Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sunday dollars+sense: What is it with boys?

Economists have a disturbingly clinical approach to children. New human beings cost their parents money (around $18,000 per annum for a three-year old in childcare, around $11,000 for a teenager) and in return make their parents happier. Usually.

Last week I explained that some parents spend a lot more than those estimates on their children – everything they’ve got, and some spend a lot less - because that’s all they’ve got.

And happiness isn’t guaranteed.

The best study was completed in Denmark a few years back using identical twins – one twin with children, one without.

It found that when a woman has her first child her happiness typically soars 20 to 23 per cent. But each extra child makes her less happy (more unhappy) until by the time she’s had her third child she’s no happier than if she had had none.

From an economists’ point of view a mother who has had three children has incurred huge costs in return for next to no net benefit...

(Economists can be socially insensitive, but they are often right. Most mothers in developed countries seem to make the same calculation intuitively and stop before three, or try to.)

I mentioned last week that for men the payoff different. So different, you might find it hard to believe. But here’s what the Danish research shows.

Whether a first child makes its father happier or not depends almost completely on the child’s gender.

If the first child is a boy, the new father’s happiness will jump 17 per cent. But if it is a girl, the father’s happiness will be little changed on childless – up just 1 per cent.

A first-born girl makes little difference to her father’s happiness when he is asked to identify how happy he is on a four-point scale, but a first-born boy makes an enormous difference.

(Curiously the number of extra children appears to matter not at all to a dad. Whereas additional children make a mum feel less happy, they make no difference to a dad one way or the other.)

The finding fits in with other things that are known about fathers and sons: Marriages that produce at least one son are more likely to survive, and fathers who have at least one son are likely to work longer houses and earn more.

The research suggests that sons are a great deal – for dads. But for the sake of their own happiness, women are well advised not to keep trying until they get one.

Kohler, Hans-Peter; Behrman, JereR.; Skytthe, Axel Partner + Children = Happiness? The Effects of Partnerships and Fertility on Well-Being, Population and Development Review, Volume 31, Number 3, September 2005 , pp. 407-445(39)

Steven E. Landsburg, Oh, No: It's a Girl! Do daughters cause divorce?, Slate, Oct 2, 2003