"Pretty much no matter how you test it, children make us less happy. The evidence isn’t just from diary studies; surveys of marital satisfaction show that couples tend to start off happy, get less happy when they have kids, and become happy again only once the kids leave the house. As the psychologist Daniel Gilbert puts it, “Despite what we read in the popular press, the only known symptom of ‘empty-nest syndrome’ is increased smiling.” So why do people believe that children give them so much pleasure? Gilbert sees it as an illusion, a failure of affective forecasting. Society’s needs are served when people believe that having children is a good thing, so we are deluged with images and stories about how wonderful kids are. We think they make us happy, though they actually don’t."
That's Paul Bloom in the November issue of the Atlantic.
Personally, I have several reservations about the article - partly because it seems to me that Bloom is stretching a lot of potentially unrelated research to fit his theory (I'm not sure, for instance, how the Milgram obedience studies "support the view that all of us contain many selves"); partly because the article doesn't sufficiently distinguish, in my opinion, between measures of central tendency and variation across the population (presumably there are people who are genuinely happy about having kids - I'd even hazard a guess that the extent of happiness / unhappiness associated with being a parent varies by gender, age and economic class); and partly because I would have liked to see a clearer definition of happiness (what does it mean, exactly, to be unhappy even though you think you're happy). But hey, who am I to argue with a professor of Psychology at Yale, particularly one who's basically saying what I've always suspected - that this whole celebration of parenthood thing is a gigantic swindle meant to reduce cognitive dissonance for people who've been suckered into having kids.
The November issue also includes a surprisingly sensible piece on blogging by Andrew Sullivan, but that's a whole other post.