Idealizing Parenthood to Rationalize Cost of Raising Kids

This Canadian study aimed to relate the idealization of parenthood with the realities of the financial resources spent by parents on their children. The study found that parents who were informed only of the cost of bringing up children  tended to idealize parenthood and wished to spend more  time with the children, compared to parents who were additionally informed of the benefits of parenthood as they age. The study discusses the “implications of our results for parental-investment theory and for the propagation of myths idealizing parenthood.”

The current perception is that a child can increase the emotional joy that a parent feels.  Many feel that children are the sole source of satisfaction in life. But parenthood demands lots of investment in terms of money and time, which lowers emotional comfort and marital contentment, leading to unhappiness. Historical studies show that when children were economically useful, parents did not derive as much emotional satisfaction from them as they do now, when the abolition of child labor has rendered children economically “useless.” The present study explored the relationship between children as consumers of economic resources and children as a source of emotional satisfaction.

* In the first part of the experiment 80 parents were divided into two groups. For the first group the cost involved in parenting was highlighted by asking them to read the agriculture department data, which gave $193,680 as the cost of raising a child to the age of 18 years. The second group was given information about the greater financial security that parents enjoy in their old age compared to non-parents.
* Participants of both groups were later asked to rate the benefits of parenting. A questionnaire was given to them in which their appreciation of parenthood was scored.
* The second part of the experiment involved 60 parents who were asked to rate the enjoyment that they get out of parenting.

* The first group that was only informed of the cost of parenting appreciated the satisfaction of parenthood better than the second group. This is in accordance with the theory “when investments in ventures are high and external incentives are low, people convince themselves that their costly ventures are intrinsically rewarding.”
* All the participants wanted to spend more time with their children for higher levels of emotional satisfaction.
* Parents were seen to rationalize the expenditure on bringing up children by imagining higher emotional returns from the engagement, leading to idealization parenthood.
* In pursuit of the same goal, i.e. emotional fulfillment, all parents wanted to spend more time with their children.
* Women placed a higher emotional value on child-rearing than men did.

This study shows that when parents are confronted with the financial cost of bringing up children and the resultant distress, they tend to believe that child-rearing provides an emotional satisfaction that compensates for this discomfort. The financial distress provides the motivation for idealization of parenthood due to which they also overestimate the emotional satisfaction that is obtained from spending time with their children. Conversely, those parents who are informed of the benefits of parenthood, idealized parenthood to a lesser extent. It is thus apparent that “parental investments have psychological consequences” and that idealization of parenthood may have system-justifying consequences.

For More Information:
Idealizing Parenthood to Rationalize Parental Investments
Psychological Science, January 2011
By Richard P Eibach; Steven E Mock; University of Waterloo, West, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.