Back • Home • Up • Next

Does it guarantee happiness?

World Population Clock

When It Comes to Pollution, Less (Kids) May Be More

To heck with carbon dioxide. A new study performed by the London School of Economics suggests that, to fight climate change, governments should focus on another pollutant: us.

As in babies. New people.

Washington Post
September 15, 2009

Every new life, the report says, is a guarantee of new greenhouse gases, spewed out over decades of driving and electricity use. Seen in that light, we might be our own worst emissions.

The activist group that sponsored the report says birth control could be one of the world's best tools for fighting climate change. By preventing the creation of new polluters, the group says, contraceptives are a far cheaper solution than windmills and solar plants.

It is an unorthodox -- and, for now, unpopular -- way to approach the problem, which can seem so vast and close that it is driving many thinkers toward gizmos and oddball ideas.

"There is no possibility of drastically reducing total carbon emissions, while at the same time paying no attention whatever to the drastic increase in the number of carbon emitters," said Roger Martin, chairman of the Optimum Population Trust, a British nonprofit that sponsored the report and whose goal is to rein in population growth in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. "For reasons of an irrational taboo on the subject, [family planning] has never made it onto the agenda, and this is extremely damaging to the planet."

The Cost of Each Life

It is nothing unusual, of course, to think that the Earth could really use fewer of us.

In the 1700s, Thomas Malthus worried that population growth would outstrip the food supply. And a decade ago, writer Bill McKibben connected environmental concerns to his decision to have one child in a book called "Maybe One."

What is new, in the British study and in a separate report from Oregon State University, are statistics that show exactly how much each life -- and especially each American life -- adds to the world's emissions.

In the United States, each baby results in 1,644 tons of carbon dioxide, five times more than a baby in China and 91 times more than an infant in Bangladesh, according to the Oregon State study. That is because Americans live relatively long, and live in a country whose long car commutes, coal-burning power plants and cathedral ceilings give it some of the highest per-capita emissions in the world.

Seen from that angle, the Oregon State researchers concluded that child-bearing was one of the most fateful environmental decisions in anyone's life.

Recycle, shorten your commute, drive a hybrid vehicle, and buy energy-efficient light bulbs, appliances and windows -- all of that would cut out about one-fortieth of the emissions caused by bringing two children, and their children's children, into the world.

"People always consider the financial costs, and they consider the time cost," said Paul Murtaugh, one of the Oregon State researchers, who said that he does not have children but that he is open to the idea despite his research. "We're just attempting to put on the table the ballpark estimate of the environmental cost."

So what, exactly, is the world supposed to do with this information?

The researchers behind both studies are emphatic that they do not want people to be forced not to have children. But Martin, whose group sponsored the British study, said governments could help stop unwanted pregnancies by offering contraception and, in rare cases, abortion.

The British study found that $220 billion, spent over the next 40 years, might prevent half a billion births and prevent 34 billion tons of carbon dioxide. The cost, measured in 2020, would be about $7 for each ton reduced, the report said -- far cheaper than solar power at $51, or wind power at $24.

Long-Shot Odds

But, for now, the world does not seem very interested.

"I don't know how to say 'No comment' emphatically enough," said David Hamilton of the Sierra Club. "I don't want to rain on anybody's parade, but the primary solutions to climate change have to deal with what we do with the people who are here," such as pushing for more renewable energy and a limit on U.S. greenhouse gases.

The idea of using condoms to fight climate change still has the same long-shot odds as the idea to make the world's clouds more reflective, or to seed the ocean with iron to supercharge its carbon-capturing plankton.

The Obama administration declined to comment when asked about the family-planning idea. At the United Nations, which is overseeing global negotiations on reducing emissions, an official wrote in response to a query that "to bring the issue up . . . would be an insult to developing countries," where per-capita emissions are still so low compared with those in the United States.

So the idea is not for everyone. But it made sense to climate activist Mike Tidwell of Takoma Park. He said that worries about climate change were part of his decision not to have more children after his son was born 12 years ago.

"There are moments when I say, 'Wow, it would be nice to have a second one,' so parenthood didn't pass so quickly," he said. "I see some of the consequences of this choice that involved, for me, climate change."

There is no unlimited right to have children, according to a study published today (Friday July 11, World Population Day) by the Optimum Population Trust.

July 11 2008
Optimum Population Trust

Despite the United Nations’ reassertion, for this year’s World Population Day, of the 1968 UN declaration that individuals “have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and timing of their children”, human rights theory, legal precedent and national and international practice do not back this up, the study argues.

In reality, there is only a far more limited right to “found a family” which itself must be balanced against both one’s duties as a parent and also a series of other rights – belonging to other people, to future generations and to nature, wilderness and non-human species. All these set a limit on the number of children to which people are “entitled”.

“Most of us consider the decision of whether to have children an entirely personal matter,” the paper says. “The thought of others being affected or having a say in the decision strikes us as an interference with our privacy. In reality, it is the most public action - in the sense of influencing the lives of others – most citizens will ever take.”

Is there a “right” to have children? is written by Carter Dillard, an American legal academic specialising in reproductive rights law and a former US Government adviser, and is based on a paper that originally appeared in the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal. It describes the notion of a limitless procreative right, a “privacy right free of limiting duties”, as “self-contradictory and illogical”.

Instead of treating procreation as an unlimited private or personal right, he says, we should define it in terms of replacing ourselves, which suggests a “right” to have only one or, some would argue, two children. Beyond this “core” value, the procreative right would have to be balanced against other, wider interests and the public good. Simply wanting a “large family” might not be enough.

Other points include:

*Introducing more people into a finite space increases competition and decreases access to resources. “This is one of the few areas where Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, fathers of modern political theory, agreed: as population grows, so does conflict…”

*The “private” right to have an unlimited number of children is at odds with other people’s rights to enjoy freedom and nature – including the right to be “let [left] alone”. In a 1992 judgement, the US Supreme Court said that “the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”. The paper argues that the presence of others interferes with the right to be left alone, adding: “Access to wilderness is comparable to what Locke termed ‘natural liberty’ - a freedom outside the sphere of humanity, a right not to be trapped in a world of others’ making.”

*Unfettered procreation “thrusts us into competition with our descendants” who, because of rising numbers, may not be able to enjoy the same right. “Future generations will not thank us for leaving them an overpopulation problem we were afraid to face up to.”

*Despite the rhetoric in “non-binding” sources of international law, such as the 1968 declaration referred to by the UN above, binding sources agree only on the right to found a family and set this against “competing international human rights, such as the right to liberty of movement, choice of residence, continuous improvement of living conditions, environmental hygiene and prevention of disease, all of which limit family size.” It adds: “When the [procreative] right must be applied in concrete circumstances, expansive rhetoric yields to a far more limited vision.” Courts in practice treat procreation “as an interpersonal, non-autonomous act, and they limit its exercise accordingly”.

*China has argued that its one-child policy is perfectly consistent with international law. “It has done so not based simply on notions of state sovereignty, but upon notions of competing rights, and its obligations to protect children and society as a whole from unjustified and destructive behaviour.”

*Current controversies over housing growth, as communities try to protect themselves from the “chaotic effects of expanding populations”, highlight the “elastic” relationship between population and law. As numbers increase, life becomes more “complex”, the scope of law expands and regulation brings a contraction of rights. “The degree to which a person can exercise certain rights is inversely proportional to the number of other people exercising certain rights.”

*Locke argued that parents have a duty to “preserve, nourish, and educate” their children but where a parent will not fulfil that duty but nonetheless procreates at “maximum biological capacity”, others – either individually or through the state – must step in with their own resources. This impinges on their property rights and liberty as well as violating the child’s rights and the parent's duty.

*Only the decision not to have children is a genuinely private act. “Not procreating is personal; procreating is interpersonal.”

The paper argues that through a society-wide process of agreement, internalisation and normalisation – a series of “gentle nudges” rather than “hard shoves”, similar to that involved in seat belt or anti-smoking legislation – a voluntary population policy should be incorporated into law.

“Given that law guides our behaviour, a policy that treats procreation as private is regressive, environmentally damaging and peculiarly anti-social: it teaches us to disregard others and their interests. Until we have policies that reflect the truly public nature of having children, we will encourage irresponsible procreation, and all the harm it causes,” Dillard concludes.


A copy of the OPT briefing is appended and can also be viewed at

An extended OPT abstract with summary, extracts and author biography can be viewed at

A copy of the paper in the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal (August 2007, Volume 10), with full notes and references, is viewable at .

The theme of this year’s World Population Day is the “right of people to plan their families”. The UN says: “In 1968, world leaders proclaimed that individuals have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and timing of their children.” See UNFPA.
Consider planet when having kids

Kids, kids, kids. They’re everywhere. More than 73.7 million in the United States in 2006. We call children our future, our little bundles of joy. But is our cultural obsession with our own children really helping us as a society?

Drew Robert Winter
July 10, 2008
The State News

Kids are expensive. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that children cost between $134,000 to $237,000 to raise from birth to age 17, not including college tuition. Quite a financial burden for parents, especially those in the lower financial echelons. Along with the direct economic price, we must also recognize that a larger population demands more resources.

In earlier eras, before the development of organized medicine, agriculture and sanitation, humans struggled to survive; many children died before they grew up, and children were needed to help the family with hard labor, such as farming. Today the world’s population is at 6.7 billion and growing rapidly, but people are bigger consumers than ever. In his or her lifetime, the average American pumps 627,000 gallons of gas and takes more than 28,000 showers, according to National Geographic’s Human Footprint project. Infancy alone requires 3,796 diapers, comprised of 4.5 trees, 715 pounds of plastic, and 1,898 pints of crude oil.

Despite the compulsory congratulations we bestow on expecting moms and dads, parents aren’t as happy as we make them out to be. Couples who have children tend to suffer a drop in their happiness level after having children, writes Daniel Gilbert, Harvard professor of psychology and author of the book “Stumbling on Happiness.” The studies showed that childless couples are happier than those with kids, and that the happiness of parents only increases again after the last child has left the home. The study found that many parents were happier buying groceries or even sleeping than spending time with their prized possessions.

I say possessions because that’s how many parents, in one way or another, see their offspring. In the same Newsweek article mentioning parental happiness (or lack thereof), parents said they have children because it gives them a sense of purpose and other emotional reasons. Are these people really so empty that they have to bring yet another child into this world — who surely deserves better than to be a therapeutic tool — in order to validate themselves?

A sense of purpose can be achieved in a lot of ways, most of them less costly and more helpful to planet Earth than getting preggers. For example, taking an active role in your community or some other social movement. Many people find a sense of purpose through their job, if it provides them with more than a big paycheck.

Besides, one could find the same satisfaction in adoption. Many children have lost their parents through war and disease throughout the globe. For example, the AIDS epidemic in particular will increase the number of orphans in sub-Saharan Africa to 42 million by 2010 according to a study by the United States Agency for International Development. If you’re not into doing the Angelina Jolie thing, many children are without parents in the United States. A friend told me he finds a great sense of purpose in his adopted dog, whose most expensive hobby involves destroying cardboard boxes.

Of course, some people are hell-bent on spreading their genetics. It’s “natural” or “the cycle of life” they say. Apparently, some ordinary people see it as their cosmic evolutionary duty to pass along their genetic code at any cost. Dismissing consideration for society by citing what we’re “meant to do” is a frequent justification for selfish motives, but such arguments are merely hot air. Humans are not “meant” to do anything; we do what we choose to do.

At the very least, potential parents can argue that they have a right to procreate (although I find this term unnecessarily positive). According to law, yes. But it’s a matter of fact that a right to do something is not an encouragement, nor carved eternally in some sacred stone. What we can do and what we ought to do are seldom identical. At least one country — China — recognizes that children aren’t necessarily a blessing.

Children, apart from their horrific contributions to airplane flights, checkout counters, and waiting rooms everywhere, are an added burden to society. Perhaps we would be less fanatical about having children if we spent more time trying to better ourselves.
How To Cut The Cost Of Having A Baby

Recent research reveals the cost of raising a child runs to £8,859* every single year. That's more than £186,000 from the day your little bundle of joy arrives until he or she flies the nest at 21. I know that must sound like a pretty overwhelming figure for any new or soon-to-be parent. But before you fly into a blind panic, there are ways you can - and should - get financial help.

The Motley Fool
20 March 2008

So, here's a rundown of all the state benefits you could be entitled to as a parent:

Statutory Maternity Pay
If you're an employee and you're leaving work to have a baby you'll be entitled to at least 52 weeks maternity leave. Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) during maternity leave lasts for a total of 39 weeks. SMP provides 90% of your average weekly earnings for the first six weeks followed by a maximum of £112.75 per week for the remaining 33 weeks. You'll need to pay tax and national insurance as if SMP was your salary.

Your employer may well offer maternity pay which is more generous than SMP, so make sure you check this in your contract or with your HR department.

If you don't qualify for SMP you may be able to claim Maternity Allowance which provides similar benefits. For information on Statutory Paternity Pay for fathers visit here.

Child Benefit
Child Benefit isn't means-tested which means you'll be eligible regardless of your income as long as you're bringing up a child under the age of 16. You'll receive a tax-free payment of £18.80 per week for your eldest child and £12.55 per week for each additional child.

You should claim as soon as your child is born using the claim form you receive in your ‘Bounty Pack' from the hospital. Otherwise you can complete the form online at the HM Revenue & Customs website here.

Child Tax Credit
This is a means-tested benefit for parents and those responsible for a child under 16. The actual payment you'll receive is dependent on your annual household income. As long as it is no more than £58,175 - or £66,350 if you have a child under the age of one - then you could benefit. Child Tax Credits are essentially made up of two elements:

A family element - this is paid to any family with a least one child and is worth up to £545**
A child element - this is paid for each child in your family and is worth up to £2,085**
Working Tax Credit
Working Tax Credit is a payment to top-up the earnings of low-paid working people. Parents must work for 16 hours or more a week to qualify. Credits are based on your household income and circumstances such as other benefits you may be receiving. The benefit includes a childcare element, where you could get back up to 80% of your childcare costs based on a maximum of £175 per week for one child or £300 for two or more children.

Child Trust Fund
All children born on or after 1 September 2002 are eligible for a Child Trust Fund (CTF). The government will provide a voucher of £250 - or £500 for low income families - which can be invested in a CTF where it will grow over the long-term tax-free. Your child will then receive a further payment of £250 or £500 on their seventh birthday.

The CTF - which can be held in cash or, if you prefer, shares - can be topped-up each year with an extra £1,200 payable by parents, other family members or friends. Your child can't get their hands on the cash until they turn 18.

The CTF is designed to give children a financial head start so make sure you claim and invest your CTF voucher. Research suggests university education could cost almost £33,000 for a three-year degree course. Invest your child's CTF wisely and it could cover a significant chunk of that bill.

For more information on CTFs take a look at Make The Most Of Your Child Trust Fund and Parents: Make 10% A Year.

Help for low income families
You may be able to get financial assistance through a Sure Start Maternity Grant. This is a payment if £500 which doesn't have to be repaid. To be eligible you or your partner must be receiving one of the following:

Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
Income Support
Pension Credit
Child Tax Credit at a rate higher than the family element
Working Tax Credit where a disabled worker is included in the assessment
You can claim at any time between 11 weeks before your due date and up until three months after your baby has been born. To claim, fill in an SF100 Sure Start form available from your local Jobcentre Plus.

For more practical help on how to prepare your finances for the arrival of your baby, take a look at Twelve Top Tips For Families.

*= The annual Cost of a Child survey from LV= (formerly Liverpool Victoria). December 2007.

**= Rates for the 2008-2009 tax year

Comments [The only really useful comment is the very last one]

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual writers and are not representative of The Motley Fool.

At 20:51 on March 20 2008, Raasu said:

From the title I thought this would be about tips on how to reduce the amount you spend on your baby. For example, breast rather than bottle feeding, using real nappies, avoiding packaged baby food, using a baby carrier rather than a buggy, searching out special coupons for baby milk etc. But the article, disappointingly, is all about claiming benefits, which is cutting your own costs by loading them onto other people. Why not write an article which is actually about how to cut the cost of having your baby? That would be really useful for any parents-to-be.

Report this comment Back to article

At 11:47 on March 21 2008, hungary said:

When I had my children, I only breastfed, used real nappies (they lasted 3 children and then they were passed on to friends!), used a sling and baby carrier, asked for a food blender so I could make my own baby food, bought second hand clothes, and had the kids in bed. I must have saved thousands a year! And hard work it was not; only when I had to hand wash the nappies and didn't have a dryer. The article also fails to mention that if you are self-employed on a low income there is no such thing as Statutory Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance etc.

Report this comment Back to article

At 16:23 on March 21 2008, philippasutton said:

I thought that Which? magazine had done a test which showed that if you use machines to wash and dry the traditional nappies, then the cost of running the machines pretty much balances out the cost of disposable nappies.

My tips for cost cutting:

start early on with a blank refusal to spend money on status symbols - for yourself or your child. No Nike trainers. Learn to resist pester power.

Don't be afraid to ask your parents, friends etc to give you what you need, not the pretty-but-useless stuff. You can discourage well-meaning grandparents from giving them sweets laden with undesirable additives while you're at it

Try using public transport, rather than the "car everywhere" solution. Not always possible, but most kids won't die if they are taken to school on a bus, or even have to walk. More ecologically friendly, less petrol purchasing, and gives you more time for the other possibilities.

Most of all: think for yourself. Don't let others tell you what you need, including well-meaning people like me! Sometimes you have to do things the expensive way - don't let yourself be burdened with guilt whether you decide to make them Do Without (which doesn't hurt) or Just Give In (which won't spoil them irreparably if not done too often).

Report this comment Back to article

At 07:50 on March 24 2008, mimote1 said:

I did most of the above and made big savings. If you do want to have all the baby stuff my other top tip would be to look out for your local National Childbirth Trust (NCT) nearly new sales. You can buy everything from cots, prams, washable nappies, toys and all the clothes you could ever want for your children up to about 7 years old. Not only is everything a fraction of the price but the money raised goes partly to this worthy charity. Also when you also have used all your items you can put then back in for resale too and often get most of your money back !

Report this comment Back to article

At 08:36 on March 24 2008, cazziesp4 said:

Join your local Freecycle group (Yahoo! Groups but you can join even if you don't have a Yahoo account)and some families maybe entitled to a Maternity Grant to help with buying things for your baby. We were suprised to be granted the £500. No harm in filling out the form. If you don't ask you don't get.

Report this comment Back to article

At 09:23 on March 24 2008, cheeseboard said:

Hungary's comments are not quite right. If you are self employed and on a low income, that doesnt rule you out of claiming statutory maternity pay. You are also eligible for Working Tax Credits and Child Tax Credits whilst being self employed. Look on for the eligibility criteria. I talked to my accountant who put me straight!!

Report this comment Back to article

At 11:48 on March 24 2008, FalseName said:

I don't know if it was Which? that compared the cost of nappies, as mentioned above, but I remember that the costs of washing assumed a boil wash and tumble drying; a much cooler wash using Ecoballs (instead of detergent) and letting the wind dry the nappies is much cheaper!

Report this comment Back to article

At 14:37 on March 24 2008, sticklebrick said:

I totally agree with Raasu.
My husband and I are in our mid-30s and thinking of having a first child.
We have a mortgage on an 2 bed ex-council property (we were never council tenants)- which cost around the £300k mark.

We earn just above the limits that would allow us to have access to any benefits, and it is going to be a real struggle for my husband to pay the mortgage on his own while I am on maternity leave. Luckily we have maxed out our ISA's and have some savings but we will be back to square one again - and with childcare costs on top of that it's unlikely we will be back in a situation I consider to be financially safe (ie enough savings to cover for 3-6 months if my husband was to be very ill or lose his job)

I really annoys me to see all the girls on the council estate I live on having babies left, right and centre which WE are paying through the nose in taxes for - when we are wondering is we can actually afford a child at all.

I was hoping this article would offer some advice for those of us who don't qualify for scrounging off the State...

Report this comment Back to article

At 18:10 on March 24 2008, feztrim said:

I can understand the resentment brewing.I have four daughters,breast fed them all for two years each,used real nappies for 3 of them,then out of desperation bought pampers for the 4th.My husband was working all the hours avaliable...we hardly saw each other...this was in the early 80's.I got no extra government help..apart from child benefit.He was out of work twice in that time,eventually ,because the girls were old enough to look after the youngest I managed to get a job.Meantime my marriage broke down,he lost yet another and father died,got no relief from work about this.Husband still unemployed and getting nothing for signing on. all I get is 18.80 a week for my youngest
My wage is 13,000 a year if I am lucky

Report this comment Back to article

At 22:24 on March 24 2008, sjt2203 said:

My fiance and I are planning to have a baby in the next year or two, but keep putting it off until we are in a safe financial situation to do so. I think if we carry on thinking like that we will never get around to having children! I am working full time and am worried that I will have to go back to work sooner than I would like to after having the baby due to having only one income to pay the bills with. But then we would have to pay childcare costs anyway. D'oh!

Report this comment Back to article

At 08:41 on March 25 2008, gbaines said:

In response to sjt2203: Our parents and grandparents brought kids up on a fraction of what we have available. Its all about having the right expectations and cutting your cloth accordingly. As a parent with 2 young kids, I can vouch that the positive impact of having kids will far outweigh any financial "hardship" you might perceive. Just get on with it!

Report this comment Back to article

At 09:33 on March 25 2008, billyboy121 said:

Gbaines, I was just about to make the same point, completely agree with you - my gran was one of 12, grandfather one of 14 - babies are expensive in terms of the big things like cot, pram, car seat (if lucky enough to have a car), clothes, nappies but much of this you can get cheaply if you look. Also, re sticklebrick's comment, don't envy those people on the estates living off benefits, in many cases they'll never be lucky enough to know anything else and it's not much of a life at the end of the day.

Report this comment Back to article

At 13:35 on March 25 2008, timmithemad said:

For completeness: The nappy test included all pollution (manufacture, shipping, disposal of nappy and contents) was done by the government and included the following assumptions:

1. You boil wash
2. You tumble dry on high
3. You iron your nappies
4. Washables are only used for 1 child and then thrown into landfill
5. Babies using real nappies urinate and defactate twice the volume of babies in disposables (really, not joking, it assumes that they are chaged twice as often in one part and then assumes that the acerage contents per nappy is the same in another part).

Report this comment Back to article

At 14:38 on March 25 2008, muffindell said:

I agree with sticklebrick, why should anyone be given a hand out for having children? After all the government doesn't force anyone to have them. Certainly give parents child benefits in the form of tokens redeemable against kids clothes and shoes, but not a cash handout to go down the pub, to buy cigarettes etc If you choose to have kids, realise it's not cheap, don't expect to have handouts, support them out of your own income. The Government should switch priorities and support the aged in the way they support single parents now, they are the ones who are near the end of their life and are unable to work for a living, unlike young single (or partnered for that matter) adults who should be able to fend for themselves.

Report this comment Back to article

At 13:24 on March 26 2008, helen77 said:

I actually found this article VERY usefull!! When I had my firstborn I didn't even bother to look into what benefits we may be entitled to cos I thought being married and owning our own home would write them off... however I have since found out we were entitled to a lot more benefits and lost out on them for months cos we didn't apply... I resent those who term it "scrounging off the state" - yes, maybe it is when you've never paid any taxes into the system (forgeiners/teenage singletons!) but both me and hubby have for YEARS and our parents before us - all of which was being used at the time to pay benefits to familes etc then - now it is our turn and I don't feel bad at all about applying for benefits which I am honestly eligable to get at this expensive time in our lives... it won't be long before kids are at school and we're both working full-time again and paying taxes into the system for the next lot of young families!! Don't get me wrong I really do resent those who 'scrounge' benefits either thru lying/cheating the system or after having paid nothing into it themselves but please don't brand honest working families with that same old brush!!!

Report this comment Back to article

At 13:54 on March 26 2008, Gavrielli said:

If your electricity provider meters you on a day rate and a cheaper night your laundry/dishwashing in the cheap period.

I found my night rate is about a fifth of the day rate cost.

Report this comment Back to article

At 13:57 on March 26 2008, Gavrielli said:

BTW - Although there are a lot of baby related costs, the article does not seem to consider *possible* baby related savings (gadzooks)...I mean savings/money not spent by virtue of the baby being around. Ex-smoking parents who cut down or stop. Same for drinking...cutting out to pub and cinema as much. Just a thought...

The pursuit of happiness (with or without kids)

By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Online Magazine
Published: 2003/11/14 10:10:13 GMT

Convention tells us the route to happiness is having children. So does the declining birth rate mean we are more miserable these days? Not according to a new report, which finds there is plenty of happiness in staying childless.

Today, we live longer, earn more and surround ourselves with labour-saving gadgets, but we are no happier now than 50 years ago.

Clearly the comforts of modern life have not been as rewarding as we might have hoped.

Owning a mobile phone with integrated camera and tri-band functionality is not, it seems, the key to mortal bliss.

Perhaps the ability to be happy is hardwired into us, through our capacity to have children, ensuring the succession of our genes.

Again, the figures do not bear it out. While the birth rate in the UK is the lowest since records began in 1924, our level of contentment has remained fairly steady.

Two of the foremost thinkers on well-being, Richard Layard and Andrew Oswald, agree that children have a statistically insignificant impact on our happiness.

Yet anyone who has spent five minutes in the company of two doting parents will tell you otherwise.

A new survey is one of the first to try and unravel the mystery of whether children really make us happier.

In doing so, it explodes the myth that the so-called "smug marrieds" detested by Bridget Jones-style singletons have a monopoly on happiness.

Motherhood's pleasures

In 2001, almost 90% of British people reported they were very or fairly satisfied with life. According to this new study, those without children are, by and large, every bit as content as those with.

For mothers in particular, parenthood brings a new sort of pleasure, the result of spending time with their children, seeing them develop and providing a different take on life.

Yet this comes at a cost, both financial and emotional, according to the report, which spoke to 1,500 adults, parents and non-parents, between the ages of 20 and 40.

"Full-time working mothers are lower paid relative to women without children," says Kate Stanley, who carried out the survey for the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Most women also tend to take on the lion's share of domestic and child-care duties, according to the survey. And since income and independence have a bearing on happiness, what motherhood giveth with one hand, it taketh away with the other.

The trade-off is less acute for men, but according to the survey, they are less ecstatic about children anyway. While two-thirds of mothers say their children make them most happy, just over 40% of fathers agree.

Gulf in understanding

All parents meanwhile, admit that children can make them unhappy, at times, through guilt, for example.

On the other side, those without children recognise they are freer to pursue their own interests and enjoyment than their tied-up, family-focused friends.

What emerges from the study, carried out for Lever Faberge, is how previously strong friendships can be eroded by the gulf in understanding between parents and their childless friends.

Parents widely believe that to be childless is to be unhappy. They tend to pity their friends who do not have children, believing they "could have no conception of what they were missing".

Yet alongside this pity, is a feeling that those who have opted not to propagate are "selfish, inflexible, unfulfilled and lonely".

Envy and resentment

Inevitably, perhaps, there are also flashes of envy. The lifestyle and material affluence enjoyed by childless friends seems to rankle with those who must put their hard-won cash towards baby buggies and nursery fees.

But this ill-feeling is a two-way street. According to the report, those without children often resent their friends with children for becoming focused on "their own little nest".

Kate Stanley hopes the report will lead to a greater understanding between those on both sides of the parenthood fence.

"Because parents, or those who plan to be parents, are in the majority, their belief that those without children cannot be happy is the dominant view," she says.

"But it is not borne out by those who do not have children."

Two women in their 30s, one a mother and one not:

Emma Flack, 31
Married and mother to 11-month-old Rory. Lives in London. Emma has returned to full-time work as a corporate PR. "Having a child has made me much more productive at work. I go in at 8.45am and work flat out until about 5pm. "Having Rory was the happiest moment of my life. Seeing his every progression, like when we taught him to clap, makes me even happier. "The downside is the responsibility, but also the huge competitive pressure from other parents. It's hard not to be sucked in. "Before children I was perhaps 6/10 happy. Now I'm 8/10."

Caroline Harding, 34
About to move in with partner, plans to wait "a few years" before having children. Works full-time as a senior executive. Lives in London. "I'm very happy just now. What's important to me now is my relationship with Andy, feeling I have a soul mate. "I have a wonderful social circle of female friends and get a lot of joy out of them. "I love living in London, the theatre and opera, and going on exotic holidays. "I don't expect to give up that happiness when I have children. By that time I think children will be the next logical step."

Icelandics are happiest of all, although less well-off than Americans
Americans are happier, and wealthier, than the British
But the British are happier then the French, Italians and Germans
Source:World Values Survey, 1995

Story from BBC NEWS:

This Be The Verse
by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.