Study Suggests Parents Idealize Child-Rearing to Justify Costs

According to a recent University of Waterloo study published in the Journal of Psychological Science, parents rationalize the expense of raising children by focusing more on the joys of parenthood than on its costs.

Eighty mothers and fathers participated in the study, each of them having at least one child under the age of eighteen. The parents were separated into two groups. One group of parents received only information about the financial burden of raising children, such as the cost of raising a child to adulthood. Economists estimate this cost to be $190,000. The other group of parents received the financial facts, but also read about the practical benefits of having kids, such as the assistance that adult children provide to aging parents.

Both groups of parents then took a pair of psychological tests, one that focused on the experience of parenting, and another that probed the parents’ levels of discomfort during the study. Parents of both groups took both tests, but the order in which the tests were given was reversed for half of each group.

Because researchers Richard Eibach and Steven Mock found that test order affected the answers, they surmised that parents who took the emotional test first had a chance to slip back into their idealized views on parenthood. Parents who answered the discomfort questions first reported more distress.

Focusing on the good in parenting helps parents bear the high financial cost. Eibach referred to this as “a motivated deployment of attention.”

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