But the warnings for prospective parents are even more stark than ‘it’s not going to make you happier’. Using data sets from Europe and America, numerous scholars have found some evidence that, on aggregate, parents often report statistically significantly lower levels of happiness (Alesina et al., 2004), life satisfaction (Di Tella et al., 2003), marital satisfaction (Twenge et al., 2003), and mental well-being (Clark & Oswald, 2002) compared with non-parents.
Why do we have such a rosy view about parenthood? One possible explanation for this, according to Daniel Gilbert (2006), is that the belief that ‘children bring happiness’ transmits itself much more successfully from generation to generation than the belief that ‘children bring misery’. The phenomenon, which Gilbert says is a ‘super-replicator’, can be explained further by the fact that people who believe that there is no joy in parenthood – and who thus stop having them – are unlikely to be able to pass on their belief much further beyond their own generation. It is a little bit like Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest. Only the belief that has the best chance of transmission – even if it is a faulty one – will be passed on.