Created 8 Oct 2011
last updated 3 Nov 2019

Clarence Darrow said, "The first half of our lives is ruined by our parents, and the second half by our children." Scientific study seems to back him up.

In Daniel Gilbert's 2006 book "Stumbling on Happiness" the Harvard professor of psychology looks at several studies and concludes that marital satisfaction decreases dramatically after the birth of the first child--and increases only when the last child has left home. He also ascertains that parents are happier grocery shopping and even sleeping than spending time with their kids.
Other data cited by 2008's "Gross National Happiness" author, Arthur C. Brooks, finds that parents are about 7 percentage points less likely to report being happy than the childless.
"Parents experience lower levels of emotional well-being, less frequent positive emotions and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers," says Florida State University's Robin Simon, a sociology professor who's conducted several recent parenting studies, the most thorough of which came out in 2005 and looked at data gathered from 13,000 Americans by the National Survey of Families and Households.
"In fact, no group of parents--married, single, step or even empty nest--reported significantly greater emotional well-being than people who never had children. It's such a counterintuitive finding because we have these cultural beliefs that children are the key to happiness and a healthy life, and they're not."

Anecdotal evidence says no. In pre-industrial America, parents certainly loved their children, but their offspring also served a purpose--to work the farm, contribute to the household. Children were a necessity. Today, we have kids more for emotional reasons, but an increasingly complicated work and social environment has made finding satisfaction far more difficult.

A key study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Sara McLanahan and Julia Adams conducted some 20 years ago, found that parenthood was perceived as significantly more stressful in the 1970s than in the 1950s; the researchers attribute part of that change to major shifts in employment patterns.

For the childless, all this research must certainly feel redeeming. As for those of us with kids, well, the news isn't all bad. Parents still report feeling a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives than those who've never had kids.

Source: Financial Planning: At the Summit: AIA FAMILY FIRST PROTECT - Ultimate Flexibility for Protection & Wealth Accumulation
Similar Chart: Needs in Life Stages - Mandiri Investasi

Living Income: (2018)
This is the minimum income standard (before taxes) to show the relative difference children make. It does not include the basic necessities enjoyed by many Americans (Entertainment, eating out, retirement savings, ...). It would put you at the bottom of what would be considered middle class.

Annual Expenses - 2 Adults (Both Working)
0 Children 1 Child 2 Children 3 Children
Alemada Co $54,589 $77,389 $90,255 $112,305
100% 142% 165% 206%
San Mateo Co $63,395 $88,219 $101,085 $123,942
Yolo Co $41,599 $61,992 $74,858 $91,616
Sacramento Co $40,983 $60,393 $73,258 $89,893
Source: MIT - Living Wage Calculator - Alameda County, California

1st child impact by category for Alemeda Co.
Food Child Care Medical Housing Transportation OtherTaxesTotal
$1,603 $8,311 $1,351 $5,688 $1,347 $424 $4,075 $22,799
I would venture that "Other" would increase significantly for upper middle class families as you add fancy strollers, car seats, bouncy toys, education savings, lessons for arts and sports, ...

A 2018 report from the Pew Research Center defined being middle class as having an annual household income from about two-thirds to double the national median, which translates to roughly $48,000 to $145,000 for a family of three (in 2018 dollars).
The cost of living in California is about 28% higher then the national median.
Alameda County is 77% higher than the national average according to says Alamda Co. is 221% of the national average.

Personal Comment:
At a recent meeting of small men's bible study I attend, 4 of 10 men were extremely unhappy about the current situation in the marriages or relationships of children. In several cases they were torn between hatred toward their child's spouse and the forgiveness preached by Christ.
So, the burden or stress of parenthood doesn't necessarily end when the kids move out.

Steve Jobs has just passed away and one report said a friend had asked him if he was glad he had kids. His reply, "It's 10,000 times better than anything I've ever done."

Jackie Kennedy-Onassis said,
"If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do matters very much."

I personally think I am happier than my friends without kids.
Of course that's easy to say sitting here as an empty-nested widower, with a successful kid in a great marriage.
Marriage is stressful even if you are married to your perfect soulmate, but working thru the hard times make the good times seem that much better.
Part of it family values. Passing on a family legacy is more important for some.

The above reports distinguish between sense of purpose and happiness, I think they are related, but I'm not a psychologist.

Babies and Children books
Roots & Wings
Does Having Children Make You Happy? -
Baby and Children's health in Home and Garden

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