The cost of parenting

Loved this in the Atlantic a couple weeks ago.  There’s so much disputed social science on the effect of parenthood and happiness, but I really like this take, nicely summed up in the sub-head: “Having children makes people happier—if they can afford it.”

For several decades, the work of happiness researchers has consistently pointed to an unintuitive conclusion: Having children doesn’t tend to make people happier, and might even make them less happy.

“That never made any sense [to me],” says David Blanchflower, an economist at Dartmouth College. If having kids makes people less happy, why do so many people do it? Why would people have more than one child after the supposed misery brought by their first? And most puzzlingly of all, why would evolution produce a disincentive to procreate?

Blanchflower has long sought to resolve this mismatch between research and human behavior, and he recently made some headway. In a new workingpaper, he and his co-author, Andrew Clark of the Paris School of Economics, detailed the importance of a single factor: parents’ financial strain. Subtract the stress of struggling to pay bills from the equation, and the presence of children tends to bring parents happiness.

“It’s not that children make you unhappy,” Blanchflower told me. “It’s the fact that they bring lots of expenses and difficulties. You have to buy the milk and the diapers. And that financial pressure gets muddled up with this.”… [emphasis mine]

The paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, points to some other variables that are linked to parents’ unhappiness: Children under the age of 10 appear to bring their parents more happiness than do children a few years over 10. Single parents are, on average, less happy than coupled parents. (And other research indicates that mothers are less happy than fathers.)

So what types of parents, once finances are accounted for, tend to be happiest? “It’s a little hard to answer, but I think the answer is simply, people who are under 45 who are married or living with a partner with young kids,” Blanchflower said…

That said, having children can be unpleasant for reasons apart from the financial crunch. As the journalist Jennifer Senior explained in her 2014 book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, today’s parents are living out the consequences of a number of societal trends that have developed over decades.

For one, most parents now tend to be (or at least strive to be) more hands-on than others were in the past. On top of being time-consuming and stressful, this project of engaging with a child’s every utterance and overseeing their every minute of playtime can sometimes be, well, boring—or at least, a lot less satisfying than getting absorbed in a meaningful or mentally stimulating task at work. Another possibility: Because today’s parents tend to have children later in life than those in past generations, they experience the freedoms of being 20-something, only to have them stolen by a small, shrieking being with many demands.

As noted, this is still a working paper, and it is based solely on EU data (and one can imagine some cultural differences related to parenting in America), but it does tell an interesting story.  Well, my kids are mostly well over 10 and still bringing me so much joy, almost surely more than ever.  Now that the youngest is 8, parenthood is almost never boring (which it really can be with young kids; though, obviously the exasperation levels go up).  Presumably, there’s a really negative hit from adolescence in a lot of families.  So far, so good with us.   Anyway, interesting stuff.

Duck penises, other bird non-penises, and actually understanding Darwin

Wow, this episode of Radiolab was so good.  If you ever listen to podcasts, this is a must-listen.  I’ve known for a long time of the strange case of crazy, elaborate duck penises and correspondingly crazy duck vaginas.  And that this is related to the fact that ducks are one of the few types of animals other than humans where males mate with unwilling females.

But, what I didn’t really know is that the vast majority of bird species don’t have penises at all.  And, they used to!  So, somehow, evolution favored all most all bird species losing the penis.  What’s up with that?  And how is this related to Darwin’s widely misunderstood theory of sexual selection?  Listen and find out.


Why are American women respected less than ever?

They’re not.  But interestingly, Gallup’s data suggests that they are:

Line graph: Americans' views on whether U.S. women are treated with respect. 70% of men, 48% of women say yes.

Men’s views of how women in the U.S. are treated, on the other hand, haven’t changed much. The seven in 10 U.S. men who said in 2018 that women are treated with respect and dignity is slightly down from peaks in 2011 and 2012, but attitudes have been mostly stable for the past several years.

Women Who Disapprove of Leadership See Worse Situation

As perhaps a harbinger of the blue (Democratic) and pink (female) waves in the midterm election, the recent large decline in perceived respect among women was most evident among those who disapproved of their country’s leadership. It fell 15 percentage points among women who disapproved of the country’s leadership, from 49% in 2017 to 34% in 2018. The declines among women who approved were not significant.

So, basically a lot of women are actually now realizing that women don’t get treated with sufficient dignity and respect.  And, for that, almost surely, we can thank Donald Trump.

And I consider this definitely a good thing, as you are never going to bring needed change to a problem unless you recognize it as a problem.

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