is common knowledge (and surely born out by studies) that grandchildren make old age _much_ happier. Yes, it is indirect (and time-shifted) but it is still crucial to the discussion. My parents are kicking themselves for only having two kids as they "only" have four grandchildren. They would be much happier now with more.

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