Unethical Research, Unethical Headline, Unethical Media Report: “Many Parents Will Say Kids Made Them Happier. They’re Probably Lying”

I think this made me 12% less happy than when I passed the bar exam...

I think this made me 12% less happy than when I passed the bar exam…

[An UPDATE is HERE]

On the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Ana Swenson breathlessly writes “that research suggests …[p]eople who have kids in the United States and in many countries around the world report being less happy than people who don’t have kids.”

Ah-HA! This must be why DirecTV is certain that promoting a device that it facetiously suggests would make your kid disappear will appeal to its customers!

Except that Swenson’s headline is click-bait, her article is irresponsible and incompetent, and the study is politically motivated junk, as such things usually are.

“Research” doesn’t suggest this politically manufactured finding.  A single dubious study may suggest it to those who already are inclined to be dubious about parenthood, and who could also be persuaded to buy valuable swampland property in Florida. If you aren’t smart enough to bale on both the “study” and Swenson after this statement central to the issue, I have little hope for you:

“On average, an American parent reports being 12 percent unhappier than a non-parent in America – the biggest gap in the 22 countries the researchers looked at, followed distantly by Ireland.”  

What (the hell) does it mean to be “12 per cent unhappier,” or “12 per cent happier”? Happiness is not quantifiable like that, nor can it be measured with that kind of precision, or any kind of precision. Gee, what is the margin of error in that 12 %? Is it 12%, +/- 3%? I’m trying to think of two states of happiness I have experienced in which I could say with any certainty that I was 12% happier/ 47% happier or 71% happier  in one more than the other, and if I can’t determine that, how are a bunch or researches going to do it?

Let’s see—did discovering I had to undergo a circumcision at the age of 30 make me 12% more unhappy than I was when the Red Sox lost Game 6 of the 1986 World Series? Did watching the T-Rex beat the Indominus Rex in the dino-showdown in “Jurassic World” make me 12% happier than when bought our home for a bargain, or 12% less? You know, I really can’t answer that. Both made me happy in different ways. Did my happiness that my dad died the way he wanted, with dignity and in his sleep just short of his 90th birthday, exceed by 12% the happiness I felt when my final performance at my theater company got a deserved standing ovation, though I was also saddened that my dad wasn’t there to see it?

Please, O Wise and Researchers, enlighten me! They can’t. Of course they can’t. Nor can they tell me how to quantify the happiness my son has given his mother and me, even though he has driven and almost certainly will continue to drive us out of our minds with worry and worse on a regular basis, and has cost us a lot of money we will surely miss when we are dreaming about finally seeing Paris. Am I 12 % less happy than I would have been with a son more like I was, a non-rebellious, conventionally obedient, healthy and lucky kid who sailed through school and never got in any serious trouble? No, because then my son wouldn’t be the unique, amazing, gutsy and original individual he is.

Swenson’s report is filled with statements that make it clear that this is politically motivated  entitlement and anti-child propaganda (and thus pro-abortion propaganda). The smoking gun comes early:

The researchers examined the differences among these countries to figure out what might be causing the happiness gap. They conclude that U.S. policies – or, more accurately, the lack of them – are likely to be the fundamental cause, by increasing the cost and the amount of stress and anxiety that parents feel.

The United States provides minimal assistance to parents, including paid parental leave, mandatory paid sick and vacation days, subsidized child care, and work schedule flexibility, they say. And parenthood is also unusually expensive in the United States, due to the high cost of private education and a lack of public subsidies for childcare. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that a middle-income American family is likely to spend $234,900 to raise a child born in 2011 to age 17. If the kid goes to college, that figure may double.

In contrast, countries like Norway, Sweden, Finland and France have extensive social safety nets and supportive family policies, Glass says. Russia and Hungary continue to maintain certain Soviet-era policies that take care of families. In Portugal and Spain, extended family networks tend to help take care of kids. And all of these countries have more extensive policies to support working families than the United States, Glass said.

This is reverse-engineered junk-science advocacy for socialist government, and the Washington Post is promoting it as a non-partisan revelation.

“What we found was astonishing,” the researchers write in a briefing that explains their findings. “The negative effects of parenthood on happiness were entirely explained by the presence or absence of social policies allowing parents to better combine paid work with family obligations.”

Astonishing! Who would have suspected that an academic study on parental happiness would result in such findings!

“The good news, the researchers say, is that there is nothing inevitable about the parental happiness gap. And there may be some relatively achievable solutions for improving the happiness of American parents – like subsidizing childcare, or expanding access to paid vacation and sick leave.”

Just elect Bernie Sanders President, and you won’t want to go back in time and eliminate your kids! It’s so easy!

This despite the fact that the researchers admit that cultures define happiness differently—

“Comparing happiness around the world can be a difficult task, the researchers say, because concepts of happiness tend to differ among cultures. So the researchers stick to examining the difference in the happiness reported by parents and non-parents in the same country, saying this measure of “the relative effects of parenting” should help them identify exactly what factors contribute to parental stress.”

—so cross comparisons tend to be “difficult”….as in “impossible.”

Is your bullshit alarm ringing yet?

If not, why not?

Here’s how one group of  prominent Americans, for example, define happiness (this isn’t in the study):

The song omits the percentages, for some reason.

Finally, ten closing observations…

1. I couldn’t find any link that describes the methodology of this parody of legitimate research. This isn’t surprising, since purporting to measure happiness is like measuring hate, love or fear: it is unquantifiable, since every individual’s standards are different.

2. I know a lot of couples who decided not to have children, and the lack of government subsidies for parents wasn’t a factor for any of them. The #1 reason? They didn’t want children. Does the study distinguish between the demographics of childless parents, with older couples being more likely to regret the lack of children in their golden years? If it does, the Post doesn’t say so.

3. Since people who want children and people who don’t have different goals and standards for happiness, they can no more fairly be compared than different cultures’ versions of “happiness.”

4. The study suggests that happiness is the primary goal of existence. Many philosophers disagree with that contention. (So do I.)

5. Would I forfeit 12% of whatever these researchers call happiness to bring a child into my family? Sure. But what does that even mean? And if doing it would make me happier than not doing it…never mind. The “study” is as tautological as it is stupid.

6. I can tell the researchers exactly why non-parents purport to be “happier” than parents, and the reason differ from their counterparts in other cultures. The United States culture values personal liberty above all else, and having children represents sacrificing a great deal of that liberty for the life or lives on another. “Happiness” is an inadequate and nearly irrelevant measurement for the rewards of parenthood.

7. If you had any question why journalists swallow all scientific research (and non-scientific research) as revealed truth, this fiasco should answer them. They are frequently gullible and intellectually lazy, especially when studies purport to support the political agendas of their pet ideology. They don’t understand science, and they are uncritical reviewers.

8. Would I be shocked if this study turned out to be a hoax? No. I’d be relieved. It’s disturbing that research this misguided and biased ever gets a green light.

9. The Post’s editors should have dinged this credulous report on an incredible study, and the fact they did not indicts their competence as well as that of Swenson and the researchers, Jean Twenge, W. Keith Campbell, and Craig A. Foster.

10. Finally, regarding the click-bait headline: since happiness is completely subjective, nobody can say anyone is “probably lying” when they say that their children make them happier, and the headline’s literal contention, that any parents who say this are “probably lying” is a misrepresentation even if you take the study seriously.

_______________________

Pointer: Other Bill

39 thoughts on “Unethical Research, Unethical Headline, Unethical Media Report: “Many Parents Will Say Kids Made Them Happier. They’re Probably Lying”

  1. “Many Washington Post Writers Will Craft Headlines to Make You Think, ‘I Had Better Read This Article, Or Else I Will Be Missing The Most Important Truth I Have Read in My Life So Far;’ They Are Probably Lying”

  2. The UN has been doing it for years:

    http://worldhappiness.report/

    I didn’t follow your link, so I have no idea if they used similar criteria for this study, but the UN is pretty open with how they quantify and compare happiness levels.

    I do think there is some truth to what they say. Unlike many of you, I am blue collar, no higher education and middle income. I was suddenly and unexpectedly widowed at 35 with four children ages 14 to 4 and nothing but a $35K life insurance policy. I couldn’t afford a funeral. I had to work directly with the crematorium to have him cremated (no funeral home or mortuary) in order to afford it. I had to work the day after he died and my kids had to go to school. When his ashes were ready I drove the truck down and picked up the cardboard box with his remains, strapped it into the passenger seat of the truck, and he went with me while I cleaned carpets that day.

    I have a child with Asperger’s who was holy hell in middle school. I would set up for a job (I was a carpet cleaner) and get called by the school to come get him because he was suspended…..again. Our insurance was woefully inadequate to help with the problems he had, and still struggles with at 29.

    I worked through my last two pregnancies, cleaning carpets, hauling 150 lb. portables around and loading them in and out of the truck and up and down stairs nine months pregnant because we had this bad habit of eating and enjoying living in a house rather than under a bridge.

    I was never able to afford private schools or college educations. My kids had to apply for student loans and grants if they wanted to go to college (two of them did).

    To this day I have never been to a concert or play or sports event. There were always more important places to put the money. And I worked my ass off for every dime we had. My kids didn’t get music, art or dance lessons, riding lessons or the cool clothes.

    I sure as hell would have been happier if the govt. offered me a little help. Gave me a leave of absence after my husband’s death or gave me a disability payment so I didn’t have to work until the day before my last two kids were each born. I was lucky, I worked for myself, so as soon as I could after the c-sections I was back to work bringing them in playpens and caring for them while I worked. I would have been screwed if I had to pay for childcare.

    You might wonder why I didn’t apply for or receive assistance – I tried, but it is nearly impossible to get when you are self-employed.

    So yeah, I think our country is far behind the rest of the developed world in supporting parents and families – especially if you are working poor or self-employed. Public schools in working class neighborhoods don’t prepare a child for college. There is no child care available that is excellent, safe and affordable. This is why so many grandparents are now responsible for grandchildren just when they think they have finished raising children. It is difficult for most of these average public high school graduates to move into careers that will provide them the means to rent a decent apartment and raise a family.

    You may have been happier, but a lot of us were not. You and your peers see it through your own perspective, but your perspective is not the majority. I love my children. I am not anti-child, I had two foster kids and was a CASA for kids in the foster care system. I care a great deal for children. But I think conservatives are far too worried about the unborn and leave the already born and their struggling parents hanging. I sure wish I had gotten the support available in European and Scandinavian countries when my kids were growing up. I would have been happier, a hell of a lot happier.

      • I don’t consider I suffered the misfortunes of hell. In fact, in many ways I was very fortunate. I was born with a strong back, a pragmatic disposition and a quick mind, if I had lacked any of those I might not have persevered. And while the details are different from person to person, my situation is not unique among my neighbors and peers. A lot of brilliant and talented people fail to realize their potential because of a lack of opportunity. That failure not only hurts the individual and their family, but it hurts society that those who may have contributed in great ways never have the opportunity to find their voice and their calling. We all lose when potential is unrealized.

        We lose again when these people, people like myself, who have worked hard for modest sums begin to suffer the effects of aging and they find their HMO’s are a frustrating maze of waiting for referrals, tests, denials, lost files, co-pays and medications that invariably cost dearly but are not covered by insurance. The majority of people in this country do not have adequate savings or investments to see them through the time between when they are no longer able to work, and they die. I don’t say “retirement” because people like me don’t retire, we don’t have savings, we don’t have 401K’s, every penny went to living. Most of us work until we drop dead or we can no longer function at our jobs or in our businesses.

        The children we raised don’t have the resources and time to be burdened with our care and housing. Children are not a built-in retirement plan. They are too busy trying to keep their own heads above water. Our nation’s help for the elderly poor is as bad as our help for struggling families. Just try to qualify for aid when you spent your working life as a sole proprietor self-employed. The reality is when any assets I own are liquidated and the money spent, if I’m lucky, I might qualify to be on a waiting list for a crappy nursing home when someone else dies and a spot opens up. Hopefully my body goes before my mind, because the situation is even more hopeless for those with cognitive deficits like dementia.

        I am not an exception, I am not a rarity, there are MILLIONS of us. You don’t see them. Each has their own story, but each didn’t get help and support at critical times they needed it.

        • Again, articulate and thought provoking, Lisa I can’t debate in sufficient detail the policy and ethical assumptions you are making here, but the core one is the assumption that those who save and are able to plan and take care of their own needs should be prevented from doing that by being required to use those resources to pay for the lives, choices and misfortunes of the people who can’t, and see those resources misapplied, wasted and worse by a demonstrably incompetent and corrupt bureaucracy.

          Nothing in life, ethics or law dictates or should dictate that we should be guaranteed help and critical support when we need it. Life’s not easy, trouble comes, and either one’s approach is to play the hands you get dealt as well as you can, or to force everyone else to pay to solve your problems, knowing that they will probably fail anyway.

          I see the seductiveness of the latter, but it is a trap, and ultimately a con that results in a bloated, large, ugly, greedy government run by the likes of Clinton or Trump controlling everyone’s lives.

          Am I willing to capitulate to that fate and see the nation so diminished in aspiration and principles so you and the millions like you have things a bit easier?

          Nope. Sorry.

        • That’s the rub, right Lisa? If you want to have children AND retire by the time you’re 90, then you need to have resources. I have two kids and my husband and I decided that we can’t afford any additional children if we want to give them a decent path in this life — a decent path defined by us as a good education through college. There will be no paid weddings for them or downpayments for houses. They get college and we’re done. Grad school (if they go) will be on their own and that saddens me greatly because paying back my student loans was a crushing burden for me for almost 15 years. And I still have friends well into their forties who are still paying back their loans. The crazy thing is that we are well-off financially (compared to most people — although cost of living is high here) and we’re still struggling to provide for them at this level.

          My college educated friends have figured this out. Easily half of them have decided to have no children at all, and the other half have 1-2 children. (There are a couple of outliers.)

          I am not an economist, but I suspect that the struggle that most Americans are facing in trying to raise their families while still being able to go to the doctor once in awhile has to do with our political system. If we are going to live in a welfare state, then we need to be taxed like we live in a welfare state. If we are going to live in a limited government/Republic, then our government needs to slash spending across the board for all programs (including social programs and the military) and stop trying to solve all the world’s problems. But, because of the way our government works, we are getting the worst of both systems. We have a welfare state that doesn’t provide enough and a huge government that is trying to exist on lower tax revenue. It’s not working. It’s not working for our government who is sinking more and more into debt and it is not working for the middle and lower classes who are worse off than their parents’ generation.

          • Very thoughtful analysis, Beth. You might have also noted the divisive and unfair system where intelligent, responsible citizens who try to have the only children they can afford have to pay for the care of children irresponsibly had by families who knew they couldn’t afford them.

            Having children has always required a sacrifice, and when a society’s values are aligned correctly, the sacrifice is considered worth it, as indeed it is. Your childless college friends may be choosing vacations, high-end clothes, ambition, recreational drugs, premium cable channels, eating out, plays and movies and sporting events, living in one of the most expensive cities in the country, and extended adolescence over the honor and joy of raising a new human being, and continuing the species. They can afford kids. They choose not to, in part because the culture no longer teaches that it’s the wrong choice.

            • “You might have also noted the divisive and unfair system where intelligent, responsible citizens who try to have the only children they can afford have to pay for the care of children irresponsibly had by families who knew they couldn’t afford them.”

              I think you missed my point Jack. It seems that today, you have to be fairly wealthy to provide for 1-2 children. If you are middle class, it is more than a struggle to have children and raise them fairly well — it’s damn near impossible.

              “Your childless college friends may be choosing vacations, high-end clothes, ambition, recreational drugs, premium cable channels, eating out, plays and movies and sporting events, living in one of the most expensive cities in the country. …”

              Wow, that’s a lot of assumptions about my friends — and most of them are not even close to the mark. Yes, we live in an expensive city, so what? If I could do my job from Topeka, maybe I would move there. But I can’t, so I’m stuck in DC. I can also say that almost none of them are trying to reach for the stars career-wise and we don’t wear high end clothes. And, recreational drugs??? Whatever gave you that idea? Sure, they might go on a vacation or two or see a show, but that’s hardly living the high life. Sheesh.

              • Missed MY point. That was just a random list of the things people think are more important than having kids. MY point is that they can afford to have children, they just would have to live a less expensive, less care-free, less fun and more frugal and responsible life style. My folks clipped coupons their whole life. They seldom went to out to dinner; they saw movies at an Air Base where my dad, as a vet, paid almost nothing for a ticket. They preferred to have kids.

                • Yes — and times have changed. There are no coupons for child-care, private school (or alternatively, a house in a decent school district with a far higher mortgage), medical bills, retirement, etc.

                  My parents were lower middle class at best (and that is disputed among my siblings, they take the position that we were dirt poor), and my parents still managed to get two of us through college with the assistance of scholarships. I make far more money than my parents and I will be providing the same level of assistance to my children, and it is a struggle.

                  Again, I am not complaining for me. I simply understand that it is really challenging for those who don’t make a six figure income to raise kids in certain parts of this country. Clipping coupons and cutting cable isn’t going to make a difference and quite frankly it is a little insulting to suggest that. You can’t compare your upbringing in the 1950s and 60s to today. This is the first generation that is not going to be better off than their parents.

                  You still have a young-ish son. You were lucky enough to be able to homeschool him and avoid child care and school costs. We — like many families — don’t have that option. We need both salaries just to pay for housing costs in this area. Imagine the costs involved if you did not homeschool him? And that is just for one child in this area.

                  • All true, Beth, and no disagreement. I am just stating that having kids was once culturally supported as what adults did once they were in a stable marriage, to carry on the species and civilization. Now developed countries have a demographic crisis, because that is no longer the attitude. Rich or relatively rich citizens aren’t having kids, and poor citizens are having too many.

  3. Jack,

    The happiness finding is consistent with years of research on the subject — it’s hardly surprising. You’re correct, of course, that “12% unhappier” is meaningless. Most measures of happiness are ordinal, not integer or even ratio measurements.

    This does not, however, justify — or even excuse — your spurious conclusion that the study was “politically motivated junk”. The reporting on it may be — I’m more likely to ascribe a motive of sensationalism and provocation than political manipulation — but your own Point #1 pretty much admits it that you haven’t read the paper.

    To be clear, my preparation for writing this included (a) reading the article, (b) reading the actual paper, and (c) reading the press release that Ms. Swanson reported on. Both (b) and (c) were directly linked in Ms. Swanson’s piece, along with a whole bunch of other references.

    Let me be clear here: Calling a study “politically-motivated junk” is a very serious accusation against the authors. It’s accusing the researchers responsible for it of going against the core values of their profession — not unlike accusing a lawyer of letting his political beliefs cause him to act against his client’s interests.

    That said, most of your own points are spurious, directed at a metaphorical straw man. To address them in order:

    1) You claim that you couldn’t find information on the methodology used, yet the original paper was linked in the media report. It includes a detailed discussion of the methodology.

    2) The paper isn’t on government subsidies or why people choose to have children.

    3) Bullshit. Each and every person has different goals and different priorities. There are problems in comparing different groups, sure, but this isn’t exactly one — as the point of the study was to compare the difference in happiness across countries.

    4) The study suggests no such thing, except in your head. What the study (or, more precisely, the fact that the study was conducted) actually suggests is that happiness is of interest to social scientists, and that differences in happiness need to be examined.

    The comments about “solutions” and the like, along with the recommendations, are pretty much all Ms. Swanson. The paper itself doesn’t talk about the potential effect of various policies here — just what demographic effects can be connected to certain societal (and policy) factors elsewhere.

    5 and 6) This is over-simplistic at best. Having children is rewarding, yes, but that’s not the main (or only) reason why parents tend to be less happy than non-parents. It’s not just liberty — there’s also stress, demands on one’s self, the need for sacrifices of a variety of types, economic burdens, our toxic “parenting” culture….

    A number of cultures — and ours generally isn’t one — have various forms of social support and buffers in place to protect against this. Historically speaking, the division of labor in the household did a good bit to help, but that’s largely vanished in the modern home. Many cultures have extended family structures, where grandparents, aunts, uncles, and so on will help raise the child (and it’s probably not a coincidence that these cultures are also often those where large families are common). We don’t… etc., etc., etc.

    Oh, and it’s not what “these researchers” call happiness. They were working from broad surveys of populations, in which the people involved were directly asked to rate how happy they were. The exact phrasings and scales used are in the paper, verbatim, and they detailed what they did with the responses.

    7) Media reports of science are infamously problematic. You should see what scientists have to say about them. (I suggest asking directly. It can be an experience.)

    That said, you’re playing a game of fucking Telephone regarding the original paper… and then claiming that the original researchers were conducting themselves unethically. This is the exact same error that reporters make when credulously relaying biased witness’s accounts in the aftermath of things like police shootings.

    8) Please don’t call research you don’t understand misguided or biased. Evaluating the effects of various policies and societal factors on people is a large part of what social scientists do. This can inform policy, sure, but it’s mostly about getting at the facts of the matter.

    We generally understand that any policy has costs and benefits. A lot of what politicians do is debate on whether or not a given policy or program’s benefits are worth said costs. To take an example from the study, giving employees more sick or vacation days will generally lead to happier workers… but, to any boss, the question needs to be whether that happiness benefit is worth the loss of those days’ productivity.

    That said, don’t take this to mean that I see no problems with the study’s methodology. I spotted a rather large number of problems with the way the study was done (and reported, for that matter) despite the fact that there were parts of the statistical analysis which I didn’t fully understand. On the other hand, no study is free of issues or limitations — we literally can’t avoid having them. There’s a reason why the paper spends about two pages discussing the limitations of its findings.

    9) The study itself is reasonably credible, if hardly spectacular. Again, see my comments regarding sensationalism. Most of the most excruciating elements of the report came from Ms. Swenson, not the original paper.

    10) While I agree with you that the headline is click-bait (and absurd), the paper doesn’t suggest that (American) parents are lying when they say that their kids have made them happier. The paper, along with a whole host of other research on the subject, suggests that they’re wrong.

    • Alexander, here’s the part of the article that set off my ethics alarm and my questions in brackets and caps (I don’t know how to bold anything here):

      The researchers caution that their findings don’t mean that American parents are less happy than other parents around the world, as some media outlets have reported. [LIKE, FOR EXAMPLE, THE WASHINGTON POST IN THIS ARTICLE.] The United States actually ranks second overall on the list in terms of happiness, behind New Zealand and before Denmark. [HOLY COW! AMERICANS ARE HAPPIER THAN THE PEOPLE IN DENMARK? KNOCK ME OVER WITH A FEATHER. WHY ISN’T THAT THE HEADLINE?] What their findings mean is that American parents and non-parents report the biggest relative difference in happiness among the countries they studied. [BUT IF AMERICANS ARE HAPPIER THAN EVERYONE OTHER THAN THE KIWIS (AND WHAT’S THERE TO BE UNHAPPY ABOUT LIVING AMONG MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF SHEEP IN A BEAUTIFUL, REMOTE, HOMOGENEOUS, SPARSELY POPULATED COUNTRY LIKE NEW ZEALAND?) THE STARTING POINT FOR HAPPINESS IS HIGHER THAN EVERY OTHER COUNTRY THAN NEW ZEALAND. IF YOU GO DOWN TWELVE PERCENT FROM THAT, HOW DO THE COUNTRIES COMPARE? ANYONE? BEUHLER?]

      Comparing happiness around the world can be a difficult task, the researchers say, because concepts of happiness tend to differ among cultures. [FAIR ENOUGH, BUT THE RESEARCHERS JUST CITED THE HAPPINESS RANKINGS OF ALL COUNTRIES AS IF THOSE RANKINGS ARE SCIENTIFICALLY PRECISE, NOT TO MENTION VALID.] So the researchers stick to examining the difference in the happiness reported by parents and non-parents in the same country, saying this measure of “the relative effects of parenting” [I WOULD HAVE FINISHED THIS SENTENCE WITH SOMETHING LIKE “MIGHT BE INTERESTING.”] should help them identify exactly what factors contribute to parental stress. [REALLY? WHY IS THAT? I’LL GIVE YOU A GOOD POSSIBLE SOURCE OF STRESS WHEN YOU ARE A PARENT: HAVING KIDS. HERE’S ANOTHER: THE KIDS YOU HAVE. WHY DOES THE RESEARCHER AUTOMATICALLY DEFAULT TO ASSUMING SOCIETY OR ITS SAFETY NET IS THE DETERMINING FACTOR?]

      American parents tend to feel that the challenges they face when raising kids are more of an individual burden than a social problem, [IS THAT A BAD THING? I THINK NOT. I FIND IT RATHER ADMIRABLE. IT DOESN’T TAKE A VILLAGE TO GET PREGNANT.] Glass says – that if only they were more organized, or if they had more energy, they could do a better job at balancing family and work. [ADMIRABLE, DON’T YOU THINK?] Instead, they should recognize that what they’re experiencing may be part of a much bigger social issue. [REALLY? WHY’S THAT? WHO SAYS? ISN’T IT A CHOICE? WHO SAYS HOW MUCH THE SOCIETY AT LARGE HAS TO DO ABOUT RAISING CHILDREN RELATIVE TO WHAT THE PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS AND AUNTS AND UNCLES HAVE TO DO? WHY IS IT AUTOMATICALLY “OUR” PROBLEM? ARE WE GETTING BIBLICAL HERE? WE ARE OUR BROTHER’S KEEPER AFTER ALL?]

      In any event, my primary alarm has to do with the Washington Post headline and the Washington Post article. Both are at least lazy and uncritical and at worst downright misleading and propagandist.

      Additionally, for the past two years I’ve been living in The Netherlands. It’s benefits city over here. On demand paid stress leaves. Long paid vacations. Extended parental leave. But people don’t work very hard and the place is going broke. All sorts of programs are being cut and people are outraged. Which has all occurred since the social system was built by the technocrats after WWII to take care of everyone. The famous Dutch entrepreneur-ism has been wiped out in only a few generations’ time.

      And finally, I am very skeptical of the social sciences, so called. I just don’t think human behavior and emotions lend themselves to scientific or statistical analysis. I don’t think there’s any questionnaire that can describe much of anything about a particular individual human being. I’m sure I’m terribly unenlightened, but there you have it.

      Regards.

      • I’m trying to make my way through the article itself. Here are the two questionnaires:

        (“Taking all things together, how happy would you say you are?” 0=extremely unhappy to 10=extremely happy). In the ISSP, respondents instead used a 4-point scale (“If you were to
        consider your life in general these days, how happy or unhappy would you say you are, on the whole?”; 1=very happy, 2=fairly happy, 3=not very happy, 4=not at all happy; reverse-scored). We converted the 4-point scale to the 11-point format (2.5, 5.0, 7.5 and 10.0, respectively).

        How are the responses of various individuals to these questions comparable in any meaningful way? One may be Eeyore, the next one Pollyanna. I’ll bet the theory is that if you ask enough people the same question, you’ll get some sort of reliable pattern or truth to emerge. But what about garbage in garbage out?

        Is this really the kind of analysis we want to be making policy decisions on?

        • I started writing a comment on the quirks of the methodology after Alexander’s defence of it. Is the methodology detailed? Sure. But it’s also jargony, clunky, strangely weighted, subjective and arbitrary.

          For instance, did you know that if you’re a manager, you’re happier then people in any other state of work? That’s why managers got a happiness multiplier when people who weren’t managers (including retirees, independently wealthy people, students, homemakers and the average worker) did not.

          And did anyone else notice that their measurement scale did not start at zero? What’s the significance of not starting at zero? Well, it compresses the data into a smaller range: Think about it this way: You have three states of being, rated 1, 2 and 3. In program A, 1, 2 and 3 are given weights of 0, 3 and 6 and in program B 1, 2 and 3 are given weights of 2, 4, and 6. Given sample: 1, 2, 3 and sample 1, 1, 3 the difference between the two samples is 33.3% using program A, and 16% using program B. But Jeff! You exclaim, doesn’t that mean that the 12% happiness deficiency would be higher? No! Because the math measures the happiness rate against the average, and starting at 0 will reduce the average. The further your base gets from 0, the worse it skews your numbers. In fact, if they had simple used 1, 2, 3 and 4 it would have been better data because the base shift is lower. It would have been even better had they used a higher number of states of being.

          They changed the math to increase the average and overstate the rate of the below average nations.

      • I wonder where you got your statistics? Is there a link to the study you cited?

        According to the latest (2016) World Happiness Report, the US ranks 13th. Those that rank above us in happiness, in descending order: Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Israel and Austria.

        • And that UN ranking is pure crap, in every way, and pollutes the Earth by being re-published. Since Americans with American values and who embrace American culture would be flat-out miserable living in any of those countries, it means nothing, less than nothing, negative nothing.

          • Okay then….you are making a lot of assumptions and generalizations about Americans and the countries on that list, but you are entitled to your opinion.

            I would be interested in knowing why you so vociferously repudiate the ongoing UN study.

            • Because the UN is political, and political agendas contaminates everything it says and does. Because its prospective is international, and thus it habitually behaves as if individual national cultures don’t exist. Because quantifying emotions and subjective states of mind like happiness is impossible, and obviously so to anyone who thinks about it honestly. Because such studies are designed to give ammunition to social reformers and activists. Because what non-American would call “unhappy,” Americans like me would call “the perpetual state of aspiration, ambition and dissatisfaction, which is at the core of this nation’s success, unique productivity and spiritual strength.

    • Well written complaint and rebuttal, Alexander, but I stand by my commentary. You can’t condemn me for not reading the actual study when the Post article didn’t link to it, but only to the abstract and the authors’ comments, which also did not describe the methodology—and neither did you. The article requires unrolling in Justor, and for all I know, paying something. I would be living in a box if I paid to read stuff like thi, and in a padded room if I had to sign up for everything referenced by another link. Of course, 99% of readers will also hit the links and stop the link to the article doesn’t respond. Your argument is like the commenters who say I am obligated to check reporters’ primary research. Uh-uh. Not my job, and I don’t have time for it. I reasonable and ethically base my analysis on what was reported by someone who (presumably) did read the study, and in the judgment of her crack editors, who, of course, also read the study (HAHAHAHAHA!) her analysis was accurate and fair. Based on that, I conclude the study is politically motivated garbage. Interestingly, based on your review, I also conclude that it’s politically motivated bullshit, and unethical from here to Timbuktu. As to your points:

      1. The happiness finding is consistent with years of research on the subject — it’s hardly surprising.

      Then the research on the subject is all crap. Sorry, can’t quantify an emotion, and can’t mix or compare an ephemeral concept—not a substance, but a feeling—that everyone expresses and regards differently. I don’t care that there has been other silly research, and of course its not surprising that one study on something that can’t be studied tracks with similar silly studies. Who
      opie.

      2. You’re correct, of course, that “12% unhappier” is meaningless. Most measures of happiness are ordinal, not integer or even ratio measurements.

      Please. It’s not meaningless. It falsely suggests meaning that isn’t there. Your defense is that saying A’s happiness is 8 while B’s is 6.5 is meaningful. No, it isn’t. One more reason I doubt that reading the study was worth the trouble.

      3. This does not, however, justify — or even excuse — your spurious conclusion that the study was “politically motivated junk”. The reporting on it may be — I’m more likely to ascribe a motive of sensationalism and provocation than political manipulation — but your own Point #1 pretty much admits it that you haven’t read the paper.

      It’s politically motivated junk, because you don’t devise a dumb study like this and spend time and money on it unless you have a reason, the reason being, “Gee, all my childless fiends seem happier than my friends with kids. If I could prove that being parents makes you less happy with your life, I can help bolster the rights of women, who are being threatened in their freedom to pursue their own happiness…blah, blah, blah.” The fact that the quotes section in the study, I did read THAT, can only attribute the alleged “happiness gap” to the lack of more government subsidies of expenses associated with child rearing, is res ipsa loquitur. That’s not a sociological conclusion, it’s political advocacy.

      4. To be clear, my preparation for writing this included (a) reading the article, (b) reading the actual paper, and (c) reading the press release that Ms. Swanson reported on. Both (b) and (c) were directly linked in Ms. Swanson’s piece, along with a whole bunch of other references.

      I’ll say this once: you owe me an apology on this, Alexander, because the PAPER was NOT “directly linked” to Swenson’s piece, and could not be read without joining the service. Your statement is FALSE. I couldn’t access the paper, and neither could most readers.

      5. Let me be clear here: Calling a study “politically-motivated junk” is a very serious accusation against the authors. It’s accusing the researchers responsible for it of going against the core values of their profession — not unlike accusing a lawyer of letting his political beliefs cause him to act against his client’s interests.

      No, it’s not like that, because motivations are not prohibited by any research ethics codes, but are fair reasons for consideration. Why did Jensen choose to investigate whether blacks were, as a group, intellectually inferior to whites? I don’t know, but his motives are relevant to his conclusion. A study that quantifies and compares a “happiness” is like research on fairies, and when its conclusion is this (from the press release, which I DID read, because I could):

      “Policies make the difference. The researchers investigated possible explanations for the happiness gap, including variations in family size and in the extent of unplanned births. Such differences between countries were not significant in explaining variations in the happiness of parents compared to non-parents.

      “What we found was astonishing,” reported Glass, Simon and Andersson. “The negative effects of parenthood on happiness were entirely explained by the presence or absence of social policies allowing parents to better combine paid work with family obligations. And this was true for both mothers and fathers. Countries with better family policy ‘packages’ had no happiness gap between parents and nonparents.”

      ideological political advocacy. Confirmation bias. Period. JUNK.

      5. You claim that you couldn’t find information on the methodology used, yet the original paper was linked in the media report. It includes a detailed discussion of the methodology.

      Well gee, I guess it should have been available in a link, then, without forcing me to sign up, create a password, and put up with spam. IT WAS NOT LINKED. A LINK was linked, and the link would not respond to my click without extra effort on my part. Either the article has to make the paper available, OR describe the study, OR not be written at all.

      6. The paper isn’t on government subsidies or why people choose to have children.

      Then the big conclusion highlighted in the release shouldn’t have been the focus of the release, should it? Here’s how that release ended:

      “The new study, according to CCF’s research director Stephanie Coontz, leaves little doubt about the benefits of policies to support working families: “We have reams of research showing that investing in children’s well-being benefits all members of society down the road, in lower crime rates and more productive employees. This study highlights that, even when it comes to personal happiness, supporting working parents is not a zero-sum game.”

      “leaves little doubt”?

      7. Bullshit. Each and every person has different goals and different priorities. There are problems in comparing different groups, sure, but this isn’t exactly one — as the point of the study was to compare the difference in happiness across countries.

      Though it said that you can’t really compare happiness across cultures, and sane people know that happiness can’t be scientifically quantified.

      8. The study suggests no such thing, except in your head. What the study (or, more precisely, the fact that the study was conducted) actually suggests is that happiness is of interest to social scientists, and that differences in happiness need to be examined.

      Ghosts, God and whether pigs have wings may also be “of interest”…that doesn’t mean they are all legitimate subjects for scientific, or pseudo-scientific research.

      9. The comments about “solutions” and the like, along with the recommendations, are pretty much all Ms. Swanson. The paper itself doesn’t talk about the potential effect of various policies here — just what demographic effects can be connected to certain societal (and policy) factors elsewhere.

      The quotes from the researchers and the institute in the release DO make those policy suggestions. (See above) What does that tell you? Or what does that tell you that you won’t admit? (It’s a politically motivated study, which in in the process of being used politically.)

      5 and 6) This is over-simplistic at best. Having children is rewarding, yes, but that’s not the main (or only) reason why parents tend to be less happy than non-parents. It’s not just liberty — there’s also stress, demands on one’s self, the need for sacrifices of a variety of types, economic burdens, our toxic “parenting” culture….

      Says you. This is all speculation and value judgments. Did you see “Parenthood,” the pay-off of which was that the stress of raising kids was part of its reward? That’s as valid a conclusion as any other. I am made happier when I succeed despite “demands.” Sacrificing for my kid MAKES ME HAPPY, meaning that my happiness can’t be compared to some selfish schmuck who mourns the fact that sending his kid to college means he can’t by a Lexus.

      7. A number of cultures — and ours generally isn’t one — have various forms of social support and buffers in place to protect against this. Historically speaking, the division of labor in the household did a good bit to help, but that’s largely vanished in the modern home. Many cultures have extended family structures, where grandparents, aunts, uncles, and so on will help raise the child (and it’s probably not a coincidence that these cultures are also often those where large families are common). We don’t… etc., etc., etc.

      So? Yes, we know our culture is our culture. Happiness still isn’t measurable in a meaningful or reliable way.

      8. Oh, and it’s not what “these researchers” call happiness. They were working from broad surveys of populations, in which the people involved were directly asked to rate how happy they were. The exact phrasings and scales used are in the paper, verbatim, and they detailed what they did with the responses.

      Did I mention that happiness is ephemeral and subjective, and not subject to quantifying or comparing across individuals, much less cultures? Scales, eh?

      9. Media reports of science are infamously problematic. You should see what scientists have to say about them. (I suggest asking directly. It can be an experience.)

      I prefer to pay attention to what scientists DO (as in the climate change debate): dumbing down their analysis, claiming certainty they know is a lie, playing to the press and seeking as much publicity as possible.

      10. That said, you’re playing a game of fucking Telephone regarding the original paper… and then claiming that the original researchers were conducting themselves unethically. This is the exact same error that reporters make when credulously relaying biased witness’s accounts in the aftermath of things like police shootings.

      Nope. The researchers are responsible for sending out press realeases that don’t include the methodology, and hiding the study behind limited access websites. They KNOW that under these conditions, the study would be under scrutiny. It’s not MY game of fucking telephone, AC. It’s a deliberate ploy by researchers who want the ink but won’t supply the goods. If the methodology was so impressive, how come neither you nor the Post nor mentioned anything about it

      8 Please don’t call research you don’t understand misguided or biased. Evaluating the effects of various policies and societal factors on people is a large part of what social scientists do…This can inform policy, sure, but it’s mostly about getting at the facts of the matter.

      Please don’t say that my correct review of a media report on a study intentionally framed by a press release while making it difficult to read the study is something I don’t understand. Happiness is a core issue in ethics and philosophy, and I understand, as you and the researchers apparently do not, that it is not an emotion capable of being studied scientifically, that to pretend to do so is unethical, and to base policy conclusions on such research is transparently manipulative.

      9. We generally understand that any policy has costs and benefits. A lot of what politicians do is debate on whether or not a given policy or program’s benefits are worth said costs. To take an example from the study, giving employees more sick or vacation days will generally lead to happier workers… but, to any boss, the question needs to be whether that happiness benefit is worth the loss of those days’ productivity.

      Why are you now discussing policy if this research wasn’t about advocating policy?

      10, That said, don’t take this to mean that I see no problems with the study’s methodology. I spotted a rather large number of problems with the way the study was done (and reported, for that matter) despite the fact that there were parts of the statistical analysis which I didn’t fully understand.

      Other than that, it was an excellent piece of research.

      11. On the other hand, no study is free of issues or limitations — we literally can’t avoid having them.

      I see three rationalizations in this statement. Did I miss one?

      12. There’s a reason why the paper spends about two pages discussing the limitations of its findings.

      None of which made it to the press release, which said the research “left no doubt” about the policies it was designed to push.

      9) The study itself is reasonably credible, if hardly spectacular. Again, see my comments regarding sensationalism. Most of the most excruciating elements of the report came from Ms. Swenson, not the original paper.

      From Other Bill’s quote from the paper:

      (“Taking all things together, how happy would you say you are?” 0=extremely unhappy to 10=extremely happy). In the ISSP, respondents instead used a 4-point scale (“If you were to
      consider your life in general these days, how happy or unhappy would you say you are, on the whole?”; 1=very happy, 2=fairly happy, 3=not very happy, 4=not at all happy; reverse-scored). We converted the 4-point scale to the 11-point format (2.5, 5.0, 7.5 and 10.0, respectively).

      No study that includes such junk, and no researchers who can’t tell that it IS junk (or who present it knowing it is junk) can be called “credible.”

      10) While I agree with you that the headline is click-bait (and absurd), the paper doesn’t suggest that (American) parents are lying when they say that their kids have made them happier. The paper, along with a whole host of other research on the subject, suggests that they’re wrong.

      Sadly, there was no way to examine the paper provided by the publication reviewing it; one had to sign up, create a password, and then read typically turgid analysis by researchers who think you can put a percentage on happiness….screw that. If the study isn’t clear enough to convey something more valid than what I read, that tells me, if not all I need to know, enough to make the conclusions I did.

        • I got to the paper by one click, for free and found it here: http://epc2014.princeton.edu/papers/140098

          I tried to read it. It’s Authentic Frontier Gibberish. I’m guessing sociology has become a huge echo chamber. The paper seems to simply compile all the recent research/advocacy on the subject and cite it as proof. But clearly, I’m a non-initiate.

          In so far as Alizia is not a native speaker and doesn’t live in the U.S., I think we need to cut her some slack. (Not that your comment isn’t anything more than joshing.) She’d be well-served at times by being much quicker on her feet, but I think her intentions are good. Which I didn’t used to think.

            • The click is in the second paragraph, which is a shitty thing to do all on it’s own. They linked two different studies. The one behind the paywall is “Twenge, Campbell and Foster, 2003” the one the article cites extensively is “Glass, Simon and Anderson, 2016”

              • UGH. So the first time, in the story about what “research suggests,” the Post had a link to a paywall with a different study linked, and in the second “research” linked to the real study? I assumed the links were the same, and I had every reason to assume the links were the same. Now I’m angry. I spend a lot of time researching, and that’s outrageously misleading and incompetent. Now I have to fix the post to reflect that.

                Thanks.
                Assholes.

        • Although Dr. Cheezem and I apparently share an interest in research, we very obviously did NOT take the same courses in research design and/or statistical measure/analysis. As my professor at the University of Texas once said, “You cannot quantify everything, and efforts to do so are going to lead to a lot of spurious results.” My biggest question has to do with how this purported study was presented. Why on a web site requiring a fee and a sign-up? If it was legitimate, it would be subject to peer-review (which this one likely would not have passed) and published in a respected journal. Also, and finally, I’ve never heard of these guys. However, I have been out of the field for a number of years, so that may not be a good indicator.

          • I don’t have a doctorate, dragin_dragon — only a master’s. That said, I can answer a few of your questions.

            First off, the study was published in a journal… or will be, anyway, given that it was accepted for publication in September (in the American Journal of Sociology). This means that it did pass peer review. Whether that journal’s respected or not is another question, of course — it’s sufficiently far from my normal reading material that I honestly wouldn’t know except by its impact factor (3.476 in 2009).

            Secondly, I don’t know what courses you took. That said, they used a Likert scale as a form of ordinal measurement.

            • (And, given that they were using other people’s data, it wasn’t even *their* Likert scale… or scales, given one of the more questionable design decisions I saw.)

      • Okay, then. To start off with:

        ” You can’t condemn me for not reading the actual study when the Post article didn’t link to it, but only to the abstract and the authors’ comments, which also did not describe the methodology—and neither did you.”

        Bullshit. The full text of the article was directly linked in the Post piece. This has been pointed out. The first link to “research”, by the way, is a background citation of a meta-analysis of the findings that marital satisfaction takes a dip after the birth of a couple’s first child. It was used in the context of a discussion of the context of the study.

        You noticed this, of course, but only after it was explicitly pointed out to you — and *after* you’d written the above “criticism.”

        Of course, there’s something else that is even more revealing here. When I mention that the finding of the so-called “happiness gap” is consistent with the existing research on the subject, you write:

        “Then the research on the subject is all crap. Sorry, can’t quantify an emotion, and can’t mix or compare an ephemeral concept—not a substance, but a feeling—that everyone expresses and regards differently. I don’t care that there has been other silly research, and of course its not surprising that one study on something that can’t be studied tracks with similar silly studies. Whoopie.”

        The same could be said for customer satisfaction surveys, as “satisfaction” is something that is similarly expressed, regarded, and experienced differently by different groups. They still give meaningful answers. Clinical depression scales suffer a similar issue… as, for that matter, do measures of *pain*. By your logic, all studies on the efficacy of painkillers are pseudoscientific junk.

        What’s needed for responses like that to be useful for scientific research — for them to be meaningful, in other words — isn’t for the thing they attempt to measure to be directly quantifiable. It’s for the answers to relate to the core concept in such a way that there’s a real difference between someone who answers with a “1” and someone who answers with a “9”. This is what’s known as an “ordinal variable” in statistics — one that doesn’t have a meaningfully quantifiable difference between numbers, but rather that responses can be put into a (generally) meaningful order such that there’s a meaningful difference between high ones and low ones.

        But, you might object, this doesn’t mean that someone who answered, say, “7” is necessarily meaningfully less happy than someone who answered “8”. Sure. This is, in technical terms, an issue with the reliability of the measurement. There’s an entire body of literature on attempting to deal with that problem and measure its impact on studies such as this one. In fact, there’s a whole host of other issues that impact the reliability of such a measure (such as the fact that people’s answers to questions like that are effected by everything from their mood at the moment to the physical location they’re in when the question’s asked). What it boils down to is that such things are generally *random*, and thus can be compensated for by the nature of statistical methods… provided you have enough independent. This is a large part of what the authors meant when they referred to statistical power.

        All of the above, of course, gets taught in pretty much every undergraduate research methods class. The details of the exact mathematical methods they used (a multivariate ordinal regression analysis), however, are typically taught in the second or third year of Ph.D. programs.

        (As a quick double-check on that, I actually tried to find out when Harvard’s and Yale’s psychology programs teach it. While I wasn’t able to easily get the relevant course syllabi, the course that I *think* teaches it is required by the end of the student’s second year in the program at Harvard, and Yale apparently has no required year for its course requirements.)

        All of this, of course, just details why your comment is *wrong*, not why it’s *revealing*.

        Simply put, you threw that out in response to my assertion that — and I quote — “The happiness finding is consistent with years of research on the subject — it’s hardly surprising.”

        Your immediate response, to repeat, was, “Then the research on the subject is all crap.”

        In other words, you instantly dismissed an entire body of research — before hearing what methods or approaches have been used, before any discussion of who did it or how strong the conclusions are, before any discussion of context — based solely on its conclusion.

        The description of confirmation bias here is extremely ironic.

        There are, of course, other revealing arguments and remarks. My personal favorite is when you state that it is worse than you thought it’d be because it “It is full of jargon…”

        You, of course, go on to write that, “This kind of writing, I must note, is itself unethical. Either it is incompetent as communication, or it is intentionally deceptive, using jargon to create “authoritative” justification for policies, knowing that the jargon will be translated to mean anything policy advocates need it to mean.”

        Bullshit. It’s a journal article. Of fucking course it’s full of jargon. That’s hardly a problem with it. Should I quote a few random paragraphs from articles in physics, chemistry, or medical journals? I guarantee you that they’re every bit as jargon-rich.

        Then there’s the statement that “It constantly relies on the alleged authority of other happiness studies”… which, ah, no, it doesn’t. In the introduction — you know, the part that’s there to discuss why they did the study? — it reviews prior findings and makes the case for the study’s relevance in terms of them. That’s a very different thing.

        You also show that you don’t know — or understand — how university press releases are typically generated… but that’s another kettle of fish entirely.

        So, a few miscellaneous points:

        1) My numbering was in direct response to your points. In writing the above comment, you spuriously added your own numbers at seemingly random points in my comments — interspersed and mixed with the ones that were already there. This significantly impacted my ability to quickly go back and follow chains of reasoning or discussion when writing this (and hence lead to my not writing a point-by-point response). Consider this, overall, a comprehensive response to everything here (and in the update) despite the fact that there are almost inevitably a number of things that I missed.

        2) I brought up the difference between a discussion of fact and a policy recommendation largely because it appears that you can’t see it. It is, simply put, the difference between saying, “Offering a lifetime money-back guarantee on our product will increase our customers’ confidence in our product” and “We should offer a lifetime money-back guarantee on it.”

        3) My statement that the study was hardly free of limitations wasn’t a rationalization: it was an injunction against something called “Nirvana fallacy.” A study does not need to be perfect to provide useful data — and, in fact, no study can be perfect. The study could be better, yes. That doesn’t mean that the study was “junk” or that the findings were worthless.

        4) Your argument that “It’s politically motivated junk, because you don’t devise a dumb study like this and spend time and money on it unless you have a reason…” deserves further attention.

        Sociologists examine social phenomena because they’re interested in them. Saying that they wouldn’t examine something like this without a political motive shows a *stunning* lack of comprehension of what academics are like.

        Beyond this, we should probably take into consideration just how much “time and money” they really spent: They got their hands on data from existing surveys… and then ran a series of statistical analyses on it. I can assure you that researchers routinely go through much more effort than *that* based on little more than simple curiosity.

        • I’m not going to engage after “bullshit,” Alex. Congratulations on decyphering the links: after the first link on “research” led me to a dead end, I assumed that the paper wasn’t available beyond the abstract until I paid the fee, and I wasn’t going to pay a fee for a happiness study. That’s the truth. I don’t lie on this blog. You don’t want to believe me? Fine. Eat me. The link was misleadingly and incompetently placed, and I missed it until another commenter provided it

          When I read the study, it made me feel better about missing the link, since it was even worse than I assumed. You’re a smart guy, and why you would find such contrived drivel convincing or professional is a mystery. And to argue that it wasn’t political when its press release and the study itself was entirely focused on policy advocacy is just bizarre.

          The bottom line is that it is per se absurd to try to quantify “Happiness,” create a “happiness” gap theory by combining necessarily individual, culture biased measurements of happiness, and then try to justify any conclusions whatsoever. There is some well-designed social science research that provides some enlightenment about human behavior and motivations, and there are pathetic “studies”, like this one, that embarrass the field and make the legitimate and enlightening studies less credible.

    • “(b) reading the actual paper”

      But did you understand it? I’ve taken university level statistic courses and I’m still trying to puzzle out why they did certain things. I have…. very serious doubts that the average person could even read the equations aloud.

      “Calling a study “politically-motivated junk” is a very serious accusation against the authors.”

      I think it’s appropriate. It was a study designed to give the impression that America needs to expand it’s social safety net. It was an answer in search of a question. The thumbs on the scale were…. subtle. The article says that they “looked at an expansive data set from 22 European and English-speaking countries”, but that’s not actually true. Russia, for instance, is neither European, nor English speaking, but it has been well documented the the population of Russia is generally happy and they have some old commie programs. Meanwhile Canada is not on their list, and despite having a MUCH higher standard of living and larger social safety net, the World Happiness Report finds Canadian happiness straggling behind Russia. They also didn’t include Nigeria (despite speaking English), or The Ukraine (despite being in Europe). Why? Could it be because Nigeria is dirt poor and doesn’t have a safety net, but the people don’t tend to report unhappiness? Could it be because The Ukraine, despite some healthy social programs, just had a chunk of their country sawed off and their population is miserable? Was the point of that to control for extraordinary political turmoil? Why the hell is Greece on the list then?

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