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Money Doesn't Mean Happy Parenting

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A big bank account doesn't necessarily mean marital bliss for parents, new research shows.

In fact, when wealthier couples have children, they experience a drop in marital happiness three times greater than that felt by middle-class parents, says a wide-ranging report to be published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in August.

The new research, which analyzed data from 148 studies over five decades, is another piece in the puzzle of how children affect marriages. The study finds that the drop in happiness in marriage is 22% for affluent couples and 7% for the middle class.

Many studies have shown that children create strains between couples. But while this report indicates children may bring a drop in a measure such as marital happiness, it also states they may bring gains, including increased joy, a sense of meaning and great satisfaction as parents ''raise their children, teach them and learn from them in turn.''

The negative news includes an increased drop in parents' marital satisfaction over the past 40 years. And overall, couples with children have about 10% less marital happiness than couples without kids.

The take-home message is not that couples should not have children, says Jean Twenge, study co-author and psychology professor at San Diego State University.

But they should make the decision thoughtfully. ''Couples should be prepared for the difficulties that come with raising children'' and how they change the relationship, she says.

Twenge says that although wealthier couples have more financial resources to deal with children, they may also be changing their lives more when kids arrive. That loss might include ''their ability to pursue the travel, recreational or social activities that are important to their relationship.''

The studies were done at various times, from the early 1950s to 2000. The decrease in satisfaction over the years is partly because of increased choices, Twenge says. In the 1950s, having children ''was seen as a mandate.'' Today's increased freedom can bring increased confusion, guilt and dissatisfaction.

Mothers with infants experienced the largest drop in marital satisfaction. Only 38% of these moms reported high satisfaction, partly because women still have the primary responsibility of caring for the baby, Twenge says.

''We speculate that there is some role conflict going on,'' says co-author W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia-Athens. Women today ''are used to a professional life, a fun, active, entertaining life'' and often feel conflicted when a child arrives.

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© Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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