Thank you, Ina Garten. The chef — a k a the Barefoot Contessa — wants to call off the parenting wars.
Garten, 69, told Katie Couric last week that she and her husband of 48 years determined early on in their marriage not to have kids because it wouldn’t be compatible with the life they envisioned together. But unlike some other childless celebrities, she seems to have no chip on her shoulder about the whole thing: “I really appreciate that other people do [have kids], and we will always have friends that have children that we are close to.”
That’s a far cry from Ashley Judd, who has said it’s “selfish for us to pour our resources into making our ‘own’ babies when those very resources and energy could . . . help children already here.” Or from the whole “Childless by Choice” movement that preaches the emotional and even environmental benefits to life without kids.
Garten certainly hasn’t demanded a Meternity Leave (you know, where childless women take time off to cater to their own needs).
“I never felt that people [judged us],” Garten says. “I think the one thing that we miss [out on] is a lot of people’s friends are the parents of their kids’ friends. So we never had that connection with other people that I see. . . . But no, I never felt judged by it.”
Garten’s satisfaction with her decision isn’t surprising. For decades, nonparents have reported higher levels of happiness with their lives than parents.
And American parents for many years reported some of the lowest levels of happiness, compared with their childless counterparts. Books like Jennifer Senior’s “All Joy and No Fun” describe just how tedious and difficult raising young children can be and how hard it can be to transition from life before children to life after.
But while Garten may give the most lovely Hamptons dinner parties, there’s hope for those of us picking dried spaghetti off the floor. According to a new study in the Review of Economics of the Household by Chris Herbst and John Ifcher, the parental-happiness deficit seems to have reversed: From 2000-2016, 30 percent of parents report being “very happy” compared to only 25 percent of nonparents.
Unlike previous studies, Herbst and Ifcher restricted their study to parents who actually had children under the age of 18 residing in their home. They found that until mid-1990s, nonparents were happier than parents. But starting in the late ’90s, that flipped.
Why? One possibility is that, as the stigma against childlessness has fallen away, fewer people became parents when they didn’t want to — leaving fewer resentful parents.
In an interview with the Institute for Family Studies, Herbst, a professor of social work at Arizona State University, explains that nonparents today “perceive their financial situations to be deteriorating relative to parents. They have also become more likely to express regrets about their lives, more likely to want to alter their lives and less likely to be confident.”
Nor are people with kids as isolated these days. Herbst notes, “Parents over time have become relatively more likely to visit friends, to get the news every day and to remain engaged in politics.”
And despite what may seem like the logical assumption that children would eat up financial resources, Herbst reports that “parents are increasingly likely, relative to nonparents, to agree that ‘family income is high enough to satisfy nearly all important desires,’ and . . . less likely to confide that ‘our family is too heavily in debt.’ ” Having kids gives adults reason to earn more and plan ahead. And aging parents may find security in adult children and grandchildren willing to help care for them in their old age.
It’s hard to compete with the freedom that a childless existence provides. Garten and many other women are right that it is harder to achieve many career and even personal goals with little ones in tow. But in the long run, raising kids seems to bring its own rewards.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.