March 07, 2008

A Paternal Instinct?

During my research for the Childless by Choice Project, I interviewed partnered and married childless and childfree men and I asked them, "Do you think there is such a thing as a paternal instinct?"

The responses were varied, but to paraphrase the majority of the men I interviewed, the response was: "If there is, I haven’t got it."

Beyond the anecdotel comes evidence from a major study conducted in the U.K. reported by The Daily Telegraph in Australia this past December, in an article titled For Dads, Happiness is No Kids.

Following is the full article:

The patter of tiny feet has long been thought of as the key to happiness. But according to a study, having children makes men less satisfied with their life, while women only enjoy motherhood once their offspring are packed off to school.

Between the ages of three and five, children made mothers less satisfied with life, while being the father of a child under five "significantly reduces"' life satisfaction.

Women with children aged five to 15 were happier than those who did not have children. Even children of school age brought no increase or decrease in happiness for men.

The study, carried out by the Institute for Social & Economic Research in Colchester, England, surveyed nearly 4000 couples between 1996 and 2003.

A caveat: I have not seen the original study. However, this rings true to me, based on my interviews.

What do you think?

Flickr photo by fusionstream (cc) /Technorati Tag:


Anonymous said...

I found the original study, titled "Job Satisfaction and Family Happiness: The Part-Time Work Puzzle", which actually set out to "investigate the relationship between part-time work and working hours satisfaction, job satisfaction and life satisfaction". Notice that children aren't even mentioned in the title. That's because the study really only used "presence of children" as a variable to be taken into account (along with health and family income) in order to isolate the "work" variable. Here's what the authors really had to say about children/life satisfaction: "There were two other interesting findings emerging from our study that, while not the focus of our research project, should not go unremarked. First,...the partner's health or work status typically have no statistically significant impact on own well-being. Second, the presence of children brings no increase in life satisfaction for men – and an increase in the life satisfaction for women only when the children are attending school. Perhaps it is not surprising that fertility in Britain is declining." Interesting how a report of no increase in life satisfaction with kids ends up in the papers as "For Dads, Happiness is No Kids". It just goes to show how polarizing the thought of being Childfree can be. I'm so happy to be Childfree, but it still seems odd that most folks want children to either be the end-all be-all of fulfillment and 100% blissful happiness OR total disaster and ruination of one's life - when the truth seems to be that most people that have children love their kids AND that those same kids are a pain in the ass a lot of the time.

LauraS said...

Thanks chef-rex!
I tried to find the study referred to in this article and couldn't find it. Good for you. The fact that this papers editors focused exclusively on the "the presense of children brings no increase in life satisfation for men" does speak volumes. Thanks for sharing your insights!

Anna said...

What do I think?

I think I'm positively exhausted with all these studies and wonderings about who is happier - parents or non-parents. I really couldn't give a crap who is happier. The only people I have to please in my life are myself and my husband, and we know what we want and what our goals are, etc. I'm tired of this constant measuring up - even if parents are supposedly happier, who cares? That is not a factor in why I am childfree, and if it is a deciding factor for someone, I'm disturbed.

Anonymous said...

To Chef-Rex's point, my fulfillment meter is constantly on the move. I have a roof over my head and a job. My belly is full. No one is shooting at me, so the meter never tips below 5 on a scale of 1-10, right?

[Also, a tip, if you want more people to read what you've written, please use paragraphs! A big block of text is a bit off-putting. Maybe it's my 40-something eyes...]

Some mundane tasks are not so fulfilling. Returning from vacation and stepping right back to work is stressful, especially when your boss is out sick and you may have to wear a dirty pair of underwear this week, but that is just life. But, the work may still be fulfilling. And, the laundry will get done eventually.

To kid or not to kid is simply a choice, a fact of life for Purple Women and Men, a pending decision for some.

[Free Advice: discuss remaining childfree before you get married. No, I am not advocating, simply stating in the converse of the typical assumptive position society tosses at women.]

To Anna's point, you cannot measure a person's fulfillment, so my question is why is everyone trying to? Why pay so much attention to this? Shouldn't you be in an art class or something? Taking a hike? Planning your next vacation? Making dinner?

Anonymous said...

Oh, yes...there IS such a thing as a 'paternal instinct'...I discovered too late that this is what my husband has, and it's caused a riff in our relationship to say the very least!!! Before him, I never KNEW men TOO can be susceptible to "baby rabies". Of course, he has all the wrong reasons, for one thing, he's sold on all the neatly abridged 'kodak moments' he sees on tv & movies (particularly america's, I mean FUNNIEST home videos and their "awwww look how cyooooot my spawn is" video montages)....This, of course, is all IN ADDITION to the every-minute-of-every-day pressure and stigma from society to media even from your own loved *cough-cough*in-laws*cough-cough*, friends, even acquaintances you scarcely even know who feel it's their DUTY to "correct" your beliefs & lifestyle...Why am I describing this, I trust you all ALREADY know what I mean *hahahaha* Unfortunately as of now, every single reason he's given for wanting kids are rooted into all the (allegedly) "FUN" parts (all the "fun" parts FOR ME, begin and end in "practicing"...nudge-nudge, wink-wink*!!)...When I quiz him on the child-rearing aspects that sound anything remotely like work or difficulty, he changes the subject or (unfairly) calls me a pessimist?? We can scarcely live sufficiently on our own NOW...As bad as that sounds, maybe it's a mixed blessing, at least now I have one more valid reason to buy me some more time to figure out WHAT THE HELL TO DO!!!

LauraS said...

Cactusheart--I suggest you encourage him to talk to parents. I have interviewed a number of "undecided couples" who have done just that. Parents will be honest with you and will express the pitfalls of parenthood as well as the joys. Some of my biggest supporters of the childless by choice project are parents