Evolution at Work

Fascinating Q&A with economists Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson. My favorite part:

Betsey: The stylized fact is that people with kids are less happy than people without kids. It’s worse than that: parents are happier either just before the kids are born, or after they leave the nest; and even during any given day, parents are unhappy when doing childcare. There was only one paper published that suggested kids made people happier, but the results turned out to be due to a coding error!

Justin: These aren’t just abstract issues either, we were actively reading this literature–and running our own regressions–when trying to decide whether to have kids. In the end, we decided to try it out–despite the data. By jingo, we are glad we did. Our daughter Matilda has just been an amazing joy. Truth is, our last year-and-a-half as parents has been the happiest period of our lives. As empiricists we’ve learned that Matilda causes greater happiness. Does this generalize? We don’t know. Personal experience is usually a dreadful guide to research–our lives as academics just aren’t representative of the lives of most people. But in this case, we’ve become convinced that there’s a lot more work to be done in trying to sort out just what effects kids have on parent’s well-being.

We are, of course, all descended from a long line of people who gave birth to children and then spent years taking care of them. The data is out there, but presumably disposition to listen to the data will be screened out of the gene pool.