What does an ideal family look like? Two parents, one daughter, and one son? Two cohabitating adults and no children? Christians place high value on family and children, which often leads to sizably larger households, benefitting all of society. As one MARRI publication indicates, larger families (of 3 or more children) contribute more to the economy than families with two or fewer children. Unfortunately, few couples of any religious or secular traditions choose to have more than two kids, citing economic woes or other factors. But because children make parents happy, shouldn’t more couples opt to expand their families anyway? Not necessarily.
If a couple based their child-bearing decisions merely on what makes them personally happy, what would they choose? According to Gross National Happiness by Arthur Brooks, they might reasonably choose not to raise any children. From Brooks’ research, it may be claimed that offspring do not in fact to make parents happy. If you’re skeptical, just read the angry comments from two parents who, by the gamble of in vitro fertilization, are pregnant with twins and are less than thrilled about it. Though the backlash from other readers might suggest these parents are an anomaly, their anger towards their twins seems to verify Brooks’ research. His findings claim that “marital happiness takes a nosedive as couples move from childlessness to having their first baby; it continues southward until about the time the oldest child starts school” (Brooks 64).
The more surprising finding, however, is that for parents with more than four children, reported happiness levels climb back up with each subsequent child. Following this trend, parents with eight children report the same level of happiness as couples with only one child. Brooks’ assessment reflects MARRI’s, in that these parents create a different type of family based on their beliefs. And while very few couples opt for more than two children at all, those with four or more kids tend to be affiliated with a religion that highly values children and family life (such as Catholics, Evangelicals, or Mormons).
Lest he leave couples determined to never bear children, Brooks makes an important qualification about the happiness factor: For both Brooks (and MARRI), it is clear that though children may appear to make parents less happy in the moment, these longsuffering mothers and fathers serve a crucial role in developing future citizens. Children give parents meaning, a feeling more akin to the “moral quality of life” than to elation (Brooks 69). And while the joys of parenting feel more like misery than euphoria at times, the purpose-filled experience of parenthood leaves mothers and fathers satisfied with their childrearing work, a feeling far more enduring that luxury or leisure.