In the National Marriage Project’s exhaustive 2011 “State of Our Unions” report, a sidebar among the analyses and graphs draws attention to a subset social scientists tend to ignore in their ubiquitous research on marriage and parenting: big families. Noted researcher Alan Hawkins explains the dearth in blunt terms: “There’s not a lot of research on large families these days because they are few in number, assumed to be highly religious, and thus, well, weird.” But W. Bradford Wilcox and Elizabeth Marquardt tease out of the report some curious counterintuitive data, especially when considered against studies that suggest that having children lowers happiness. Their analysis of the data finds that parents of big families with four or more children tend to be happier and more fulfilled than those with fewer.
The National Marriage Project attributes this unexpected conclusion to that weird faith orientation of mothers and fathers with many children. Their stronger religiosity means they’re more prone to possess a deep sense of meaning and purpose in life, and more likely to benefit from a large church-oriented network of family and friends than parents of smaller families. As the church-going mother of eight children, I do not take issue with these claims. But twenty-one years of large family parenting have offered reasons of my own why lots of kids is, in some strange way, easier than one or two—and few of my reasons relate to sainthood.