Married couples who choose not to have children apparently are more satisfied with marriage than their counterparts who have chosen to change diapers and eventually foot the bill for college.
That conclusion was drawn in a study that surveyed more than 70 couples--nearly half of whom deliberately decided against having children.
Participants in the study were primarily upper middle class and characteristically "yuppyish." Childless couples had an average age of 35.6 years--couples with children had an average age of 37.1.
Psychologist Bonnie Burman, who conducted the study while a graduate student at the UCLA School of Social Welfare, said not only are childless couples happily married, but many tend to have a higher sense of self-esteem.
"I myself am intentionally childless and have been happily married for 18 years. So I was curious to see if other people were too," the researcher explained.
Burman said she also wanted to demonstrate statistically that people with children were not "unhappy" in an objective comparison of the two groups.
"Before I began the study I made sure that the parents had exerted as much choice as possible over the matter of having children.
"For the most part, these couples had chosen the timing, number and spacing of their children and had agreed with one another about those decisions," she said.
Burman acknowledged that there have been several studies in recent years comparing childlessness to parenthood, with the childless group always expressing more happiness, thus coming out on top.
But she added that her study used "intention" as the key for both groups--underscoring that participants were neither parents nor childless by chance.
"We used a questionnaire that surveyed marital satisfaction. It's a standard 32-item scale most frequently used by psychologists to assess marital satisfaction.
"It asks how much time a couple spends together doing various activities, how many disagreements they have over general topics and how happy they are with their marriage," she said.
For people with children, Burman said time alone as a couple often is very difficult.
"Children do not cause people to be unhappy, but they can add to the potential stress in a marriage," she explained.
Running the risk of sounding anti-child, Burman said that "parents scored well over the mid-point in happiness on the questionnaire and were happy with their childbearing choice."
But despite the impressive score, childless couples scored even higher, attaining near perfection on the happiness scale.
No differences were found in the survey between the two groups regarding education, family background or perceptions of the participants' relationships with their own parents.
Therefore, remaining childless was not a result of negative relationships with the participants' parents during childhood, Burman said.
"I attempted to use equally well-educated people in both the parent and childless groups.
"Eighty-two percent of the parents sampled had a combined income over $50,000 per year. While the childless couples earned somewhat less, they also had fewer expenses because they had no children to support," Burman explained.
Although many more of the childless wives worked outside of the home than did mothers, those mothers who did work had what Burman calls "higher status" occupations than the childless wives.
Neither group of women, however, worked primarily for financial reasons, Burman said.
She found that 57% of the childless group chose to remain so because they were "unwilling to make the commitment necessary for raising children properly."
The second most common reason was an unwillingness to change life style, but both groups agreed that children constricted freedom.
"There are a range of possible explanations," Burman said of the reasons why the childless are happier in marriage. "Maybe the amount of time that spouses are able to devote to one another affects their degree of satisfaction with marriage."