A forthcoming study in The American Journal of Sociology finds that Americans with children are 12 percent less happy than non-parents, the largest “happiness gap” of 22 rich countries surveyed. . . .I find Americans to be weirdly ambivalent about all of this. Some still resist any program that seems to discourage stay-at-home mothering, longing for the days when that was the middle class norm. Others just see more government interference and bureaucracy. And, of course, everybody hates paying taxes. But we certainly could do more for parents if we wanted to, especially if we were willing to cut back our defense spending to a level more like that of other countries.
I might have thought America’s parenting misery was inevitable if I hadn’t moved from the United States to France (where parents are slightly happier than non-parents). Raising kids is consuming here, but not overwhelming: The government offers high-quality day care, billed on a sliding scale, and free preschool for children 3 and up. Older kids have subsidized after-school activities and summer camps. On average, college costs less than $500 a year.
Early childhood offerings vary, but everywhere in Europe and in Canada they’re far more generous than in the United States. Ukrainian dads may not change enough diapers, but their government offers paid maternity leave; practically free preschool; and per-baby payments equivalent to eight months of an average salary.
America’s parenting customs can shock foreigners. When the British writer Ruth Whippman got a bill for more than $46,000 for a routine C-section in California, she found herself longing for the “inedible food and Victorian plumbing” of the London public hospital where she’d had her first baby, at no charge, she writes in her new book, America the Anxious.
And that was just the birth. Back in Britain — which isn’t generous by rich-country standards — there was paid parental leave and 15 hours a week of free preschool. In America, she had no paid leave, and discovered that the government offered nothing for most kids until age 5. The strangest part, for Ms. Whippman, was that Americans considered all this normal, and blamed themselves when they couldn’t make it work.
Saturday, October 15, 2016
Government and Child Care
Another comparison of parenting in America and Europe: