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“Almost no one regrets having kids.”

A fascinating article on having kids and the incidence of buyer’s remorse: “What does the Newsday survey say? First and foremost, the hearsay about the rarity of [regretting having children] is accurate. In fact, since some people didn’t answer this question, fully 93% of the actual responses were positive.”


Via a shared Google Reader item from Patri Friedman came this article on EconLog, Parents and Buyer’s Remorse: Lessons from the Lost Newsday Study. The referenced study was done in 1976 on a random sample of Americans “and found that 91% of parents did not have buyer’s remorse.”

Since I am expecting to be a dad in August, this kind of information is good to know. The EconLog post also references a study done in 2003 that indicates that fully 2/3 of non-parents wish they had kids!

This makes complete evolutionary sense—we are biologically programmed to want to reproduce. Beyond it being in our DNA, family is one of the more lasting wealths you can create.

Here’s the relevant data from the post:

What does the Newsday survey say?  First and foremost, the hearsay about the rarity of regret is accurate.  In fact, since some people didn’t answer this question, fully 93% of the actual responses were positive.  Other interesting results:

  • Women had more regret than men: 9% of women had buyer’s remorse, versus just 5% of men.  While many will say this result is obvious, remember that there is virtually no gender gap on “desired family size.”
  • Young (under 25) and old (65+) had the most regret: 15% and 13% respectively.
  • Blacks had much more regret: 19%, versus 6% for whites.
  • Regret sharply falls as income rises.  13% with income under $5000 (in
    1976 dollars) had buyer’s remorse, versus only 4% with incomes of $25k+.
  • Regret sharply falls as education rises.  12% of drop-outs admitted regret, versus 3% of college grads.

Other interesting results: The survey also asked people how many children they would have if they had a “do-over.”  If you read the table, it looks like there is a moderate tendency to want more: Respondents have 2.66 but want 2.84.

OK, so what’s the take-away?

First of all, even though child-free advocates continue to cite the famous Ann Landers survey, it was discredited over thirty years ago. Almost no one regrets having kids.

Second, you might dismiss the Newsday results as mere status quo bias – “Everyone thinks that whatever they did was for the best.” But you probably shouldn’t. The 2003 Gallup study finds that about two-thirds of childless people over 40 wish they had kids. Buyer’s remorse is rare; non-buyer’s remorse is common.

One reply on ““Almost no one regrets having kids.””

I agree with you that the Ann Landers poll is scientifically worthless (and to her credit, Ann Landers herself admitted this) and that the 91% figure found by Gallup is in all probability the real story, even if the “childfree” deny it. On the other hand, I would just a few questions about the 2003 Gallup poll. How many of those who don’t have children but wish they did were people who deliberately made a choice to not have children versus those who may have wanted to but were unable due to, for instance, infertility or inability to find the right partner? The poll doesn’t seem to say that. I suppose it’s possible to regret any choice we make, but I’m wondering people who some how many of the childless in the Gallup were so because of circumstance as opposed to deliberate choice.

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