New evidence from famed happiness researcher Richard Easterlin shows that women are happier than men in early adulthood, but at age 41, this switches, and men are happier later in life. Easterlin says this gap comes from frustration over an inability to get married. Because most people want to be married, and if you want to be married but you can’t get married, you are unhappy.

Intuitively it makes sense that younger women marry more easily than younger men— young women are hot, and they are out-earning their male counterparts, while young men are suffering a masculinity crisis. However as everyone ages, the men earn more money and the women have flabby thighs.

But I don’t think the issue is, as Easterlin says, marriage. I think the real issue is children. Having kids complicates a woman’s life in ways that are not so difficult for men. It’s true that men today are more involved in parenting than ever before, but still, children affect women so much that they don’t start earning less than men until they have kids.

Here’s the deal with parenting: men believe they are doing a great job of parenting no matter what they’re doing, and women always think they could do better. So a woman does better in marriage and career early-on, but when she adds kids to the mix, her self-esteem is challenged (second-guessing her parenting) and her ability to support herself is challenged (she earns less money) and she becomes increasingly dissatisfied.

I’m sure a bunch of women will write to tell me that their kids are the love of their life. But don’t bother. Because I’m not saying women don’t love their kids, and maybe I am saying that the lack of happiness is precisely because women love their kids so much.

So here are three things to do if you’re a woman who wants to hedge against unhappiness in later life.

1. Don’t have kids. Daniel Gilbert (who has a son) has great research to show that kids do not make people happier. Kids give great joy but also wreak great havoc. People used to think there is something wrong with women who don’t want kids. But really, there is something wrong with people who tell you that their kids make them happier: they are lying. Of course, it might not be intentional. And anyway, we lie to ourselves about a lot of things that we can’t change. But stop thinking that everyone should have children. Maybe not.

2. Keep your career. In her book, Necessary Dreams, Anna Fels reports that women struggle to have careers when their children are young. But when the kids are older, the women who kept their careers throughout the early years of raising children are much happier than the women who gave up careers. This research does not, of course, take into account who was happy when they were going on a three-day business trip and leaving a one-year-old at home with the nanny. Also, keep in mind that quitting work to have kids and reentering the workforce later is not that difficult for moms today. So get back into the workforce as soon as you think your kids can handle it; the benefits will ripple throughout your life.

3. If you are divorced, get plastic surgery. I am convinced that a lot of the reason women are happier earlier in life is that women have more control over their destiny when they are better looking. We know that people who are better looking get treated better throughout life, and we know that younger women do better remarrying than older women. So women should get plastic surgery if they get divorced so that they can remarry faster.

I say this about divorced women, but to be honest, I’m not taking the advice. It rings true to me, but it’s hard advice to swallow. The incurable optimist in me tells me I’ll do fine getting remarried just by being me.

But then, that’s the trouble with all research—when it suggests a change you weren’t already excited about, you decide that it doesn’t apply to you. And I’m no exception.

141 replies
Newer Comments »
  1. Holly Collins
    Holly Collins says:

    I agree. Women do either try to be the super mom or think that they can and have a career too. I did until my plan went south and I ended up having two autistic kids and my life changed completely. Now I am separated, have two autistic teens, one over-worked blog about said teens, and no real career…

    I’m not complaining but one cannot control their life, or plan it out.

    I’m 41 and can’t say that I’m miserable, yet!!

  2. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Even if the advice were true and better looking women get married more easily than average looking women, it doesn’t automatically follow that plastic surgery makes you better looking. So often it doesn’t.

  3. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    Here’s the problem with this kind of advice: it’s easily given in hindsight. You can say now what you should have done, but you would never have considered 2 of these 3 points 20 years ago. Not have kids? Crazy! Plastic surgery? Only for movie stars! Still, with the added benefit of hindsight, your list is incomplete: add #4 Keep your friends, and #5 Work hard to stay close to your family (and it is hard work sometimes). These are really important on the road to happiness, once you’re divorced and the kids have left the nest. And I’m throwing out #1, since for the most part the benefits far outweigh the negatives of having kids and #3, since if you think you can only attract a man by altering your physical appearance, he’s not the kind of guy you really want to spend the rest of your life with the second time around. Sorry, not buying it.

  4. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Another piece of advice that fits here is to choose a career path that allows you to be in a “fast lane” or a “slower lane” but still in a career.

    For example, the Deloitte approach supporting women, taking time off to be with kids, by helping them to maintain their accounting designation, and creating part time options so they can ease back in.

    (I don’t work for Deloitte, nor am I an accountant, but this strikes me as an intriguing career option for younger people to consider.)

  5. Marcus
    Marcus says:

    Good post, but I disagree – a bit – w/ the conclusion. The average age women have their first baby in the US is 24.9 yrs. By the age of 41, the worst of the parental self-doubting is behind you. (Not all of it, but the worst of it.) It doesn’t make sense to me that kids would make women unhappier as they move into their later teens and early adulthood. When their young is when parents question everything: the skipped vegetables, the tv, the failed spelling test, etc.

    But what do I know? I’m a man and think I rock out as a Dad. ;)

  6. Rhona
    Rhona says:

    My only issue is with the suggestion that getting plastic surgery will sort things out. I can appreciate that sorting out the things that go south as you get older may help to keep you feeling young, but if you have issues with your encroaching age there is no amount of botox that will resolve it and you will wind up looking like a plastic faced freak.

    Personally I am 35 and enjoying my increasing wrinkles, they show I have laughed a lot. As has been said elsewhere, you wind up with the face you deserve, so enjoy your life, try to understand yourself and change as necessary. You’re going to get old one day, fight it or not.

    • SwitchGirl
      SwitchGirl says:

      I think getting rid of “what ifs” would make the world a better place for everyone and not just women. Maybe some genius out there can create software to show you your “what ifs” and make an informed decision.

  7. Kristin T.
    Kristin T. says:

    I have kids, have kept my career moving while raising them, and got divorced and eventually remarried–all without plastic surgery! What I’ve learned is that while life rarely turns out the way you picture it, happiness doesn’t always come from the things you’d expect, either.

    The problem, really, lies in the “what ifs.” I think women more than men tend to ask “what if?” and dwell regretfully on what they didn’t do. So if you never have children, you’ll always wonder. If you did have kids but didn’t quit your job to stay home with them, part of you will wonder if you should have. But if you DID stay home with them and never really got back into your career, you’ll wonder where you would be if you had made a different choice. It goes on and on.

    So maybe the important thing for women to figure out is how to let go of the “what ifs.” Has anyone out there had success at that? I have, to some extent, but I think it’s because things in my life went SO wrong that I was happy for every little piece I could salvage.

    • Renuka
      Renuka says:

      I think kristin’s advice is the best I have seen .. ye we woman are hung on to what ifs more than any thing in the world…..

      • Elizabeth Borelli
        Elizabeth Borelli says:

        I think expecting kids to make us happier, regardless of what the research says, is a pretty loaded expectation. It’s up to us to be happy with the decisions we make (hopefully we’ve weighed them) and if kids bring us more happiness, that’s a lucky bonus. So if it’s happiness you’re seeking, there are much easier ways!

  8. Ed Borden
    Ed Borden says:

    Obviously you knew making a statement like “Kid’s don’t make people happier” was going to ruffle some feathers, so I’m responding to something that was obviously said to manipulate parent-readers into responding. Anyhow, you’ve got no basis for making such a blanket statement at all. A link to an article in the Times, with no detail and with no background for peer review, is the same as being completely baseless.

    Having relationships with people is a universally healthy and fulfilling part of life. Your relationship with your family, spouse, and children is the closest relationship you can possibly have. I’d say there is nothing that can make you happier, ESPECIALLY “later on”.

    I’m scratching my head on this one… Telling people to not have families to be happy. Brilliant! Roll in, traffic!

    ———-
    What I love about my blog comments is that they are so often a demand for more thorough research. The research behind the conclusion that kids don’t make people happier is Dan Gilbert’s psychology lab at Harvard University. You can find the research here: http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~dtg/gilbert.htm
    and you can find the consumer version in his book, Stumbling on Happiness.

    – Penelope

  9. Erin
    Erin says:

    I agree with this post completely.

    I decided not to have children and my life couldn’t be more fulfilling right now. In fact, if I did get pregnant right now, I’d consider alternatives to pregnancy because my career is doing really well.

    My career actually started taking off the second I decided to stop trying to get pregnant. I needed to fill the void that infertility treatments left behind and I did — I threw myself into becaming a social media expert who now does social media consulting.

    I do, however, have stepchildren and they are not the center of my universe. They’re a joy to have in my life, but I don’t drop everything just for little Virginia’s soccer game.

    • Sylvia
      Sylvia says:

      I suppose you did the world a favor by not having children. You are far to selfish to be a parent.

  10. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    “But really, there is something wrong with people who tell you that their kids make them happier: they are lying.”

    Or is it just that the joys are, to them, more than worth the tradeoff of extra work and stress?

  11. Alice Bachini-Smith
    Alice Bachini-Smith says:

    A lot of them are lying. A lot of them aren’t lying exactly, they think they are telling the truth but they are out of touch with what the truth really is.

    Um, some of them are telling the truth though! My kids definitely make me happy. Being divorced & only sharing care may well help with that! But, they do :)

  12. Shane
    Shane says:

    Ah, so much to comment on.

    Statistics can be deceptive, and I think some of the ones you present are. The first example I note is that women earn less after having kids. I would like to know if that survey took into account the choice of women to make less money – to work less intense, less demanding jobs to be able to be a mother to their children. This includes opting to work part time, or just work a standard 40 hour week instead of putting in extra time “to get ahead”. These are choices – if they are the reason women earn less, it isn’t the fault of the children, or some side-effect that causes women’s careers to suck after. It isn’t “I was making 50k a year at my job but then after I had kids, I made 40k a year at the same job”. The comparison doesn’t fly, because rarely they are the same job.

    That generalization that men think that they are good parents, while women doubt, is bunk. Men doubt just as much. It is just that men’s thinking patterns allow for more effective compartmentalization than women, so they can set aside feelings of parental inadequacy and continue to work hard, while women’s more holistic thinking patterns mean they deal with the consequences of that doubt constantly. It affects them more.

    Onto the suggestions:

    1. Don’t have kids? Ha! They may not “make you happier” in a before/after study, or even comparison. But that fails utterly to take into account one factor. If you don’t have kids, who is going to love you when you are old? In middle age, when you have tons of friends and you are active in work and community, you can get along and be pretty happy. But when you are old, living alone, and your family is all dead or dying, and you are in a retirement home, you will have nothing. My grandfather reported to me when he moved into a senior’s gated community the saddest people in the complex were invariably the ones with no children. They confessed to him they regret not having kids because they are envious of the others who have family come to see them and visit and care about them.

    2. I can’t speak to – I think it’s up to the woman, but I also think that part of women’s problem today is that the culture reinforces over and over that the only value a woman has in society is her ability to earn money. That her reproductive capabilities and her innate nurturing tendencies are essentially valueless. In this atmosphere, women are discouraged and devalued if they elect any validation other than the prevailing culture’s. This would lead to a drop in happiness. However, this does not have to be. If you can change the culture, then you can change the happiness problem.

    3. I hate to say it but I do agree with this point. As much as we all say we shouldn’t judge from appearances, men are programmed to be attracted to younger appearing women. If you become divorced, one of the best strategies to increase odds of remarriage is plastic surgery, though I would definitely recommend minimizing and/or only using it correctively, as opposed to enhancing. Overuse just looks disgusting and vain.

    • Heather
      Heather says:

      “Men are programmed to be attracted to younger appearing women”? Hah. What an excuse. Men who aren’t shallow make me happier in life.

      • Espy
        Espy says:

        It’s the truth, attraction is the initial response of the brain. For centuries science and society has proven this. In fact, women are prided on their beauty, billions of cosmetics, fashion, weight loss, you name it has been geared towards females….why you ask? Consumer demands speak louder and further proves that looks mean a great deal.

        I don’t disagree with you, men should initially try to approach a female outside of how she looks, but that’s not the case. Better to realize this now than be in denial.

    • Amy
      Amy says:

      Totally selfish to have kids so they can take care of you when you’re old. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Not a reason to bring a human being into the world.

      • Espy
        Espy says:

        Do you think it’s selfish of a mother to carry a fetus for appx 40 weeks, breastfeed, many sleepless nights, skipped meals, and fully taking care of the child(ren) for at least 20+ years?

        It’s perfectly fine to have some sort of expectation that your child will love you and be by your side. I don’t think any parentt only brings a child(ren) into this world for the specific reason of “using” them once they are old and weak…I think it’s safe to assume it was just an example in how having a child will help. I think a mother’s love and devotion is priceless and no way can it be returned, except to see your child happy. Most parents really are in fact very, very selfless!

        Whether we are in denial or not, everything in life is a two way street…that’s how we evolve!

        • Brandy
          Brandy says:

          You’re missing the point. The parent is making a choice to have this child. The child was not given a choice. The child has no innate responsibility to the parent. You can hope that your child will take care you when you’re old but having children and assuming that will be the case has the potential to be very disappointing.

  13. Laura
    Laura says:

    I agree with each statemtn 100%

    Actually – your blog , and your life seems identical to mine

    Career Mom, 36 years old, 2 kids, one Austistic (AS), Re-Married, AND finishing my Masters at night…

  14. Holly Collins
    Holly Collins says:

    Shane, Yeah, women may have to have plastic surgery (and a boob job too, right) to get a man. But she only has to be intelligent , confident, and independent to get a good man.

  15. Maya
    Maya says:

    Ouch, Penelope. I should have consulted you earlier. Too late now, I already have my kids :)

    And I disagreed with this whole post, until I read your last paragraph about not taking advice …and then I suddenly agreed with everything you have said :)

    Kids are indeed much harder on women.And all that crap we have to deal with – the physical changes in the body, those harmones (any research about women’s age/happiness and menopause?? – men don’t gp through that right ;) ? ) …it is always exciting to be a woman!

    Some advice for women to think about BEFORE they have kids (for ones who have decided to have kids anyways):
    1. Make some VERY VERY good friends
    2. Get fit. Physically and mentally.
    3. Learn to be selfish. Learn your needs.
    4. Find a way to make a living working part-time. Set this up before you even get pregnant.

    And yes, if you get in trouble later, tell a few people your story (narrate it, do not cry about it ;)). Like Penelope. There is a lot of support out there for people who do not have any. Kids have short memories and do not waste time feeling guilty about a gazillion things.

  16. Jenn S.
    Jenn S. says:

    Bravo, Penelope! I get a thrill every time an article is published that talks about the choice NOT to have kids! I am grateful to live in a time when this is a valid choice, and one that I am taking, and so far I am happy with the life I’m creating for myself.

    @Shane – I don’t think kids are a good contingency plan for your twilight years – perhaps less reliable than your 401K. And banking on them for your happiness speaks more to me of not creating enough happiness earlier in your life so that you have interests, friends and activities that are still paying dividends to you later in life. Happiness is a choice, and there’s many ways to get there – kids are not the only route.

  17. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    I totally agree. I love my kids and wouldn’t have not had them, but for women who don’t particularly want kids but think they should because they might regret it later, I say don’t do it. There are no guarantees in life, so the whole thing about wanting kids to keep you company when you grow old doesn’t really hold much water.

    As for the plastic surgery–good men like fake boobs just as much as average ones do. I’m sorry but give a guy the identical women as far as intellect, confidence and independence but leave one with saggy, I-had-2-kids boobs and give one shiny new boobs and I guarantee that most would take #2. And the richer, more successful the guy, the more important a woman’s looks are to him.

  18. apronk
    apronk says:

    Penelope,

    In response to your 3 points of advice…

    1.) Don’t have kids.

    –> I thought this entry was about “hedging against unhappiness in later life” – which is an overall quality-of-life thing and not just in relation to one’s career. I am a proponent of “everything in moderation”. I think a woman should make both her family/personal life and her career her top priorities. You know, work/life balance and all that. Keeping this in mind, skipping out of popping out some puppies may make having a career easier, but will it make it *important and worthwhile*?

    Personally, I take pride in my career, and what I do (software developer) because I hope that it will influence my children in a positive way and encourage them to establish high standards for themselves, educationally and professionally.

    I don’t think a woman who is looking to be both professionally successful and happy in later life should eliminate something like having kids. The choice to have children should really be unrelated to one’s career, and should only be affected by a woman’s personal relationship and interest in being a mother. A woman who is capable of being professionally successful is resilient by nature and already possesses the ability to handle hardships and challenges.

    From experience both in my life and those of others close to me, as long as a woman takes life day by day, and makes the right decisions for herself, day by day, the cards will fall into place as long as you keep your good wits about you. Nothing will be perfect but if you stay true to yourself instead of worrying about “rules”, I think that is the key to happiness later in life.

    I also tend to think that the current trend of career-minded women purposely waiting to have children until they’re into their 30’s, to put their careers first, is a culprit of this unhappiness that you speak of. Sure, sometimes a woman doesn’t have a chance to have children until later in life, but when it happens intentionally for the sake of their career, I think this is what leads to regrets later in life. One reason being that if child-raising had to wait for one’s career to grow, perhaps child-raising shouldn’t have been pursued at all. Such a person may tend to frequently think about how much better their career could be without those kids that they waited to have. Also, I think women are naturally designed to have children at a younger age for a good reason – our bodies and energy levels can handle those crazy devils much more easily in our 20’s than in our 30’s or 40’s.

    In conclusion, what I’m really trying to say is that if you: 1.) keep your personal decisions outside of your professional life, and vice versa, 2.) Live day by day, do what’s right for yourself day by day, and be honest to yourself day by day, then you will greatly increase your chances of being happy later in life than if you tried to live by one rule or only prioritized one portion of your life.

    ===

    2.) Keep your career.

    –> This relates to my response to #1. Do what’s right for you at the moment and keep a healthy work/life balance. If a woman chooses to quit working upon having children with the intention of re-entering the workforce in a few years, I think what’s important is that she keeps herself viable. Read up on your field, stay current. Perhaps start personal projects that relate to your career so that you keep yourself in practice while you’re not employed. For example, as a software developer, if I were to stay home with my kids for a few years, I’d consider developing any sort of practical, new-tech products I can, whether it’s a tweak to an internet browser or a new application from scratch. Do whatever you can to keep yourself marketable and savvy in your field.

    ===

    3.) Get plastic surgery.

    –> I don’t argue the stats that say that attractive people are treated better. It makes sense. But is plastic surgery worth the “benefits” that it would bring? Would one feel better about his or her self if they got what they wanted because they looked better? Should a woman trust or respect a man that would not have dated her if she hadn’t had plastic surgery? Should a woman trust or respect an employer that pays them better because they had plastic surgery? I would imagine that getting treated better because I modified my appearance would degrade and insult me rather than satisfy me and give me a sense of accomplishment.

  19. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    @Shane re your comment: “I would like to know if that survey took into account the choice of women to make less money – to work less intense, less demanding jobs to be able to be a mother to their children. This includes opting to work part time, or just work a standard 40 hour week instead of putting in extra time “to get ahead”. These are choices – if they are the reason women earn less, it isn’t the fault of the children, or some side-effect that causes women’s careers to suck after.”

    But the problem is that our society still expects this to be women’s responsibility. The same does not happen when men become fathers because they are not expected to make the same choices. Presumably, in most cases both parents made a decision to have children.

    Not every country organises life this way. For example, in Denmark and Iceland men are expected to take 3 months’ paternity leave. And in Sweden it’s 18 months’ paid parental leave to be divided between the mother and the father with at least 3 months reserved for the father. As a result, most Nordic countries have higher birth rates than the rest of Europe because it is not considered the mother’s burden but a shared responsibility.

  20. JT
    JT says:

    I think people should eat in a healthy manner and exercise to optimize what they’ve already got. Every time I learn that somebody has had plastic surgery, even as I get older, I lose respect for that person. Plastic surgery is gross and people who have it often have that same “look” about them. I would honestly rather be alone than date a man who preferred a plastic version of me.

  21. Katybeth
    Katybeth says:

    I know its a small research basis, but as we approach 50 my friends and I seem to happier then our husbands We don’t worry near as much about our kids–who cares what they eat..and while we love our teens–they are a lot of work so sending them off to college, seems like a good enough plan..most of us would enjoy a tuck or two…heck, I would spring for a complete redo but until I can swing it financially, the Bloomingdale’s cosmetic counter can work wonders. The men in our life’s usually cause us the most angst because they are so unhappy–out of work and/or still trying to work out the stupid “who am I question” My girlfriends and I have it figured out–so we are off for mani’s, pedi’s and lunch–toting our Iphone and not our diaper bags.
    This research does not apply to me. . .and I speak that with complete confidence.

  22. Lou
    Lou says:

    I disagree with your post. That is because I define happiness differently from you. Happiness to me is not directly correlated with how much money I make or how much stuff I have. My happiness centers around my family and things outside of my job (work-life balance). In fact, I pretty much live paycheck to paycheck and I consider myself fairly happy compared to most. I have been around many who have successful careers, monstrous homes, and live outside their means and they are completely miserable, even if they don’t have kids.

  23. Pamela
    Pamela says:

    If it is true that beginning at age 41 women are less happy than men, I would think society’s harsher expectations about women’s aging would be a part of it. Women grow up with appearance being the primary way they are evaluated. After 40, society is less far less forgiving of aging in women that it is in men.

    Personally, I’m just hitting my stride at 41 and plan to age gracefully (without alteration).

  24. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I loved the last paragraph –

    “But then, that’s the trouble with all research – when it suggests a change you weren’t already excited about, you decide that it doesn’t apply to you. And I’m no exception.”

    Couple the above with your first sentence –

    “New evidence from famed happiness researcher Richard Easterlin shows that women are happier than men in early adulthood, but at age 41, this switches, and men are happier later in life.”

    and what you have, Penelope, is your search for “new studies” and “new evidence” which may or may not apply to each of us as individuals and can only really be known by ourselves if they do in fact apply as we learn to know ourselves.

  25. Dara
    Dara says:

    I think this article is interesting, whether I agree wholeheartedly or not. But I think it leaves one important thing out, I know today’s science allows for women to make the child bearing decision solely, I’m assuming most don’t. It’s not just the woman’s decision to have a child or not. While I understand it may be ultimately her decision, it seems incredibly selfish to not consider the interest of the man in the equation. Does he want to have children or not?

    Maybe I think in these terms because of my situation. I have always thought I’d have kids “someday,” but have never been overly zealous to have them. However, my husband wanted children very much and I now want to have them for the both of us. I’ve got a lot of decisions ahead of me, understand the greater child rearing burden is on me, but had serious talks with my husband about how involved (supportive) I needed him to be in order for me to make the decision. I think having a good husband can make a big difference in or negate all of Penelope’s suggestions, right down to plastic surgery.

  26. Phil
    Phil says:

    Erin,
    Wow, I guess you are letting your step kids know who is boss…or the typical evil step mother of the year.

  27. Anca
    Anca says:

    This post validates my life choices (not that I needed it) — I have zero interest in getting married and just celebrated the one-year anniversary of my irreversible tubal…baby-free for life.

  28. Carol
    Carol says:

    AND women live longer on average, partly because they stay more engaged with the community and their families.

    Kids are for life – not just for when you’re 31, or 41, or whatever age you want to draw a line at. There’s all sorts of reasons why 41 may be a hard age for many women – but where are the stats on who’s happier at 51, 61 and 71?

  29. Kate
    Kate says:

    I think the whole issue of the kid thing is really interesting. If someone told me they wanted to have kids because they thought that kids would make them happier – .we'll I'd be concerned. But in my mind, that's different than the urge some people feel to have kids because they want the experience – €“ that makes more sense to me. I haven't read Gilbert's book so I'm not sure how he defines or measures "make them happier". The main thing in my life that makes me happier is putting energy toward being happy – €“ y'know, the touchy-feely-Oprahesque-stuff about being grateful and mindful.

    I don't think everyone should have kids. I don't think having kids is more noble or selfless (or less, for that matter) than not having kids. I'm all for people doing what they want to do and I'm completely against one grouping of people shoving their values or judgments on another. And, one more thing, I hate the "you don't have kids so you don't understand" attitude that some parents have. That just belittles all of us.

    All that being said, I'm not particularly happy when I'm cleaning house but I'm usually happier with a clean house than not. Exercise doesn't make me happy but having exercised does. Even writing. Writing can be agony, but I'm always happy I've done it. And I'm not in a place of ecstasy when I'm reading my daughter some silly book for the 18th time, or listening to her weep because I cut her peanut butter sandwich wrong. But when she's asleep, I'm thrilled that she exists and I value her influence on my life. Is that happpiness? Who knows?

    Thanks for the thought provoking post. Thinking about this stuff takes the edge off of 40 hour cube life. (And it keeps me from pondering all the “what ifs”…)

  30. Dianna
    Dianna says:

    Wow! Life is so simple. Don’t have children, have a career and you will be happy (or miserable). LOL

    Not everyone plays from the same page. Many people are happy to live simply, have children and lots of friends and family. (Didn’t you learn this from your farmer?)

    Some women (me, included) are not happy being at home and yet want children. We want it all and are exhausted and yet happy in our own way.

    Some women don’t want children at all and are happy. They find other ways to fulfill themselves whether it is a career or something else.

    What is great about the 21st century is that we as woman can choose the life we want to have. We all don’t have to be alike. Some people want/need things. Some of us want/need people.

    I am 46, a mother of 3 and a I own 2 businesses. I am also a wife. I am happy with who I am. I love my kids. Sometimes, yes, it was a struggle having to work full-time and raise a family but it makes me appreciate what I have now.

  31. Juki Schor
    Juki Schor says:

    I still can’t make up my mind if this blog is for real or for fun. The plastic surgery advice is so American that I had to laugh. I mean, is it really so that it is all about the “wrapping” and none about content? I realize how fortunate I am to live in a country where 80% of the men answered in a survey that a “few or more extra pounds” didn’t make any difference in their sympathy level for their women. I personally am quite happy to get older and not having to “worry” about appearance any more, there are more important things to look at in life. It is AMERICAN society that is less forgiving for the aging of women and for one purpose only I feel: to avoid that women develop their full feminine potential and power which should develop after the age of 40, but won’t if you keep trying to be a teen. For the same reason they keep women increasingly busy with outlooks, career and kids at the same time, trying to match men’s performance so they won’t have time to take a breath and contact their deeper feminine wisdom about life. This would for example make them laugh at men who expect them to have perfect bodies to look at. And after all, who is going to need the smart Harvard University research results and “Dr. Phil advice” if women would be fully grown up by the age of 20…
    If it is true that “children don’t make people in your country happier”, couldn’t that be interpreted as a sign of how sick your society already is? And is there, by any chance, research available on a correlation between “career seeking mothers” and “percentage of autistic children” they give birth to? I find it quite amazing how many people have autistic children in this career world, starting with PT herself, Sarah Palin and a few of the other posters in the comments as well. In that sense, being a bit cynical, I agree with #1 to not have kids if career is the most important thing in your life, it will save a few kids from having to run to therapy later.
    Somehow completely upside down to me the whole text and I feel “that the lack of happiness is precisely because…” your society hates women. I am glad you don’t take your own advice.

  32. PD
    PD says:

    Great post.

    As a guy, I agree whole heartedly with your 3rd post. I’m approaching 40 and still have tons of hot, young women to choose from. If you even want a shot with most guys my age, you gotta consider some nip/tuck.

    • StudMuffin
      StudMuffin says:

      Right on brother, I’m 41 and fab – and I work at it. I hit the gym three times a week. I look 31!

      I’m married and I swear, my wedding ring is a chick magnet! I’ve had more woman approach me and flirt with me since I was married than I ever did – it’s real fun. My wife asks me to tone it down but what can I do – get plastic surgery to make me less desirable ??? NOT

  33. jrandom44
    jrandom44 says:

    So Penelope is giving advice that she won’t take for herself? What else would you expect from someone who has a shallow, hyperambitious, and vain twit as Sarah Palin as a mentor? Drat, I was looking forward to seeing pictures of her after surgery self looking like a hyperinflated Britney Spears doll.

  34. Phil
    Phil says:

    “I’m approaching 40 and still have tons of hot, young women to choose from. If you even want a shot with most guys my age, you gotta consider some nip/tuck.”

    Gotta love an ego…I’m thinking Miata or some other sports car as his mode of transportation. I bet the gals at the strip club love you! Trust me, most guys don’t want someone with plastic surgery and they also don’t someone obsessed with a career. More to life than working you know.

  35. Dana Boyle
    Dana Boyle says:

    When I was in college, I had the great fortune of volunteering for Mark Kennedy Shriver as he made his first political run. The good fortune came in meeting his mother, Eunice Shriver. You see, she asked me what I wanted to be when I got done with college, and what I wanted to do with my life. I began to list the many career oriented things I wanted to do at an eager age of 18. She asked, “Do you want children?” I said yes, of course I did. She replied, “Well, then you must remember what my mother, Rose Kennedy, told me when I was your age. You can have it all, my dear, but you can not have it all at once. Life is a journey with many different adventures and each part of it is special. Sometimes you will have to focus on the task at hand.” I thought that was great advice, and as I’ve grown older, now almost half my life ago she told me that, I realize that she was right and I understand what she meant. I think we women try to measure ourselves by the same stick that men use, when our values and our needs are entirely different. I hope I’m saying this as well as I am able to. Motherhood probably does bring some “unhappiness” to a woman’s life, if she’s thinking of all the opportunity cost while being a mother. Just as careers can bring unhappiness if we think of the opportunity cost at home. It’s a balance, and you define your own balance. Hopefully, you choose the right mate who honors you and helps you to be the best you can be in each station of your life. All we can do is take inspired action toward goals that align with our personal truths and values. There is no right answer.

  36. Marsha Keeffer
    Marsha Keeffer says:

    My friend – a guy and an attorney – got a facelift 10+ years ago and was a star patient. Much more self-confident, happier and as a result he went after things he’d never have tried pre-surgery. Men and women want to stay fit and better-looking longer. I’ve seen the same positive results occur for women 40+. Just takes moxie, a high pain threshold and a plump bank account.

  37. Tamara
    Tamara says:

    I’d suggest door #2.

    When I was in my 20s, I had a lot of friends who were in their 40s and 50s, and they were all getting divorced to find themselves because they’d given up their identities (including, yes, the careers they loved) to raise families. Once their children left the nest, their marriages failed, they became terribly unhappy etc.

    I took my cue from them. I’m 43 now, with 2 kids (10 & 13) and while the last decade of my life has been extremely challenging to balance, I’m now thoroughly enjoying both motherhood and my working life and have to say I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

    As for #2, have kids, but be thoughtful about when to start a family, with whom, and how you plan to keep working to keep yourself whole. Plan, plan, plan; master the clock. It’s going to be all about time management.

    I’m not divorced, so I can’t speak to point #3.

  38. Yu Ming Lui
    Yu Ming Lui says:

    Great post that truly got my attention from start to finish. I am not 40 yet but was dismayed at the plastic surgery bit but then you said all of the advice you dished out did not apply to you. I read this article as your way of saying it’s not easy being a middle-aged woman with kids, no or little career, and fading looks. Life is hard if you live according to what people deem is the right path to happiness. Sure, we can’t live in a bubble and do whatever we want, but we should make some personal choices, stick with them, and be happy about them.

    Maybe exercise and a good diet with little or no alcohol could replace plastic surgery? LOL.

  39. melanie gao
    melanie gao says:

    I don’t think #3 should be designated as advice for divorced women. I mean, even if you’re married your husband still chooses you every day and you choose him.

    As for me, I would never consider plastic surgery. There’s a chance you could DIE on the operating table. How could your vanity be more important than your life? And besides, I think I get more beautiful with each passing year. I have no way to explain it but I feel more beautiful now than I did when I was 25.

  40. Heather
    Heather says:

    I have a child and want more children, but I also completely agree with this post. It doesn’t state not to have children completely, but not to fall into the trap of thinking you need to have children to be happy. I see so many women that try to live through their children. They ned to live their life and know who they are. Only have children if you really have the desire to share your life with a child. I also kept my high powered career. I went back to work when my daughter was three months old. I think she learned so much from being in an environment with other children and I got to experience my own life separate from my existence as a mom.

  41. Jessica Bond
    Jessica Bond says:

    Sorry – Plastic surgery is not just for divorced women. It is becoming a viable option for men and women who plan to stay in the workforce longer and want their appearance to support their energy level in being a success in the workplace.

  42. harbinger
    harbinger says:

    The point of having kids is not to be “happy,” but to participate in the stream of humanity– your ancestors and your descendents and YOU are all part of a greater whole, where your individual little life matters both much less and much more.

    It raises the stakes of everything, and rising stakes don’t necessarily make people “happy.” Are multimillionaires happier than mid-level managers, for instance?

    The raised stakes create both greater stress and greater potential reward, but the drive to do it in the first place has little to do with “happiness.”

    Anyway, I’m a 27 year old woman with three kids who did give up her career, but I was young enough at the time to feel it was not such a tremendous sacrifice.

    The “What IF” factor IS a ridiculous one for women!

    By now, I would be making at least as much money as my husband if I’d stayed at work and not had children… what-if?

    I might be making at least two-thirds of that if I’d stayed at work AND had a child. What-if?

    But that would have made me a nervous wreck.

    Either way, my choice was to throw myself into the traditional housewife role, and it’s up to me to find meaning and happiness here.

    And I’m so glad to see my children launching into the future, the continuation of myself and my husband and our shared heritage… and in that way, feeling myself as a part of my own parents and grandparents. Mystical, really, and hard to explain!

    But am I happier than I was when I was childless and free? It seems almost irrelevant to put it like that.

  43. harbinger
    harbinger says:

    But yeah, when people encourage you to “Have Kids! The water’s FINE!” we already know we’re telling a funny kind of lie– for your own good, and for the good of humanity as a whole.

    And it’s a compliment, too. It’s like saying, “Have kids! Your contribution to the gene pool would be fantastic!”

    Subtext: “Maybe we’ll even have the same grandkids!”

    It’s like an invitation to the evolutionary network. Only party on this earth that matters in the long run, right?

  44. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Penelope, I’m curious to know if the study you site says that children don’t make people happier, which is how you’ve expressed it, or if it says that children actually make people less happy, which is how you’ve interpreted it. There’s a big difference.

  45. Cinthia
    Cinthia says:

    Interesting blog and one I think women should read. That said, in our family, I ended up the happy one. My husband never mastered the skill. Children were always a stress to him because with kids there is always “something,” and he can’t be happy if there’s a problem looming. I learned early on, if you wait for problem free, you’ll never be happy.

    • CareerCrisis
      CareerCrisis says:

      That’s a great point. Having kids may not make you happier but neither will being having a career or being married.
      They both have something to do with being taken care of or having a goal. The less raising children is valued by our society the less satisfaction we will get from it if we rely on others for self worth.
      I know my Mother-in-law is happy now. Every time I go home with my husband she is beams with pride over her children.
      She stopped working till her kids were in middle school and returned to work. She is from the baby boomer generation and children were still seen as an asset and not a pollutant.

  46. JMB
    JMB says:

    Ms. Trunk,

    When I began reading your blog about 1 year ago, I was very inspired by your work. I was seeking professional career advice and here you were, upbeat, peppy, and right on point. So much so that I went out and purchased your book. I believed in what you were saying as it seemed, well..so right.

    However, over the past few months I’ve watched your blog degrade from that high quality, vibrant and upbeat resource for career/life advice to your personal rant about how dissatisfied and unhappy you are with your life. It’s disappointing to me because I believe you to be a great professional that should be able to hold back. I do realize that we are all human and have a need to express out emotions. However, I did not realize you’d do so in this blog. I guess looking at it, it’s my personal failure as I expected something from this blog when I really shouldn’t have.

    If you consciously made the decision to migrate your blog away from that tried and true advice, to your personal diary then it was truly my mistake. It just seems that you used to be so happy and upbeat. But lately you seem to be getting down on yourself and life.

    Before your next post, stop for a moment and look at that picture at the top of your blog. Is that the same woman? If it is, then sit yourself straight up, grab your cup of tea, coffee, what-have-you and give us a great post on your professional career opinions. If its not the same woman, let me know so I can change my expectations and not be disappointed when I read your blog.

    Please understand I mean no disrespect. I offer this only as an outside piece of criticism from a an avid fan and subscriber to your blog. I’m in your corner on this one, even if it doesn’t sound like it.

    Good luck and god bless in all that you do.

  47. Mary
    Mary says:

    Another thought-provoking article. Thank you for making the point that not everyone needs to have kids to be happy. I am 38 and have chosen to remain childless; although, I am happily married. Rather than having children of my own, I have chosen to help the disadvantaged children in my community with my time and monetary donations. When you are childless, you have more time and finances to help others in need. From what I have experienced, there is not enough people taking the time to help the less fortunate. Giving to others is what makes me happy!

Newer Comments »

Comments are closed.