Some of you suggested that what was causing the decline was women straying too far from their natural role as caretakers of the home and family, that, in a sense, women were better off 40 years ago, when the challenges of running a home and raising kids gave women a unique, valuable and, above all, focused role to play. (As I mentioned in my previous post, 42 percent of men and 39 percent of women do believe that it is natural for women to play this role.)
I have my own opinions on this: that while, for obvious reasons, women are compelled to make a greater biological investment in bearing and raising babies than men, this does not apply to raising toddlers and teenagers, nor to running the home, and that, even if it did, what is natural is not necessarily right. (It is natural for the strong to dominate the weak, but it is rarely moral.)
However, my opinions are beside the point. What we know for certain is that returning women to the role of primary caretaker won't make most women happier. We know this because whenever and wherever the research is done on this subject, the results are always the same: Women with no kids are, in general, happier than women with kids. I realize this sounds perverse—who doesn't love their kids?—and yet the research has been repeated so many times, in so many countries, there's no escaping it. Kids, it turns out, are a bundle of stress. They may give our lives trajectory, and meaning, and purpose, but their gift to us is not happiness. Of course, this does not apply to all women—some women feel as though they were put here for the sole and express purpose of raising their kids and nothing, no professional dream or accomplishment, can compare to the joy of this. What the data show, though, is that these women are in the minority.
And the kids appear to be aware of this. A recent study of a thousand 3rd- through 12th-graders asked: "If you were granted one wish that would change the way that your mother's work affects your life, what would that wish be?" In a parallel study, their mothers were asked to guess what their children would wish for. Here's what they found: "Most mothers (56 percent) guessed that their children would wish for more time with them. In fact, only 10 percent of children made that wish. Their most frequent wish: 'I want my mom to be less stressed and tired' (34 percent)."