Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Today Show Hosts Experience Another Bout of Cognitive Dissonance

If you've ever taken a psychology class, you may have heard the term cognitive dissonance. Simply stated, it refers to an uneasy state of mind in which a person tries to maintain two contradicting ideas at the same time. Well, I had to laugh out loud at this example of cognitive dissonance on display on the Today Show when the hosts report on research which shows that married couples with children have lower levels of marital satisfaction. Watch how the hosts - who, in keeping with the pro-parenthood stance of the show, do their best to rationalize, justify and minimize the impact of this research. You can just feel their unease as they try to stomach this research which flies in the face of the pro-parenthood messages they are constantly pedaling.

This isn't the Today Show's first offense on this matter. Remember this?

While the Today Show does its best to poo-poo and pay minimal lip service to the research on the negative impact of children on marriage and on happiness, I am going to re-publish for you graduate level research which pays this subject the attention it deserves and doesn't soft-pedal on the issue of what children do to marriages and levels of personal happiness.

From No to Children, Yes to Childfreedom: Pronatalism and the Perceptions and Experiences of Childfree Women:

"The relational advantages of childfreedom are most pronounced in the area of marital satisfaction. Several studies have concluded that childfree marriages are happier than the marriages of parents. Crohan explored how styles of conflict resolution change for spouses after they become parents using data from the first and third waves of the First Years of Marriage Study conducted at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Results showed that spouses who became parents report lower marital happiness and more frequent conflicts after the transition than before having children. White parents also reported higher marital tension.

Feldman studied intentional parents and childfree couples and found that while levels of marital satisfaction were similar, childfree couples have significantly more positive marital interactions for example, “having fun away from home”, “having a stimulating exchange of ideas”, “working together on a project” and “having sexual relations” more often. He found that childfree marriages are more interactive, with more conversations in the areas of “work”, “health”, “feelings”, “cultural” topics, “mutual friends”, “politics” and “sexual relations”. As would be expected, parents talked more frequently than nonparents about rearing children. Similarly, Somers, who conducted a study comparing childfree and parents, found the childfree groups scored higher on marital satisfaction and showed significantly higher levels of cohesion (working together, discussing and exchanging ideas) than parents. Additionally, the childfree showed higher levels of dyadic satisfaction (measured by the frequency of quarrels, threats of divorce) and scored higher on the life satisfaction scale than parents. Callan, who interviewed 60 mothers, 36 voluntarily childless wives and 53 infertile women noted that the childfree women reported more time with their husbands including higher levels of consensus and more exchanges of ideas.

Twenge, Campbell and Foster, who conducted a meta-analytic review on 97 articles containing 148 data points on parenthood and marital satisfaction, concluded that parents report lower marital satisfaction than non-parents and that there is a significant negative correlation between marital satisfaction and the number of children. The effect of parenthood on marital satisfaction is more negative among high socioeconomic groups, younger birth cohorts and in more recent years. The data suggest that role conflicts and restriction of freedom are responsible for this decrease in marital satisfaction.

Renne, who conducted a study on 4,452 married couples (including childless couples, couples rearing children, and couples with children no longer living at home), found that parenthood detracts from the morale and health of married persons, particularly among younger couples. Childless marriages were found to be happier, even among older couples and while childless marriages appeared to improve with time, the marriages of parent couples tended to deteriorate. Renne concluded that childless marriages are happier, regardless of the length of marriage or age of the couple.

Cowan and Cowan, authors of When Partners Become Parents: The Big Life Change for Couples, describe what happens to parents when they become parents. Upon having a child, the household tasks become more specialized and the division of labor with respect to child care falls more to the mother than the father. Their study, as well as a study by Pleck, indicate that husbands whose wives are employed do little more housework and caring for the children than husbands whose wives do not work outside the home.

'The most problematic issue for men and women in the early family years is who cares for the children. Neither the traditional male/female division nor the new egalitarian sharing arrangements stand out as ideal: Modern couples get penalized either way. When one parent brings home the bacon while the other stays home to look after the child, both can feel underappreciated and strapped economically, which burdens the marriage and the children. When both parents work outside the family, they tend to feel better about themselves and about their contributions to the family economy, but parents and children are breathless, often missing the opportunity for intimate moments.” (Cowan and Cowan, p. 203)'

In addition to having higher levels of marital satisfaction, childfree marriages tend to be more egalitarian with more freedom to modify conventional sex roles. Veevers explains that in ordinary families, “the coming of children tends to accentuate biological sex differences and to buttress conventional sex role expectations. The birth of a baby signals the beginning of a traditional division of labor with the woman taking on more of the childbearing chores, regardless of her employment status outside the home.” (p. 104). By comparison, childfree couples maintain roles which are interchangeable and more equal. Without the constraints of child care, childfree couples are better able to negotiate an equal partnership, especially since both partners are likely to work outside the home and are therefore likely to see themselves as equal contributors to the marriage."
Another researcher, Harvard Psychologist Dan Gilbert, has also concluded that parenthood has a negative impact on happiness. The Sydney Morning Herald did an article on this aspect of his book which I previously posted here.

Happy reading!


Sea_creature said...

Thank you...another excellent and validating entry.

firefly said...

You have to wonder why the Today show even talks about this kind of research, but I bet they load up their segments with advice on how to get around the facts. I noticed the links to advice columns in the article in the previous post too.

There is a weird emphasis in the current culture on ignoring reality to create 'personal happiness' no matter what's going on in your life at the moment (just saw a flyer on this subject in the bathroom at the office), which only encourages people to blame themselves instead of trying to change social conditions.

It makes modern middle-class life look like one giant Ponzi scheme.

"The perpetuation of the returns that a Ponzi scheme advertises and pays requires an ever-increasing flow of money from investors in order to keep the scheme going." (Wikipedia entry)

Childfreeeee said...

I agree with you, firefly. It's almost as though there is this focus on helping people to delude themselves so that they can continue to perpetuate the myth that being a parent is the ultimate in joy and fulfilfment. There is such an intense drive to keep the myth going. It reminds me of the Santa Claus myth and how people do everything in their power to hide the truth from children about what reality is - i.e. that material things come from people who work hard at jobs, not from a magical man who loves children and just wants to spoil them do death.